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Check if you're responsible for a credit debt

This advice applies to Wales

There are ways to check if you’re responsible for paying off a debt. You should do this if you’re being chased to pay a debt for ‘borrowed money’.

Borrowed money means any debt from:

  • credit cards

  • bank overdrafts or loans, including hire purchase agreements

  • catalogue spending

  • mortgages

This advice doesn’t apply to debts like Council Tax arrears, rent arrears and energy bill arrears.

If the debt is over 6 years old (over 5 years in Scotland)

Lenders only have a certain amount of time to take you to court for a debt. This is 6 years.

Mortgages

Mortgage lenders have longer to get their money back. They have 12 years to try to recover a mortgage shortfall and 6 years to recover any interest owing. 

 

After this, the lender usually can’t force you to pay the money back. This is called a ‘statute barred’ debt.

The time starts from the date you first failed to make a payment.

Your debt could be statute barred if it’s 6 years or more since you last made a payment, and during that time:

  • you haven’t said in writing to the lender that the debt’s yours

  • the creditor hasn’t gone to court for the debt

Don’t contact the lender if you’re in this situation. This is because you could make it look like you’re agreeing you owe the money and this can ‘reset the clock’ on the 6 years.

Be careful if you have a joint debt as one of you could reset the 6 year time limit for both of you.

If one of you writes and acknowledges the debt, the clock is reset for that person alone.

If one of you makes a payment, the clock is reset for both of you.

Get free help from your nearest Citizens Advice or from the National Debtline if you want to make sure the debt is statute barred before talking to the lender.

National Debtline

Telephone: 0808 808 4000

Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm

Saturday 9.30am to 1pm

You can also use National Debtline’s sample letter to stop the lender contacting you again. It’s written in a way that tells the lender to stop without you agreeing that you owe them money.

Send the letter by recorded delivery if you want to prove the lender got it. There's a small charge for this. You can also ask the Post Office for 'proof of postage' - this is free of charge.

Any lender that still wants to argue that the debt isn’t statute barred will then have to go to court to prove it. Read our advice about getting a court order ‘set aside’ if this happens.

 

If you didn’t borrow the money

You’re not responsible for a debt if you’re not mentioned on the credit agreement for it.

You don’t have to prove a debt isn't yours if you’ve been contacted by a debt collector. They must prove that it is yours.

If they can’t prove the debt is yours, you don’t have to pay anything or do anything else.

However, you can send a letter to the lender or debt collector if you’d like to complain about them chasing you for a debt that’s not yours. There are some examples on this page for you to choose from.

You borrowed money with someone else

You’re responsible for a debt if you both signed the credit agreement. If the other person stops paying, you can be made to pay back the full amount of a joint debt - not just your share.

This is because the debt is not seen by the lender as a 50/50 split between 2 people. They don’t have to take account of any arrangements you might have made with the other person about paying.

If you didn’t sign an agreement but are being chased for payment, send a letter to the lender, debt collector or agency chasing the debt. Ask them for proof that the debt is yours.

The letter can be very short, for example:

To [put the name of the debt collection company or lender],

I am writing in response to your letter dated [give the date].

If you have reason to believe a valid debt exists and that the debtor lives at this address, please provide proof of the debt in writing.

Financial Conduct Authority rules say you cannot continue any collection activity until you have done this.

[Give your name and sign the letter].

Don’t include your phone number or email address, as this just gives them more ways to contact you about the debt. Keep a copy of the letter for yourself.  

If you aren’t sent any proof that the debt’s yours but are still chased for payments, send a follow-up letter to complain. This should say:

To [put the name of the debt collection company or lender],

COMPLAINT

On [put the date of your original letter] I wrote to ask you to prove my alleged debt. I attach a copy of that letter.

The FCA rules are clear that “Where there is a dispute as to the identity of the borrower or hirer or as to the amount of the debt, it is for the firm (and not the customer) to establish, as the case may be, that the customer is the correct person in relation to the debt or that the amount is the correct amount owed under the agreement.”

You have not provided any evidence that I owe this money.

If you don’t stop contacting me about this debt, I will complain to the Financial Ombudsman.

Please also delete the incorrect entries from my credit records.

[Give your name and sign the letter.]

Include a copy of your first letter with it - still keeping a copy for yourself. Keep a copy of your letter of complaint as well.

If your complaint letter is ignored and you’re still being chased for payment, get free help from your nearest Citizens Advice, or complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

You can also call the ombudsman for extra help at any stage if you have questions about your situation. Their service is free.

Financial Ombudsman Service

Telephone: 0800 023 4567

Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm

Saturday, 9am to 1pm

Calls are free from mobiles and landlines. 

If you’re paying a joint debt on your own, see our advice about getting help with debt.

You just acted as a guarantor for someone

You’re responsible for a debt if you acted as a guarantor for someone and they haven’t paid the money as agreed. The lender can expect you, as the guarantor, to pay the rest of the debt.

