How long can a debt be chased in the UK?

Being chased for a debt can be a deeply worrying time, especially if you don’t currently have the means to repay it.

If you’re in that situation, you might be wondering how long a creditor or debt collector can chase you for a debt and, more importantly, if there’s a point when they must stop.

The good news is, most debts have a limitation period.

This guide will explain how long a debt can be chased in the UK and what to do if a creditor continues to chase you a debt after the limitation period has passed.

How long can a creditor chase me for a debt?

Under the Limitation Act 1980, most debts in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are written off and become statute barred after six years.

In Scotland, most debts become statute barred after five years.

This means the debt is no longer recoverable by a creditor or debt collector and you no longer owe the money. Creditors are also prohibited from suing the debtor or taking further legal action on a debt after the limitation period has passed.

However, there are some exceptions. For example, personal injury claims have a limitation period of three years while mortgage shortfalls can have a limitation period of up to 20 years.

What is statute barred debt?

Put simply, statute barred debt is debt that can no longer be chased by a creditor or debt collection agency.

In other words, the creditor has run out of time to take legal action to get you to repay the debt.

However, debt will only become statute barred after six years if:

  • No communication was made between the creditor and the debtor
  • No acknowledgement was made from the debtor that they owe the money
  • No legal action was taken against the debtor, such as a County Court Judgment (CCJ)

If, at any point during the six years, any of these rules are broken, the limitation period will start all over again and you’ll have to wait longer before the debt becomes statute barred.

Even a simple email to your creditor can be enough to restart the six-year countdown.

What debts can become statute barred?

If you have unpaid debts, it’s important to know whether they can become statute barred. This can help you work out how long you have left before it becomes unrecoverable.

Most unsecured debts, or simple contract debts, can become statute barred including:

Credit cards Payday loans
Mortgage arrears Rent arrears
Utility bills Personal loans
Council Tax arrears Catalogues
Phone bills Gas and electricity bills
Benefit overpayments

What debts can’t become statute barred?

Not all debts can become statute barred after six years and there is no time limit for the delivery of tax.

For example, if you owe money for unpaid income tax, VAT, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), or capital gains tax debts, there is no limitation period and you can be chased for longer than six years.

However, because National Insurance is not classed as a tax, it is subject to the six-year limitation period.

How do I know if a debt is statute barred?

Knowing whether or not a debt is statute barred can be tricky. If a debt hasn’t been acknowledged in five years, for example, reaching out to ask if it’s statute barred can restart the entire limitation period and you’ll have another six years to wait until the debt is written off.

It is also worth remembering that a debt can’t become statute barred if a creditor has taken legal action and issued a County Court Judgment (CCJ) against it.

To know whether a debt is statute barred, check the last date you or anyone else named on the credit agreement:

  • Made a payment (this can be checked by looking at your bank statement or credit file)
  • Contacted the creditor (this means you have acknowledged the debt)
  • Received a default notice

If it has been more than six years since any of those things happened, the debt will be statute barred.

Should I wait for a debt to become statute barred?

If you’re nearing the end of the six-year limitation period for a debt and the creditor hasn’t contacted you, it can be tempting to just wait for the debt to be written off.

However, most creditors will try to recover the money before the limitation period passes which could result in them contacting you or harassing you as the deadline looms closer.

Creditors can also take legal action up until the date the debt becomes statute barred so unless you know the limitation period has passed, you still owe money.

There are various debt solutions out there that can help you make affordable payments towards your debt before legal action is taken.

Can a creditor chase me for a debt after six years?

Although most debts have a limitation period of six years, there are some instances where creditors and debt collectors can and will continue to chase you for debts after they have become statute barred.

Statute barred might mean the debt has been written off but it technically still exists.

This means that while the creditor can’t take legal action, such as a CCJ, against it, they can try to recover the money they are owed through other means.

If a creditor attempts to take legal action against a statute barred debt but you can prove the limitation period has passed, it will be cancelled.

If the creditor can prove that you are still liable for the debt, however, you will be ordered to repay it.

Even if you just receive a letter informing you of upcoming legal action, you must respond as soon as possible to give the court enough time to assess the situation and look into your case.

Failure to respond to letters promptly will result in the court action being enforced, even if the debt is statute barred.

If you are still being chased for statute barred debts and you don’t have a CCJ in your name, you can report the creditor for harassment or make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

<strong>Maxine McCreadie</strong>

Maxine McCreadie

Maxine is an experienced writer, specialising in personal insolvency. With a wealth of experience in the finance industry, she has written extensively on the subject of Individual Voluntary Arrangements, Protected Trust Deed's, and various other debt solutions.