9 debt myths busted

posted by in Living with debt

Be careful what you believe

Be careful what you believe

Earlier this year we started busting debt myths in a monster myth-busting blogpost.

To help anyone on a debt management plan we’ve picked the nine most-repeated DMP-related myths to help you.

If you hear these, take the advice with a huge pinch of salt…

Myth: Creditors are able to send bailiffs to collect debts

Only the courts have the authority to instruct bailiffs to visit you to collect consumer credit debts. If someone comes to your door calling themselves a bailiff, as long as you haven’t defaulted on a CCJ it’s likely that they’re a debt collector working for a creditor instead. These people don’t have any powers at all.

Read our advice on how to deal with court bailiffs and this article if creditors are sending debt collectors to your home.

Myth: Bailiffs can force entry into your property and take any item they want

Bailiffs can only be instructed by the courts. The bailiff is there to recover the money owed, whether this is by a payment arrangement or by taking goods from the property and selling them at auction.

Bailiffs cannot break into the property unless you have already allowed them in on a previous visit, or they entered through an unlocked door or window. This is called ‘walking possession’. Once the bailiff has ‘walking possession’ they can use force to enter again in the future. The exception is if the bailiff is collecting unpaid magistrates fines, HMRC or business related debts.

If a bailiff comes to collect a debt, it’s best to negotiate an arrangement outside of the property and seek debt help immediately.

Myth: Creditors and debt collectors can call you at any time

We often hear about creditors and debt collectors phoning late at night or early in the morning but, as the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) lays out in its debt collection guidelines (PDF), calling at unreasonable times or repeatedly is classed as harassment. This can include parts of the day if you work night shifts.

The OFT also warn debt collectors not to contact those in debt via social networking sites (read our 10 ways to stop debt collectors finding you on social media).

Myth: If I go bankrupt I won’t have to pay anything

Bankruptcy costs a lot. After the initial fee to petition for your bankruptcy is taken, the official receiver will look at your income and expenditure and decide if you need to pay into an Income Payment Order or Arrangement (IPA or IPO).

This usually happens if you have more than £50 surplus income. Bankrupts are normally expected to pay any surplus income into the order/arrangement for three years depending on their circumstances.

Read this salutary lesson on bankruptcy and the beginner’s guide to bankruptcy for more information. The Insolvency Service also has a leaflet for more detailed advice.

Myth: Your debts are written off if you haven’t made a payment in six years.

This refers to the Limitations Act; a debt can become statute barred after six years if the debtor (or anyone jointly named on the debt) hasn’t made a payment or admitted the debt and the creditor has not secured a County Court judgment (CCJ) against the debtor.

Section 2.14 of The Office of Fair Trading Collection Guidance also states that it is unfair to pursue such claims where the creditor has made no contact during the relevant limitation period.

The Act isn’t there to encourage debt avoidance or non-payment, it’s there to protect people from being forced to pay debts that have ‘timed out’ through no fault of their own. The money owed itself is not written off; it’s still a debt and in reality it still exists, but with the Act in force the creditor can no longer enforce the debt through the courts. The creditor can continue to chase the debt if they wish.

Myth: If you go bankrupt your name will appear in the local newspaper

There used to be a section in the local newspaper for bankruptcy, to inform creditors. Nowadays insolvencies are rarely advertised in the local paper unless it’s in the public interest and/or the official receiver believes that other creditors may want to claim (this is sometimes the case with self-employed local business bankruptcies).

Your bankruptcy, along with other types of insolvencies, will be mentioned in the London Gazette (a trade paper for creditors) and will be listed on the Government’s Insolvency Service website, searchable by name.

Myth: If you go bankrupt you will definitely lose your house

This is a complicated area and completely depends on your situation (which is why it’s important that you seek free and independent debt advice). If you have significant equity in your home, and it’s the only way to release your interest in the property, the official receiver or trustee may have to sell it to help pay the bankruptcy debts. There are exceptions to this and you can read more in this leaflet.

However, if there is little or no equity in your home, you may be able to stay there if the mortgage is affordable, comparable to local rental costs and appropriate to your needs. The official receiver or trustee still has 2 years and 3 months from the time of your bankruptcy to realise the asset if the value of the property increases.

Myth: If you fall behind on debt repayments you can go to prison

It isn’t a criminal offence if you can’t afford your debt repayments. You can only go to prison for refusing to pay council tax, licences or magistrates fines. It’s usually used as a last resort and there are many other enforcement methods that will be employed before imprisonment, such as attachment of earnings.

