How Long Can Debts Be Chased?

If you’re facing financial difficulties, you might be asking the important question: ‘How long can you legally be chased for a debt?’

Unsecured debts typically have a statute limitation of six years, after which the debt becomes unenforceable. However, it’s not quite as simple as waiting six years for your debt to expire, because your creditors can chase you for payments and even take you to court over missed repayments within this limitation period.

If you’re wondering for how long can a debt be chased in the UK, we’re here to explain everything you need to know about debt collection.

Do Debt Collectors Ever Give Up?

There’s no doubt that debt collectors have a serious reputation for robustness. Typically, almost all types of debt can be claimed by the creditor or by a thorough debt collection agency for as long as the debt is remembered. Legally, debts don’t expire, and creditors can continue chasing you for years after you made a credit agreement.

This means that if you ignore demands for repayment from your creditors, they could send in the debt collectors to reclaim the debt or take out a county court judgment (CCJ) against you. Neither of these scenarios is particularly pleasant or positive for your financial or mental wellbeing, so it’s important to know exactly where you stand if you’re struggling to pay bills.

While debts can technically be claimed anytime in the future, debt collection in the UK is controlled by the ‘statute of limitations’. This means that after six years, unsecured debts can become known as ‘statute barred’, which means they can be written off and you can no longer be chased by debt collectors.

However, it’s not quite as easy as just waiting six years for a debt to expire. For a debt to become statute barred, it effectively has to be forgotten about. If your creditors chase you for payment through the courts at any point before the six years are up, then the time period starts all over again.

How Long Can a Debt Be Chased in the UK?

So, for how long can a debt be chased in the UK? As we’ve seen, the answer isn’t exactly simple. The statute of limitations, as defined by the Limitation Act 1980, also has different limitations for different types of debt.

Unsecured debts are considered to have a shelf life of six years, while secured debts have a longer limitation period of 12 years. In practical terms, this means that for unsecured debts like credit card loans, utility bills, bank loans and payday loans, you need to wait at least six years before the debt collectors can stop chasing you. For secured debts, including mortgages, the bank or creditor has 12 years to chase you for payment.

As we’ve already noted, it’s important to be aware that both secured and unsecured debts can be chased indefinitely. Once again, the statute of limitations only applies if the creditor hasn’t chased you for six or 12 years. Legally, the Citizens Advice Bureau defines this as ‘taking action against you’, which means the creditor has served notice that they’re taking you to court, rather than just asking for repayments.

In short, if you’re wondering if you should just stop making payments, this is not a good idea, because the statute of limitations only comes into force when a creditor hasn’t taken action against you to chase your debtor. If you were to decide to just stop paying, then the creditor is very likely to continue demanding payment through correspondence, such as emails, letters or phone calls.

If you fail to respond, your debt is likely to be passed over to a professional debt collection agency, which makes its money by chasing debts. If you ignore the debt collection agency, they could attempt to send bailiffs to your property in order to secure payment through other means, such as selling your assets.

If this also fails, the creditor can take you to court. If they can prove that you haven’t paid your debts and have been wilfully ignoring their correspondence, the judge might issue a County Court Judgment (CCJ) against you, which demands that you make payment for the money owed.

This not only resets the limitation period, but a CCJ stays on your financial record for a further six years unless you can pay it off immediately. For the next six years, you’ll struggle to take out any more loans or secure any further lines of credit, as creditors will deem you to be untrustworthy.

What Happens to Debts Over Six Years Old?

If your debt is older than six years, there’s a chance that it could become classed as statute barred under the statute of limitations. For this to happen, there are certain requisites that must be met.

To start, the six-year rule only applies to unsecured debts. This is a type of debt that isn’t secured against an asset, such as your house, vehicle or business. In practice, unsecured debts include:

  • Credit card loans
  • Energy bills
  • Water bills
  • Overdrafts
  • Payday loans
  • Personal loans
  • Rent

If you have an unsecured debt, such as a credit card loan, your creditor has six years to attempt to reclaim the debt before it becomes statute barred. If they fail to do so, then after six years your debt can be written off. For this to happen, your creditor can’t have chased you for payment through the courts during the six-year limitation period, and you cannot have acknowledged ownership of the debt or have made any repayments.

Let’s assume that your creditor has forgotten about your debt. They haven’t asked you for repayment and you haven’t made any repayments. The limitation period begins from the last time you made a payment or the last time your creditor asked for repayment.