Read our advice about getting help if you can’t afford to pay a debt.

Your partner or spouse has died and left a debt

You’re not responsible for your partner or spouse’s debts unless you’re also named on the credit agreement.

However, lenders are allowed to try to get back their money from the person’s estate (their money, possessions and property when they died). This means they can write to the executor or administrator of the will about getting the debt paid.

For more help, read our advice about how to deal with a person’s financial affairs after they’ve died.

You can also get free help from your nearest Citizens Advice if you’re struggling with a debt left by someone who’s died.

You’re told a debt you don’t recognise is in your name

You might be chased for a debt because you have the same name as someone else who borrowed money. 

Ask the lender for proof the debt is yours. This will:

  • get them to check their details and stop contacting you if it’s not your debt

  • give you further information to remind you if it’s an old debt you’ve forgotten about

You don't have to prove that a debt isn't yours.

The lender or collector must prove that it is yours.

Send a letter asking for proof to the lender or collection agency.   

You can use this example:

To [put the name of the debt collection company or lender],

I am writing in response to your letter dated [give the date].

If you have reason to believe a valid debt exists and that the debtor lives at this address, please provide proof of the debt in writing.

Financial Conduct Authority rules say you cannot continue any collection activity until you have done this.

[Give your name and sign the letter].

Don’t include your phone number or email address, as this just gives them more ways to contact you about the debt. Keep a copy of the letter for yourself.  

If you aren’t sent any proof but are still chased for payments, send a follow-up letter to complain, saying:

To [put the name of the debt collection company or lender],

COMPLAINT

On [put the date of your original letter] I wrote to ask you to prove my alleged debt. I attach a copy of that letter.

The FCA rules are clear that “Where there is a dispute as to the identity of the borrower or hirer or as to the amount of the debt, it is for the firm (and not the customer) to establish, as the case may be, that the customer is the correct person in relation to the debt or that the amount is the correct amount owed under the agreement.”

You have not provided any evidence that I owe this money.

If you don’t stop contacting me about this debt, I will complain to the Financial Ombudsman.

Please also delete the incorrect entries from my credit records.

[Give your name and sign the letter.]

Include a copy of the first letter with it (still keeping one for yourself). Keep a copy of your letter of complaint too.

If your complaint letter is ignored and you’re still being chased for payment, get free help from your nearest Citizens Advice, or complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

You can also call the ombudsman for help at any stage if you have questions about your situation. Their service is free.

Financial Ombudsman Service

Telephone: 0800 023 4567

Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm

Saturday, 9am to 1pm

Calls are free from mobiles and landlines.  

You think your signature has been forged 

You're not responsible for paying a debt if someone's applied for credit using your name and you didn't know about it.  

Tell the creditor straight away if you think this has happened.

Creditors have different ways of dealing with fraud. They might ask you to report the fraud to the police. You might be asked to provide proof of your signature.

It's a good idea to talk to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice if you think someone's applied for credit in your name.

If you were pressured into signing

You can complain to the lender if you feel like you were pressured, bullied or persuaded into signing an agreement when you didn’t want to.

It’s best to get free help to do this from a specialist debt adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice or from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

They will help you work out whether you’ll be able to show that you signed against your will. Their service is free.

Financial Ombudsman Service

Telephone: 0800 023 4567

Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm

Saturday, 9am to 1pm

Calls to this number are free from mobiles and landlines.

If you signed within the last 14 days

Lots of credit agreements have a 14-day ‘cooling off’ period after signing, where you can cancel without having to give a reason. This can be quicker and simpler than showing you were pressured into signing.

Read our advice about cancelling if you’re still within this 14-day period. You’ll still be able to get specialist advice later if you don’t manage to cancel within the 14 days.

If you couldn't understand what you were signing

You can complain to the lender if there’s a reason you couldn’t fully understand what you were signing when you borrowed money.

This could be because:

  • you have learning difficulties

  • you have mental health problems

  • you have dementia

  • you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time

You can also complain on behalf of someone else for the same reasons.

It’s best to get free help to do this from a specialist debt adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice or from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

Their service is free and they will look at what happened to help you complain to the lender.

Ask for a letter from your doctor, or any medical professional who knows you, about the condition or problem you have. This can be used as part of your complaint.

Financial Ombudsman Service

Telephone: 0800 023 4567

Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm

Saturday, 9am to 1pm

Calls to this number are free from mobiles and landlines.

If you were under 18 (under 16 in Scotland) when you signed

It’s not illegal for under 18s to be lent money, although most lenders won’t do it.

You can cancel the loan, but you must do it before you’re 18. You won’t have to pay back the remaining debt, but you won’t get back what you’ve already paid.