Myth: If you miss payments on your credit debt you will be blacklisted

There is no such thing as a ‘blacklist’ – experts call it “urban legend”. If you default on your payments this will be recorded on your credit file (PDF) which lenders use to judge how financially reliable you are.

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Matthew worked as an IVA drafter prior to working in social media. In a former life he wrote scripts for Eastenders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks. He has 3 chickens, 2 dogs and a rabbit.

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  • Luke

    I didn’t know that there wasn’t really a credit “blacklist”. Thanks for helping me out with some of these myths that I’ve been hearing for most of my adult life. I didn’t know that non-court ordered collection officers didn’t have any power over your possessions. If you allow them to take your things, you still lose them though, right? http://lowermainlandbailiff.com/

    • moneyaware

      Hi there Luke,

      Only court-instructed enforcement agents (the new name for bailiffs as detailed here: http://moneyaware.co.uk/2014/03/bailiff-law-changes-2014/) have the power to remove goods. i

      If someone from a collection agency acting on behalf of a creditor tried taking your goods, they would be breaking the law and you could report such actions to the police. Sometimes, collection agencies will use strong wording to suggest that item repossession MAY occur down the line, but they themselves do not have this power.

      Hope this helps

      Best regards

      Rachel

  • mary otten

    As I never had it installed in the first place I don’t feel I own anything.
    As I never had it installed in the first place I don’t feel I own anything.

    • moneyaware

      Hi Mary,

      If you’d like some advice about this situation we might be able to help. If you could tell us more about what’s going on we’ll see if there’s anything we can suggest.

      Kind regards

      James

  • Mac

    An unauthorized payment was made to a digital game key website so i made a claim with PayPal on that payment and now the game company has said i need to pay for the key again but with an extra £10 admin fee. They also said if i didn’t pay it the collecting agency will come after me. I need help on this, do i have to pay them?

    P.S. I did win the claim and received my money back. Still worried they will come to my door any time soon.

    • moneyaware

      Hi Mac,

      This sounds very strange. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the situation to say for sure, but this does sound very strange. I think it’s right to be very cautious.

      If you didn’t actually make this payment to them and don’t want whatever it is they’re selling then it doesn’t seem right you should have to send them any money. I’d suggest speaking to PayPayl and asking their advice: https://www.paypal.com/selfhelp/home.

      If that doesn’t help then you could try Action Fraud, as they deal with this kind of thing: http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/.

      Kind regards

      James

  • Sinfonia

    Hi. Hope someone can help me?. I was declared an indefinite bankrupt over 10 years ago. However, I was living abroad and was unaware of this. I have made an appointment with the OR. I have got credit cards, no debt but this is now showing on my credit reference file. Will the OR take away my cards? TIA

    • moneyaware

      Hi there,

      As this question relates to a bankruptcy that took place over 10 years ago withoutyour knowledge it’s hard to be certain. The Official Receiver (OR) will be able to give you the full details of what happens next.

      If you’re still an undischarged bankrupt then you usually need the OR’s permission to have debts such as credit cards. Whether they’ll give you permission would depend on your circumstances – so it might be worth thinking of reasons to give for why you need to keep those cards.

      Good luck with your meeting with the OR.

      Kind regards

      James

      • Sinfonia

        Hi James, I know mine is an old post but I didn’t realize I’d received a reply!. However, I thought I would let you know how I got on. During the meeting with the OR I became very distressed as this is unknown territory to me and I also suffer with mental health problems. I needn’t to have worried so much as the OR was a lovely understanding lady. As I was completely unaware of this and when I explained this was not entirely my debt..helping someone out .Never again !! she just went through the legal formalities to close the case. I have been discharged and it did not effect my credit cards at all. Thank you for your reply

  • stephen

    Desperate for answers…
    please may I ask for some clarity on a situation. I was made bankrupt in April 2014. very hard dealing with the trustees and i have repeatedly requested acces to documents that I gave them in the name of transparency.
    However on my list of creditors are
    * several trade debts which were for my limited company…no longer trading.
    * HMRC which with access to paperwork i can significantly reduce
    * and the big one is – several of the claims are for debts that became Statute Barred during the period of Bankruptcy and Discharge – 12 months.
    Do i have anything to work with? If so I can make a deal and save my family home.

    please help and thank you sooo much

    • moneyaware

      Hi Stephen,

      In these situations it’s really important that you contact the official receiver (OR) who dealt with your bankruptcy. If you do have any specific issues or there are problems doing this then we’d recommend speaking to the Insolvency Service directly to talk about this with them.

      They should be able to offer more specific advice for you, your situation and your options.

