How long can you legally be chased for a debt in the UK?

Being chased for debts is incredibly stressful. When can you legally put an end to it? Keep reading to learn when debt collectors have to call it quits.
How long can you legally be chased for debts in the UK?

If you’re facing debt or have debt collectors calling nonstop, it can have an enormous strain on your mental health. In fact, financial concerns have led to widespread stress, hopelessness, and anxiety across UK adults.

If you’re behind on payments and are being hounded for it, you might wonder how long it can go on. How long you can legally be chased for a debt depends on a couple factors. Here, we’ll dig into what determines when a creditor can chase you and the point where they have to let you go.

Debts can be chased indefinitely under certain circumstances

With most debts, you can theoretically be chased indefinitely if the creditor or a debt collector keeps at it. In reality, that’s usually not how it works out — and we’ll discuss that later. But before we move on, we should mention when you don’t have to pay your debts. You might not have to pay if:

  • You were coerced into the agreement or the payment terms were misleading
  • Your creditor failed to carry out the proper affordability checks before extending the capital to you
  • Finally, you may not have to pay your debt if it’s ‘statute-barred.’ But what does that mean?

Is my debt statute-barred?

If a creditor allows a debt to go unpaid for a long time, they effectively waive their ability to collect on it. When this happens, your debt may be considered statute-barred.

What officially constitutes ‘a long time’ depends on the type of debt. Secured credit lines and unsecured credit lines have different statutes of limitations under the Limitations Act, 1980.

  • Secured lines of credit have a 12-year statute of limitations
  • Unsecured lines of credit have a six-year statute of limitations

While it’s great that debts can be effectively ‘written off’ after the statute of limitations expires*, you should know that it’s very uncommon for debts to become statute-barred. Creditors (or debt collectors) must essentially forget about your debt and make no effort to collect it, as any attempt on their part will reset the statute of limitations’ clock.

*Note that certain debts, such as unpaid taxes, can be pursued by HMRC regardless of the statute of limitations.

Should I wait for my debts to become statute-barred?

It’s practically never a good idea to stop making payments. With a secured credit line, the creditor could repossess your home, car, or whatever the capital was secured against after you stop making payments. And regardless of whether it’s a secured or unsecured credit line, you could seriously damage your credit score by ignoring payments. That’s because of all the factors that influence your credit score, your payment history is the single-most important.

In most cases, lenders and creditors pursue your debts diligently because they depend on your payments. If you ignore the creditor’s messages, they’ll often put your account in default and sell your debt to a debt collector. A default is a negative mark that’s visible in your credit report for six years.

At this point, your credit score and ability to get credit in the future are at risk. And once a debt collector is on your case, you could also face a County Court Judgement (CCJ), which leaves a long-lasting negative mark on your credit report.

Related read: How long does a missed payment stay on your credit report?

What should I do if I can’t make my payments?

If you’re facing a scenario where you can’t make your payments, one of the worst things you can do is ignore them. While it’s never comfortable to deal with that kind of problem, it only gets harder as time goes by and your credit score is damaged further. If you’re at risk of missing more payments, consider taking the following steps:

Talk to your creditor

A creditor’s number-one goal is to receive payments. They only stand to lose from missed payments, so they’re often glad to work out a new payment plan with you if it means you’ll be able to pay them. The earlier you can do this the better, as it could prevent the lender from putting your account in default.

Make a budget

If you’re struggling to make your payments, it’s a good idea to head back to the basics. Making a budget can help you identify where your cash is going and what you can do to keep more of it.

Consider using proven debt-reduction strategies

If you’re drowning in debt and are getting chased by creditors or debt collectors, starting a proven debt-reduction strategy can alleviate some of the stress you’re experiencing. Popular debt-reduction strategies include:

The snowball method: With the snowball method, you use your spare cash each month to pay off your smallest debt, building the psychological momentum and habits that will help you pay off your larger debts.

The avalanche method: The avalanche method focuses on interest rates. You use your spare cash each month to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate. The avalanche method is generally considered to be less satisfying than the snowball method, but it saves you the most money in the long run by reducing your interest payments.

Debt consolidation: Debt consolidation pays off your existing debts and replaces them with a single payment. It’s much easier to keep track of and can offer a better interest rate in some cases, but it’s not without risk. Debt consolidation can lead to deeper debt if you don’t also change your spending habits.

Want to learn more about getting out of debt? Check out our guide: How to get out of debt in the UK

Ready to rebuild your credit?

If you’ve missed payments or have been chased for debts, the odds are that it has taken a toll on your credit score too. With a damaged credit score, it can be hard to qualify for the financial tools you need, like credit cards, loans, or a mortgage.

Fortunately, rebuilding your score doesn’t need to be a challenge. With the Pave app’s credit builder accounts*, you can actively repair and build your credit by improving your payment history and credit utilisation. Plus, we’ll help you monitor your bank accounts and upcoming bills to protect yourself from additional missed payments.

So, if you’re ready to see your credit score swing up, download the Pave app today. You can even check your TransUnion score totally free of charge.

Download Pave Today

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