How long before debt collectors take action?

Debt can quickly creep up on people. Maybe it is because of a period of unemployment, unexpected costs, the breakdown of a relationship or even a lack of understanding of how best to manage your money.

Whatever the reason, if you find yourself facing debt you can no longer manage, do not bury your head in the sand and hope that it will go away.

The debt recovery process

While not every creditor will follow the exact same debt recovery process and timeframe, in general terms you can expect the following when you miss payment(s):

  1. A friendly reminder – If you miss a payment you will likely be sent a friendly reminder to ask you to pay asap.
  2. Overdue payment reminder – If payment doesn’t follow the friendly reminder your creditor (the person or business you owe), will send you an overdue payment reminder. A missed payment may well appear on your credit score which could impact your ability to get future credit.
  3. Final notice request – At this point it is likely to be some weeks since your initial payment was due, and your creditor will now be pushing for payment with a final demand.
  4. Direct contact from creditors – You may now begin to receive calls and letters from your creditors demanding payment.
  5. Default notice letter – This is a formal letter stating you have 14 days to make payment or your creditor will pursue legal proceedings.
  6. Debt collection agency becomes involved – Your creditor may choose to pass your debt onto a debt collection agency who will contact you and chase for payment. At this stage you may be able to negotiate a payment plan you can afford.
  7. County Court Judgement (CCJ) process begins–  If your creditor does pursue legal proceedings you may find yourself facing a CCJ. You have 14 days to respond to the court claim. The judgement will tell you how much you owe and when you need to pay it by.
  8. Bailiffs – If your creditor has obtained a CCJ and you have not complied with the ruling, then bailiffs could be sent to your property to recover goods to the value of your debt. Remember, costs and interest will also be added so at this point your debt may have risen significantly.

A missed payment through to goods being seized by bailiffs will take in excess of six months and throughout the process you should have the opportunity to prevent the debt escalating further by negotiating with your creditor(s) a payment plan that suits your circumstances.

If your finances are escalating out of control, take charge immediately. Get organised by taking stock of your finances and finding out exactly who you owe, how much and when payments are due. If you know you cannot make your next payment, contact your creditors and explain the situation. Work out beforehand how much you can afford to pay and propose this to your creditor(s) before debt collectors take action. It may also be worth contacting a debt advisor who can offer free advice on the options open to you.

While debt is undoubtedly stressful to individuals, businesses too can feel its impact. No matter the size or type of business, getting paid what you are owed is vital to your continued success.

While pursuing debt recovery through legal means should be a last resort, if the matter needs to be escalated, our debt recovery team are on hand to support you every step of the way.

Our experienced team are trusted by businesses from across a wide range of sectors and in 2016, pursued debts in excess of £30m.


How long can debt collectors come after you? 

From the time that your last payment was due, or acknowledgment of the debt was made, a creditor has six years to chase most unsecured unpaid debts or twelve years for some mortgage shortfalls. Any action to recover the debt may not continue after six years from the date of the acknowledged debt. 

How far back can debt collectors go? 

Debt collectors have a limited time to collect most debts. Known as the limitation period, since your last correspondence or last payment, your creditor has six years in which to act. However, the time is longer for mortgages (up to 12 years on the main account).  

How long do you have to collect a debt? 

Except for personal injury debts which have a limitation period of three years, in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, you have six years to collect debts for rent arrears, overdrafts, payday loans, store cards, credit cards, council tax arrears, overpayment of benefits, catalogues, or personal loans. 

How long before a debt expires in the UK? 

The time of expiration for a debt in England and Wales is six years. Whilst making regular monthly payments, you cannot be taken to Court, it is only when you have not made payments that the creditor will begin a cause of action and expire six years down the line. However, if a payment is made after the creditor’s initial cause of action, the six years will start all over again.  

How do debt collectors find you? 

Debt collectors use credit reference agencies to track people. Even if you move to a new house and fail to provide a forwarding address, debt collectors perform credit searches to track people through their utility bills and mobile phones.  

How long can you be chased for a debt? 

Six years. If a debt collector informs you that they are taking you to court, the time limit in which they have to collect the debt is six years for most loans. 

How long can a debt be outstanding? 

Although it may be longer for mortgage payments, a debt can only be outstanding for six years. After the time limit of six years has passed, the debt might become ‘statute barred’, and this means that you don’t have to pay if you have not contacted the lender within that time. 

Can debt collection agencies take you to court? 

Debt collection agencies are well within their right to take you to Court if you do not make payments on loans and other financial products. 

Can a debt collector come to your work? 

Debt collectors’ tactics to retrieve debts are limited by law. It is illegal for a debt collector to come to a place of work to collect payment. They are, however, allowed to call you at work but you can request that they do not and, according to law, they have to stop. 

When should I contact a solicitor about my debt collection issues?  

Most legal issues can be resolved without the need for a solicitor. If a debt collector decides to take you to Court, you may then need legal advice or representation.  

If you are concerned that you will require the services of a solicitor with regards to unpaid debt or disputes regarding debt collection, please contact us for more information

For more information on our debt recovery services, including Activate, our online debt recovery service, click here.

If you’d like to find out more about the legal services offered by Smith Partnership, don’t hesitate to contact us via Alternatively, speak to a member of our team directly on 0330 123 1229.

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