Dealing with long-term debt can be stressful; the thought of constant chasing from creditors can lead to feelings of anxiety, worry and even depression. However, the good news is, in the UK there’s typically a limitation period on many types of debt, including card debt and personal loan repayments.
Of course, this does not mean debts are totally written off after a certain period of time, or that further action will not be taken if you still owe a creditor six, eight, or 10 years down the line. For this reason, it’s essential to understand how long a debt can be pursued by creditors and what happens when it becomes statute barred.
In this guide, we’ll explain how the time limits associated with debt collection in the UK work and what you can do if you’re struggling to manage your debts.
How long can debt be chased?
In the UK, debt can typically be pursued for up to six years from the date of the last payment or acknowledgment of the debt. However, this usually only applies to unsecured debts, such as credit card debts, personal loan debts, and personal finance agreements. It’s worth noting that this limitation does not commonly apply to secured debts, such as mortgages, vehicle loans and specialist secured credit card debt. These secured debts typically have a longer limitation period of 12 years.
Is a debt written off after six years?
While it’s true that many types of unsecured debts cannot be chased after six years, this does not necessarily mean the debt is written off after this time. This is a common misconception. The reality is, a debt is not automatically written off after six years, but it does become ‘statute barred’. This means the stated six-year timeframe is associated with the statute of limitations for most unsecured debts, meaning creditors have up to six years from the date of the last payment or acknowledgment of the debt to take legal action to retrieve payment for the debt. Once a debt becomes statute barred, creditors can no longer legally chase the debt or pursue legal action to recover it.
Although it’s true that, in practical terms at least, a statute barred debt is as good as written off, it’s important to note that technically it still exists. This is to say, while a statute barred status will not appear on your credit report, any negative markers relating to the debt reported by the lender may still feature.
What is a statute barred debt?
As outlined above, the term ‘statute barred debt’ refers to a debt that has passed beyond its specific limitation period. These types of debt can no longer be legally pursued in the court and the creditor loses the legal right to take further action from this point on.
Put simply, statute barred status offers debtors respite from the constant pressure of collection efforts and the threat of potential legal action. They give hope to people struggling with long-term debt by ensuring that individuals are not endlessly hounded by creditors for old debts, especially when they’ve been unable to properly service the debt for an extended period of time.
When does a debt become statute barred?
When it comes to unsecured debts, in most cases, this time limit is set at six years from the date of the debtor’s last payment or acknowledgment of the debt. This is to say, if the creditor has not initiated court proceedings or obtained a court judgement against the debtor within this six-year period, the debt is considered statute barred. However, as discussed above, it’s important to remember that not all debts automatically become statute barred after six years. For example, secured debts, including mortgages, typically have a period of 12 years.
That being said, it’s not always as straightforward as it sounds. Even when you’ve determined the type of debt you’re dealing with, knowing at what exact point a debt becomes statute barred can be tricky. If you’re trying to find out if a debt has become statute barred and you’re unsure when the last activity on a specific account took place, considering the following factors can help you work it out:
- When was your last payment or acknowledgment?
The six-year countdown starts from the date of your last repayment, or the last time you actively acknowledge the debt. This could be ANY written communication that sees you actually acknowledge you owe the money.
- A lack of legal action
If you’ve not been made aware of any legal action being taken against you since your last payment, and you believe this final repayment to have occurred over six years ago, the debt is likely statute barred.
Remember – even if your debt has been sold to a debt collection agency or another creditor, the six-year clock doesn’t reset. It continues from the last activity on the account, even if ownership changes.
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Is there a way to have debt legally written off?
If you’re dealing with unaffordable debts and have no realistic way to repay, you may be able to appeal to your creditor to have your debt officially written off. To do this, you’ll need to prove to your creditors that you have no realistic way to repay your outstanding debts. This will involve providing evidence of your earnings and essential costs to prove that you’re unable to repay what you owe.
This is generally reserved for extreme situations of unaffordability and your creditor will need to determine that there’s no possibility of receiving repayment from you before considering allowing you to write off your current debts. You’ll need to prove that taking further action would likely result in further losses for your creditor. Though situations may vary, to be considered for a debt write off you’ll need to fall under one of the criteria’s for unaffordability:
- You have no surplus income after basic costs are covered
- You’re currently on benefits and have no other forms of income
- You’re currently dealing with a serious/terminal illness or health condition that means you’re unable to work
- You’re currently or soon to be retired and will likely remain on a limited pension
Struggling to manage your debts?
If you find yourself struggling to manage your debts, hoping for statute barred status to come to your rescue is not a viable solution. While statute barred status does offer some protection to debtors, it’s not a magic bullet and certainly can’t be relied upon as a method of writing off your debts. Legal action can be (and in most cases, will be) brought against an individual well within the six-year statute of limitations, meaning you’ll be forced into a decision. With this in mind, it’s important to be proactive when you find yourself struggling with personal debt. With plenty of support and debt management solutions available, taking back control has to start with you. Options to consider include:
- Seeking professional advice
This should always be your first step. If you’re overwhelmed by your debt, it’s a good idea to talk to a debt advisor or a specialist debt management solutions company, like us! We can provide expert guidance and help you explore your options.
For free debt advice from a professional debt charity, you can also visit MoneyHelper.
- Debt Management Plans (DMP)
A DMP is designed to make an individual’s debt repayments more manageable. They allow for reduced monthly payments to creditors based on what you can realistically afford. This option can be helpful for those who can’t service their current repayments, but who also want to avoid entering into a legally-binding solution.
- Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVA)
An IVA is a legally-binding debt management solution that allows an individual to repay their debts over a fixed period, typically with reduced payments. IVAs also provide the incentive of debt forgiveness at the end of the arrangement, if all conditions have been adhered to. However, IVAs can negatively impact your credit score, making it more difficult to secure credit going forward.
For more in-depth help and support, check out our guide on getting out of debt without taking out a loan.
Understanding the rules and timeframes associated with debt collection is essential for anyone experiencing financial difficulties. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that if you’re struggling with debt, there are options and resources available to help you regain control of your financial situation.
Here at MoneyPlus, we encourage you not to hesitate if you find yourself in this situation and seek professional advice to explore strategies to manage your debts effectively.
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