Write to the lender to let them know you want to cancel the loan. They have 8 weeks to reply. If they don’t respond or they refuse to cancel, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) about the lender. Their service is free.

Financial Ombudsman Service

Telephone: 0800 023 4567

Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm

Saturday, 9am to 1pm

Calls to this number are free from mobiles and landlines.

Your child’s debts

You’re not responsible for your child’s debts, unless you acted as a guarantor for them by signing the credit agreement. It doesn’t matter how old they are. If you did this, you’ll be responsible for paying the debt.

Get help from a money adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice if your child has borrowed money - especially if they lied about their age.

Admitting they lied will mean they’re no longer responsible for the debt, but they could be prosecuted for fraud. It’s a good idea to get advice on what to do next.

If you think the debt is to a loan shark

Anyone lending money for profit must be authorised to do it by the Financial Conduct Authority.

If they’re not, they’re an illegal lender - often known as a ‘loan shark’.

You can check if a lender is authorised and report them if they’re aren’t.

You won’t get into trouble, as you haven’t broken the law - they have.

Loan sharks have no legal right to make you pay this type of loan back, because the loan itself is illegal. However, you shouldn’t stop paying if you're worried about your immediate safety.

Get free advice from your nearest Citizens Advice as soon as you can.

If the debt is not what you agreed

Check your original credit agreement to find the details of what you agreed to. If there’s something wrong with the agreement, you might be able to argue that’s it’s not valid.

If you signed within the last 14 days

If the agreement is not what you thought and you signed it within the last 14 days, you might be able to cancel with no questions asked. Many types of credit agreement have a 14-day ‘cooling off’ period after signing, where you can cancel without having to give a reason.

Read our advice about cancelling if you’re still within this 14-day period.

If you don’t manage to cancel within the 14 days, you can get free specialist help from your nearest Citizens Advice about what to do.

If you signed more than 14 days ago

Your credit agreement should clearly show:

  • the amount borrowed

  • details of payments - how many, how much and how often

  • the rate of interest and whether it can vary

  • the ‘APR’ - this is the cost of the loan each year and includes fees and interest

  • the ‘full amount repayable’ - this is the total you will pay, calculated by adding the original amount plus interest

It must also:

  • give details of the agreement’s terms and conditions

  • tell you how to cancel the agreement - along with any fees for this

  • be signed by the creditor and the debtor (you)

If any of this is missing or wrong in your agreement, you might not have to repay the debt. It depends when the agreement was made.

If the agreement was made before 6 April 2007

The debt is ‘unenforceable’. This means you will still owe the debt, and your creditor can still chase you for the money, but they cannot:

  • take you to court

  • take away anything you bought using the money you borrowed

  • take away anything you used as security when taking out the loan - for example, your home

Send a letter to the creditor telling them the agreement is unenforceable. 

You can use this example: 

To [put the name of the debt collection company or lender],

I have reason to believe that my debt is unenforceable because [put the reasons why you think it's unenforceable, for example because the agreement wasn't signed].

Please provide evidence I owe this money. 

While I'm disputing this debt, I would ask you to put my account on hold for 28 days. 

[Give your name and sign the letter].

Don’t include your phone number or email address, as this just gives them more ways to contact you about the debt. Keep a copy of the letter for yourself.

If the agreement was made on or after 6 April 2007

The debt is 'enforceable' but your creditor has to take you to court to get the money.

Some creditors are quicker than others to take you to court. It’s a good idea to contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you're not sure whether your agreement is enforceable.

Get a copy of your credit agreement

If you can’t find your credit agreement, you can ask the lender for a copy.

They have to give you one, but it doesn’t have to be a signed copy. This means it may not be worth asking for a copy if you just want them to prove that you signed it.

It costs £1 to get a copy of your agreement. This covers lenders’ administration costs.

Send a letter, saying:

“Please send me a copy of the credit agreement and any other document mentioned in it. I am making this request under sections 77 to 79 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. I enclose my payment of £1.”

Include:

  • your address

  • details of the debt

  • your payment

Problems getting a copy of your credit agreement

If you were never given a credit agreement and can’t get one from your lender, it could be that they aren’t actually authorised to lend money. This would mean they’ve broken the law. Read our advice about illegal lenders (called ‘loan sharks’).

The lender has 12 days to give a copy of your agreement when you ask for one. After this, your debt becomes ‘unenforceable’.  This means you will still owe the debt, and your creditor can still chase you for the money, but they cannot:

  • take you to court

  • take away anything you bought using the money you borrowed

  • take away anything you used as security when taking out the loan - for example, your home

If a lender is trying to take you to court, get free help from a debt adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice or from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

Financial Ombudsman Service

Telephone: 0800 023 4567

Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm

Saturday, 9am to 1pm

Calls are free from mobiles and landlines.  

Help with paying off debts

If you’re responsible for a debt that you can’t pay, read our advice on how to get help with debts.   

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