      I hope this helps,

      Rory

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  • daniel

    hi can someone help my bank cancelled the direct debit for my council tax and i did not realise i have had a letter from a collection agency and i could not figure out why they were asking me for the whole year i offered to sort out the direct debit when speaking to the council and they said no we want the whole amount , so i have been able to get no where have now had a collection letter from the collection agency can they enter my home if i am not hear thanks

    • moneyaware

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      I’m sorry to hear about this situation.

      If the debt has been passed onto a debt collection agency it might be worth getting in touch with them to see if you’re able to set up a payment plan.
      This way, they know you’re not trying to ignore the debt. We’ve got some information about doing this here:

      http://www.stepchange.org/Debtinformationandadvice/Debtsolutions/Arrangingdebtrepaymentswithcreditors.aspx

      The use of bailiffs (sometimes called enforcement agents) is a possibility for council tax debts, so it’s possible that the organisation you’re dealing with is actually a bailiff rather than a standard debt collector. The big difference is that bailiffs have additional powers to collect on debts.

      Without knowing more about the situation, it’s hard to know what action the council are taking to retrieve the debt. I’d strongly recommend getting in touch with our Helpline and explaining the situation. This way we’ll be able to give you more specific advice and can talk through your options. You can find out how to get in touch with us here:

      http://www.stepchange.org/Contactus.aspx

      If you have any more questions please let us know.

      Kind regards,

      Jen

  • Stephanie Morris

    Hi, I am wondering if someone can give me some advise, I rent out my property and for the last 4 months the tenant hasnt paid his rent, I think I will have to take him to court to get him out of the property. Obviously I am out of pocket massively and I am wanting to get this money back. I was going to take him to court once he has left the property for the total amount that he owes me once his deposit has been deducted from this, while doing a search on him online I have found out that he has been made bankrupt, this happened last year, what I need to know is if I can still take him to court to try and get some money back as I have been reading that CCJs are taken in with the bankruptcy amount but the money he owes me has come about after he has been made bankrupt.

    Can someone please help me? Sorry for the long message.

    • moneyaware

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for posting.

      Bankruptcy would only cover debts accrued prior to the bankruptcy order being made, so I wouldn’t expect arrears on the rent after the bankruptcy to be included within the bankruptcy.

      I can’t see any reason you couldn’t still take your tenant to court for the unpaid rent. Before doing this I would recommend asking him to get in touch with us for debt advice. Here’s our contact details: http://www.stepchange.org/Contactus.aspx.

      We can help him work out a budget and, if possible, suggest an affordable payment plan to clear the rent arrears. He could then give you a copy of the budget to show that the figures being suggested are realistic.

      Obviously your tenant might not be interested in getting advice but it could be a way to avoid legal costs and having to get him out of the property.

      Kind regards

      James

  • DaveD1000

    Hi. I have received a County Court Judgment against me for an unsecured personal debt, “2.4k + £10k costs. As I have a couple of other old business debts as well, £100k, I am considering bankruptcy. Does the CCJ come within the bankruptcy?

    Many thanks
    David

    • moneyaware

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your message. As long as the CCJ is for debts that would otherwise be included in the bankruptcy, it should come within the bankruptcy. You mention the CCJ is for unsecured personal debts, which would generally be included in a bankruptcy.

      However, we’d always recommend you seek impartial advice before deciding to go bankrupt. If you haven’t already done so, I’d suggest you give our Helpline a call and speak to us for free and impartial advice about whether bankruptcy is the best option for your circumstances. If bankruptcy is a solution we recommend for you, we’d be able to support you throughout the bankruptcy process. You can find out how to get in touch with us here: http://www.stepchange.org/Contactus.aspx

      I hope this helps.

      Kind regards,

      Laura

  • Oasis Blackpool

    I am a director of a limited company but also have a small flat where i live on the premises. I have received a Notice of Enforcement at my registered business address for a CCJ for an unsecured debt. Apparently Marstons have been trying to find me to enforce.
    Can the Enforcement Agent legally enter my Limited Company address to take enforcement action against the civil debt the CCJ was for?

    • moneyaware

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your message. As our area of expertise is in personal debt, I’d recommend you give Business Debtline a call, as they should be able to provide you with guidance. You can find out how to contact them here: https://www.businessdebtline.org/

      I hope this helps.