After six years, your creditor remembers the debt, thereby forcing you to ask the court to have it statute barred. In order to prove that this is the case, you need to provide evidence of the last correspondence or payment regarding the debt, which shows the creditor hasn’t tried to collect it through the courts for six years. If this is proven, you can ask for the debt to be written off. After this, the creditor can no longer legally ask you for payment.

Can I Be Chased for Debt After 10 Years?

The answer to the question, ‘How long is a debt collectable?’ is technically indefinitely, unless you can have it statute barred after six years. However, this limitation is extended to 12 years for secured debts.

Secured debts are a type of debt that have some sort of security deposit against them. The security could be your house, business or vehicle. If you fail to make repayments, the creditor can legally take these securities in place of missed payments.

The most common examples of secured debts include:

  • Mortgages
  • Secured bank loans
  • Automobile loans

With secured loans, it’s very unlikely that your creditor will forget about the money owed to them, particularly in the case of high-value payments like mortgages. This means that it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever reach the limitation period, but if this does happen, you can legally write the debt off after 12 years, if it can be classed as statute barred.

The process would be the same as for unsecured debts, with the limitation period beginning from the last correspondence or payment date. Within this 12-year period, you would not have made any repayments, acknowledged the debt or been informed by the creditor that they are taking action against you through the courts. If this can be proved, the creditor can no longer chase you once the limitation period has expired.

How Long Before a Debt Becomes Uncollectable UK?

In order for a debt to become uncollectable, it must become statute barred. As we’ve already seen, this is more difficult than you might think. In reality, this means that a creditor must have forgotten about the debt, as they’ve not taken you to court to reclaim the debt.

To summarise, the major criteria that must be met in order for a debt to become uncollectable by being classed as statute barred are:

  • You have not made any repayments during the limitation period (six to 12 years).
  • You have not communicated with the creditor during the limitation period and acknowledged you own the debt.
  • The creditor has not officially threatened to or has not gone to court in order to reclaim the debt from you.

Importantly, there are certain types that have limitation dates, and which cannot be classed as statute barred even after six or 12 years have passed. These debts can be chased at any time by the creditor, regardless of how many years have elapsed. Debts that are considered indefinite include:

  • Debts owed to HMRC (e.g. income tax, capital gains tax and VAT).
  • Benefits overpayments owed to the Department of Work and Pensions.

If you’re tempted to avoid repaying your debt because the limitation period is drawing to a close, it’s important to remember that you could still end up with a CCJ against your name. Instead, there are several alternatives to not paying your creditors that you can consider if you’re in financial trouble.

A licensed insolvency practitioner can provide more information and advice based on your personal financial situation, but some alternatives include:

Debt Collection FAQs

The following FAQs will help you to better understand how long specific debts in the UK can be chased for, including HMRC debts, debts owed to utility companies and council tax debts, amongst many more.

How Long Can HMRC Chase a Debt?

Debts owed to HMRC can be chased indefinitely. There’s no limitation for any debts owed to HMRC, which means they are legally allowed to chase you for payments even after the six and then 12-year time periods affecting other types of debt have passed. HMRC debts include things like unpaid income tax, VAT and capital gains tax. If you’re struggling to pay HMRC debts, they are open to negotiations and repayment plans.

How Long Can Energy Companies Chase You for Debt?

Energy companies (and other utility suppliers such as water companies or internet service providers) typically bill their customers in arrears, which means you can owe them money for the services provided. Utility bills are classed as unsecured debts, which means they are only written off after six years have passed.

How Long Can a Landlord Chase You for Rent?

If you’ve failed to pay your rent, your landlord is within their rights to evict you after a certain period of time. However, the debt itself is considered to be an unsecured debt, although they will take any deposit you were asked to put down when signing the tenancy agreement. This means that the limitation period for rent would be six years.

How Long Can Council Tax Debts Be Chased?

Council tax debts are classed as unsecured debts. Local council authorities can legally chase you for council tax debts indefinitely, and can only stop if the six-year limitation period has been reached. If you’re having difficulty paying your council tax, then talk to your council before you stop paying.

Contact Irwin Insolvency Today for More Information on Debt Collection

If you’re struggling to pay your bills, Irwin Insolvency’s experienced debt management team can help. Our consultants help individuals and businesses facing financial challenges, and we can offer impartial advice by answering questions like ‘how long can a debt be chased in the UK’  – while offering advice on debt management plans or help with debt relief orders if your owe less than £30,000

Contact Irwin Insolvency today for more information on debt collection.


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About the author

Gerald Irwin

Gerald Irwin is founder and director of Sutton Coldfield-based licensed insolvency practitioners and business advisers, Irwin Insolvency. He specialises in corporate recovery, insolvency,
 rescue and turnaround.