Posted: Thu 8th Jun 2023

Chasing Shadows: Navigating the Maze of Debt Collection Time Limits in the UK

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Jun 8th, 2023

Debt, defined broadly as money owed by one party to another, is an integral aspect of the global economy. However, it becomes a matter of concern when these obligations remain unpaid for an extended period. In such circumstances, understanding the legalities surrounding debt collection becomes imperative, particularly, how long a debt can be ‘chased’ for in the UK. This article seeks to shed light on these aspects, elucidating on key concepts including statute barred debt.

Understanding Debt Collection in the UK

The term “chasing debt” refers to efforts made by creditors or debt collection agencies to recover money that has been borrowed and not repaid. In the UK, there is a formal process in place for debt collection, which can be initiated once a debtor defaults on their payment obligations. Debt collection agencies, often third-party companies hired by creditors, or debt buyers who purchase the debt at a lower rate, can then legally pursue the debtor for the outstanding balance.

Statutory Limitations for Debt Collection in the UK

Under the Limitation Act 1980, there is a time limit within which a creditor can chase a debt. For different types of debts, these time frames vary. For instance, for unsecured debts such as credit cards and personal loans, the limit is typically six years from when the debtor last acknowledged the debt or from when the last payment was made. For secured debts like mortgages or vehicle loans, the time limit extends to twelve years.

In contrast, for student loans and tax debts, the rules differ. Old-style student loans, granted before 1998, are usually written off either when the borrower turns 50 or 25 years after the first payment was due. On the other hand, there is no limitation period for money owed to HM Revenue and Customs.

What is Statute Barred Debt

Statute barred debt refers to a debt that a creditor can no longer force you to pay because of the amount of time that has passed. This happens when a creditor has not started court action against the debtor within the time limit set by the Limitation Act 1980.

However, it’s worth noting that a debt does not automatically become statute barred after the time limit has passed. Several factors could restart the clock, such as making a payment or acknowledging the debt in writing. Understanding these nuances can help you better navigate your financial obligations.

Exceptions to the Statutory Limitations

While the Limitation Act 1980 provides general rules for debt collection, there are some noteworthy exceptions.

Firstly, acknowledging the debt can extend the period in which a creditor can pursue the debt. Acknowledgment could be as simple as making a payment towards the debt or, in some cases, even admitting in writing that you owe the debt. This resets the limitation clock, giving creditors additional time to pursue repayment.

Secondly, for jointly owed debts, any action by one debtor to acknowledge the debt or make a part-payment resets the clock for all parties involved.

Lastly, council tax arrears are a unique case where the local authority can ask the magistrate’s court for permission to collect the debt, regardless of how much time has passed since the arrears first occurred.

Handling Debt Collectors

Dealing with debt collectors can be stressful. Knowing your rights can help mitigate this stress and prevent potential mistreatment. Under the Financial Conduct Authority guidelines, debt collectors must treat you fairly. They are not allowed to use oppressive behaviour, coercion, deceit, or be unfair or improper. For instance, they cannot call you repeatedly and disruptively, use legal or technical language to confuse you, or pressure you into selling your property to repay the debt.

Getting Help with Debt

If you find yourself struggling with debt, remember that help is available. Organisations such as StepChange Debt Charity, National Debtline, and Citizens Advice provide free advice and support to help you manage your debt and understand your rights.


Understanding how long a debt can be ‘chased’ for in the UK is crucial for anyone dealing with debt or providing financial advice. From acknowledging the concept of ‘chasing debt’ to exploring the statutory limitations as per the Limitation Act 1980, and delving into the details of statute barred debt, we hope this article has shed light on these essential areas.

Understanding the exceptions to these statutory limitations can also provide clarity and prevent potential mishandlings. Lastly, while dealing with debt collectors can be a daunting experience, remember that you have rights and there are resources available to assist you. Don’t hesitate to seek professional advice if you’re unsure about your situation or if you feel overwhelmed by your financial circumstances.

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