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Collecting information about your debts

This advice applies to Scotland

If you owe money and you’re struggling to pay it back, there are actions you can take.

Making a list of your debts

Collect together all the information about your debts, such as contracts, bills and statements. Your debts might for example include:

  • rent arrears

  • credit card debts

  • council tax arrears, including unpaid water and sewerage charges

  • energy bills

  • money you’ve borrowed from friends or family

Make a list of your debts and write down the details of each debt. These details might include:

  • who you owe the money to - this is your ‘creditor’

  • when you first missed a payment

  • how much you owe - this might be in a recent statement

  • your account or reference number - this might be at the top of your statement

  • what the creditor has done to get the money back - for example, sending you letters or taking you to court

Try not to worry when you see all your debts written down - the important thing is that you're sorting them out.

If you’re not sure if you have to pay a debt, check if the law says you have to.

Getting your credit reports

Credit reports show what money you’ve borrowed and paid back. It’s a good idea to get copies of your credit reports to check you’ve got the right details for all your debts.

You can get free copies of your credit reports from the 3 credit agencies - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion (formerly Callcredit). Ask for the 'statutory report'. It’s worth getting reports from all 3 agencies as they sometimes have different information.

Your credit reports might not have details of all your debts, so you should also look at the information your creditors have sent you. Credit reports don’t normally show changes in the last 4 to 6 weeks. They also won’t show if you have:

  • council tax arrears

  • unpaid income tax

  • benefit overpayments

  • money you owe to family and friends

  • money you owe to tradespeople, like builders or solicitors

Check if you should contact your creditors

Your creditors have a limited time to take you to court to repay a debt. For most debts, the time limit is 5 years although it may be 20 years for some types of debt. There have been a number of recent court cases about when the time limit starts to run from. For some debts the time limit may run from the date that you received a termination notice. The time limit may restart if you write to your creditor or make a payment.

If you haven’t had court papers after 5 years, your creditor usually won't take you to court.

Don’t contact the creditor if:

  • it’s been over 5 years, because they might not be able to force you to pay

  • it will soon be 5 years, because contacting them might restart the time limit

Check if the time limit has passed or will pass soon. If you’re not sure, get help from your nearest Citizens Advice.

What to say to your creditors

You should usually try to contact your creditors - unless the time limit for them going to court has passed or will pass soon.

Tell them you’re trying to deal with your debts. Ask them to:

  • confirm all the details of your debts

  • stop chasing you for payments while you work out what you need to do

  • stop adding interest and charges so the debt doesn't get any bigger

It’s usually better to write or send an email, so you have a record of what they say. You can use our template letter to help you write to them.

Don’t write to your creditors if your debt is old and you think the time limit for legal action may have passed.

Next steps

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to deal with the debts on your list. If you make a plan and stick to it, any debt problem can be managed. The next step is to check which debts to deal with first.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or need help dealing with your debts, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

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