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Last updated on 27th of May, 2022

How Long Before a Debt is Written Off?

In most cases, debt is written off after a specific period, providing that you haven’t made any payments to the creditor, and it has been at least six years since the debt originated.
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If you are struggling with debt you may wonder how long it takes for debt to be written off. It’s a common question for many people in the U.K. and it’s important to understand how debt works. 

Most debts in the U.K. are written off after six years from the date it was initiated. Certain conditions have to be met; it must have been at least six years since your last payment to the creditor, or the debt to your creditor must have been active for at least six years. 

Keep in mind that not paying your creditors on purpose can lead to court action being taken against you for not paying your debt. The period of six years applies to most debts, including personal loans.

How debt is written off

In most cases, debt is written off after a specific period, providing that you haven’t made any payments to the creditor, and it has been at least six years since the debt originated. 

When it comes to certain types of debt, like mortgages, it becomes a bit more complicated. For this type of debt, the period is 12 years until it expires from the point it was initiated or when you last made contact or payment. However, the interest on the mortgage still works over a six-year period. 

This six-year period in debt is called the limitation period.

If there is a court order

Once there is a court order against you there is no time limit for the creditor to enforce it. If the court order against you was made more than six years ago, then the creditor has to get the court’s permission before they can make use of bailiffs. 

If you’re in the Breathing Space scheme

If you are in the Breathing Space scheme your creditors are not allowed to contact you or force you to pay your debt. The time limit for creditors to take action against you is automatically extended and will end eight weeks after your breathing space period ends.

Payment Protection Insurance

If you have a loan or a mortgage, check to see if you have Payment Protection Insurance (PPI). If you do have PPI, the insurance company may pay your debts if you become unemployed, fall ill, or are involved in an accident. Keep in mind that PPI will only cover debt for a specific time period, so consult your policy to see when you should make a claim. 

What is statute barred debt?

When you address your debts you may have heard of the term ‘statute barred’ under U.K. law. This essentially means that your creditor may not recover the debt from you with court action. 

Statute barred comes into play when the limitation period has lapsed. Debt may be statute barred if:

  • During the time limit, you haven’t paid anything towards the debt.

  • During the time limit, you haven’t contacted the creditor and acknowledged the debt is yours. 

  • During the time limit, the creditor hasn’t gone to court to obtain a judgement.

Confirm the date of your last payment to find out if your debt falls within the limit.

If you know that the debt falls within the time limit and is not statute barred, you should ensure that you have collected information about all your debts. 

If your debt falls outside of the time limit and is statute barred, you can use this as a defence in the event that you have to appear in court. If you don’t defend the case it may go to a judgement and a judgement will stay on your credit record for six years, making it hard for you to get approved for credit.

Keep in mind that even if your debt is statute barred, it still exists. However, your debt is removed from your credit profile at the same time as it becomes statute barred.

Debts you don’t have to pay

There are some cases where you are not responsible to pay certain debts. Examples include:

  • If there was a problem with the way an agreement was made, or if you were pressured into signing an agreement that wasn't clear to you. 

  • The creditor did not properly check to confirm whether you are able to afford the debt when you signed the credit agreement. 

  • It has been at least six years since you’ve made a payment to the creditor or since you were in contact with the creditor. 

If you were the authorised cardholder for someone else’s credit card account, like a partner or spouse, the card company can’t ask you to be responsible for the debt. 

Any outstanding debt remains the main card holder’s responsibility.

If you are under the age of 18 you can only be held responsible for the debt if it represents something you need on a day-to-day basis. Examples include a mobile phone contract, food, or school clothes. 

Getting in contact with creditors

If you have to confirm the details of debt you may need to phone your creditor. However, if you think that your debt may be statute barred, it’s important not to contact a creditor in writing.

This includes contacting them by email, online chat, or text.

Also keep in mind that if you haven’t made any payments to a creditor yet and you have not reached the time limit yet, making a payment will reset the time limit.

The best way to write off debts

There are many ways to have debt written off, but simply waiting and not paying is not an option. 

If you wait until your debt becomes statute barred, it may hurt your credit profile and it still won’t stop debt collectors from calling or visiting you. You may also end up with a CCJ (county court judgement).

Debt solutions are extremely helpful here. You can talk to an insolvency practitioner about possible debt solutions available to you. Take control of the situation and prevent calls and visits from debt collectors, by choosing a suitable debt solution to help you rebuild your credit profile.  

FAQs

What happens when creditors contact me for debt outside of the time limit?

You can write to the creditor and request they stop contacting you. Include a statement in your letter that says, “I do not accept any liability for your claim.”

The National Debtline has a sample letter you can use to contact your creditors. 

What is out of date debt?

Out of date debt refers to debt that has passed the limitation period. This debt is not active anymore.

Should I just ignore debt payments for six years?

No. Many people see the limitation period as a solution for their debt problems but it hardly ever works out like this. In most cases, creditors will not let the six years pass by without taking action. 

How do I know I have outstanding debt?

There are a few ways you can find out if you have outstanding debt. You can call your creditors and ask how much you owe them, or alternatively, you can look at recent bank statements or request your most recent credit report. Use as many sources as possible to make sure you manage your debt effectively.

If you make a payment after six years, does the debt become active again?

This depends on the type of debt you have. Unsecured credit debt falls within the six-year limitation period. So if you make a payment after six years, it would still remain unenforceable. But other debts, like mortgages, have a limitation period of 12 years. 

So, if you make a payment after six years, it would definitely refresh the limitation period. This means it would take another 12 years for the limitation period to be completed. 

How does debt work if it is in joint names?

Check if the other person has admitted to the debt, or if they have made a payment during the last six years. The six-year limitation period will reset if one of the persons responsible admits to the debt, or makes payment within this period. The time limit will then reset for both of you.