Can you run away from your debts?

posted by in Living with debt

man on beach with suitcase

“Debts? What debts?”

You might know a bloke with skin like a leather handbag who boasts that he did a midnight flit to Spain to escape his debts. He’s returned to Blighty with an apparently clean credit report.

This isn’t a one-off: we’ve read quite a few stories on the web about people who’ve jetted to the four corners of the world to escape their creditors. They’ve wait six years to return, buoyed that their debt has been written off and the banks can’t pursue them. They’re the kind of person that don’t come to us for debt advice.

So, can you just do a bunk to Iberia, sit on a beach for the better part of a decade and end up owing nothing?

Of course, the reality of the situation is slightly different.

Statute barred debts

There’s a piece of legislation called the Limitations Act. One of main aspects of this act is that a debt can become “statute barred” after a period of six years.

What does that mean? It means that creditors are unable to legally pursue you for a debt if, after six years:

  • They have not already obtained a county court judgment (CCJ) to recover the debt;
  • You or any one else owing the money (say on a debt in joint names) have not made a payment; or
  • You have not written to the creditor admitting you owe the debt

This is the only piece of debt law that could see your debt deemed unenforceable. However some try to use this to intentionally avoid paying their debts.

So, could you ignore the creditors and not pay them anything for six years?

Despite the myths that have grown around the Limitations Act this tactic wouldn’t actually work.

As the above explanation suggests, if you start to ignore your creditors they’re liable to get in touch with you quite quickly! They may even do this through the courts, by obtaining a county court judgment (CCJ), or another one of the debt collection procedures available to them.

Could you move house and not tell them?

That wouldn’t work either as it’s your responsibility to keep your creditors updated with your current address. Moving house and not telling your creditors where you’ve gone is seen as debt avoidance. This is never recommended.

Debt avoidance

The Limitations Act isn’t there to encourage avoidance or non-payment and most judges would take a dim view of these tactics. The act is there to protect people from being forced to pay debts that have ‘timed out’ through no fault of their own. It protects us all from being chased for very old debts that we weren’t aware of.

However, it’s important to realise that these laws cannot be twisted to help you get away without paying your debts. The money owed is not written off; it’s still a debt and still exists, but the creditor can no longer enforce the debt and take you to court.

Debt repayment

We find our clients are genuine in wanting to do their best to repay as much as they can afford to their creditors. In turn we want to do our best to give them the correct advice and guide them through the maze of legislation while being impartial and honest at all times.

In essence we’re here to help the ‘can’t pays’ rather than the ‘won’t pays’.

If you’re desperate enough to start looking for ways to escape your unmanageable debt you might want to use on online debt help tool like Debt Remedy to find a solution to your problem quickly.

If you’re thinking of taking a six-year Spanish siesta to escape your debt nightmare think again. It would probably be quicker to be honest and just pay off the debt.

Peer’s the digital content manager at StepChange Debt Charity. Apart from contributing to the MoneyAware blog and overseeing the charity’s website and social media content, he’s walked to the top of every mountain and hill in the Lake District. Twice.

Written by

Tags Living with debt
  • CAH

    I moved back to the UK from Switzerland in early 2011 without closing my bank account. I naively thought that the account would be closed automatically after it hadn’t been used for a long period of time.
    I have since found out that this is not the case and that I would continue to be charged for my account. This would now be building up and I no longer have any of my bank details.
    Would the Swiss bank be able to contact me in the UK to enforce payment? I am happy to pay the debt but scared of the amount. I am too scared to go back to Switzerland incase I am arrested or something to that effect.

    • moneyaware

      Hi there and thanks for your question.

      We can only give advice on UK based debt as the debt law will be different in Switzerland. I’d recommend that you contact a Swiss based debt advice agency or you could try the British Embassy if you’re not sure where to start.

      I hope that helps.

      Kind regards,

  • moneyaware

    Hi Karl,

    It’s very unlikely that having outstanding council tax arrears would cause you to have issues travelling abroad however it’s still important that you take steps to deal with the debt to help prevent any further enforcement action.

    Council tax debt should always be treated as a priority payment because of the action that can be taken to recover the outstanding amount. Sometimes you might not hear from a creditor for a while but the debt may still be there and we believe it’s better to deal with debts sooner, rather than later.

    If you think you’ll struggle or you’re not sure how to deal with the debt then we can help.

    You can find out more about how to get in touch with us by visiting http://www.stepchange,org/contactus.aspx.

    I hope this helps,


  • Carrie

    We got into server debt years ago when my husband was made redundant from his job. We finally sort debt help and entered an IVA arangement. Unfortunately due to work situations we were still struggleing and under advice from our IVA agent we sold our house to pay off the debt. We paid off our mortgage and secured loans however still struggled with the IVA and it finally failed. Over the years we have settled our outstanding debts as they contacted us and finally thought we were clear. I now have a clear healthy credit rating. I have just recieved 6 individual letters off one debt recovery company. Each is for a different account and are stated as being statements stating my agreement has been terminated and full amount oweing. I have not had any corrspondence from these accounts in over 6 years. Where do I stand legally.

  • Rob

    Hi, I went through a messy divorce which has left me in debt with Tesco and 2 credit card companies.
    I have spoken to the Credit card companies and one has passed on a debt of about 2.3 K on to a DCA about a year ago and I have not heard from them at all… although the CC company know I moved abroad and where. The other CC company is with my bank account and they are working with me over the 1.2k I owe them. Tescos know of my situation and I have been paying 1 pound a month until I can sort something out here in Gemany… unfortunately the only way I can see me setteling these debts is via taking finance out over here which is proving to be difficult being that I am not german…
    What would happen if I were to cease communication with the likes of the CC and Tesco, would they really go through all the hassle of contacting me abroad over those amounts?
    I had planned to pay these off with the money I had received from a redundancy payment, but my ex wife took care of that and I didnt have enough left to even offer a settlement payment….