      Kind regards,

      Laura

  • playkeeps

    My Mother has received a letter from LCS who are a registered debt collector for HMRC, the letter is concerning Tax Credit debt.
    She received a letter approx 8 years ago stating she didn’t have to repay the debt. I read the letter myself hence requested she keep it. She was a minimum wage employee living by herself and repaying £2600.00 seemed impossible so to receive a letter stating she didn’t have to pay it was a god send.
    However 3 years later, whilst still working, she received a final demand for the Tax Credits debt she thought had long since been nulled. Unfortunately she didn’t retain the letter from HMRC nulling the payment. I’m curious if other people have been though the same?
    After discussing and getting no where she agreed to pay £50.00/month and did this for many months. She had to take sick leave thus contacted HMRC and was informed payments regarding tax credit debt should cease but to ring back if circumstances change.
    On returning to work her employer advised she was unfit to lift anymore (she was a care nurse) and forced her hand in resignation, 3 people at a desk advising she should resign when returning from sick leave due to depression not fair but she signed on the dotted line so that’s that.
    She was unemployed until she retired 4 years ago at the age of 61. She’s on pension tax credits. Why would the government give pension tax credit so she can live, then hand over a tax credit bill to a debt collector when she’s a 65 year old pensioner?
    I would greatly appreciate you’re thoughts on how we should proceed.
    Many thanks……

    • playkeeps

      I should add, she’s received no paperwork from HMRC in the last 4 years. No final demands, or any paperwork what so ever. The first contact is via LCS.

    • moneyaware

      Hi there,

      Thanks for posting.

      This sounds like a very difficult situation, and I imagine it’s causing a lot of confusion.

      There’s a lot of different ways we could help deal with this situation, so I think it’s best if we spoke to you so we can give you some further advice.

      You can find out how to get in touch by visiting our website http://www.stepchange.org/Contactus.aspx

      I hope this helps, please get in touch if you need our help.

      Rory

  • Long Tom

    Hi

    Myself and an ex-housemate owe £1200 council tax. I was in receipt of Council Tax reductions during this period (so I assume I owe less than half of this amount?) I have regularly contacted the Council attempting to pay what I owe personally, they did not return my letter and emails.

    All of a sudden I have received a letter stating an enforcement agency will arrive tomorrow to take my belongings. I don’t really own any. I phoned them to explain and they said they will take my housemates’ (all of whom have separate tenancy agreements with a private landlord) belongings, or I will go to prison.

    I am currently registered sick with nerve damage and tension headaches exacerbated by anxiety (such as the present situation) the pain from which immobilizes me.

    I am unsure how to proceed, and am struggling to think due to pain.

    Will my housemates (some of whom are strangers to me) have their belongings taken because the Council didn’t reply to me letters?

    Will I go to prison?

    Thank you,

    Tom

    • moneyaware

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      I’m sorry to hear about this situation and can understand it must be very stressful for you to deal with.

      Bailiffs can be a very worrying thought. I think you might find it useful and reassuring to read about bailiffs and what they can and can’t do on our website:

      https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/debt-collection/bailiff-help-and-advice.aspx

      Due to your illness, you may be considered ‘vulnerable’ and there are certain ways that the council should treat you to ensure
      you’re being treated fairly. It might be worth calling them again to explain this.

      It’s extremely rare to go to prison for not paying council tax. This is something that’d only be used as a last resort if it’s believed that you’ve been deliberately avoiding the debt. As you’ve been trying to make contact with the council to arrange payments, you could use your emails as evidence that you’ve been trying to pay.

      Furthermore, if the council is collecting money for a debt that only belongs to you, they won’t be able to take your housemate’s possessions.

      In terms of next steps, it might be worth:

      • Calling the council, mentioning your illness and requesting to set up a repayment plan for the council tax

      • If you’re unhappy with the response you’ve receive, you can make a formal complaint

      • As you’ve been trying to make contact with the council anyway and they haven’t responded, you could make a complaint with them about this too. You can find out how to do this here:

      https://www.gov.uk/complain-about-your-council

      • If you need further or more detailed advice and support, I’d suggest you give our Helpline a call. Our advisors will be happy to chat through your options with you in terms of repayments and how to deal with the council. You can find out how to get in touch with us here:

      https://www.stepchange.org/Contactus.aspx

      I hope this helps but if you’ve got any more questions please let us know.

      Kind regards,

      Jen

  • HEATHER ARMSTRONG

    HI, I’M HELPING MY EX HUSBAND WITH A FINE. I HAVE PAID THE COURT FINE DIRECTLY TO THE MAGISTRATES COURT, BUT IT IS NOT IN MY NAME, THE ENFORCEMENT AGENT IS TELLING ME HE IS NOT A BAILIFF, ”BUT HE KNOWS WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT”, AS HE HAS WORKED FOR THE PRISON SERVICE, POLICE FORCE AND AS A PARAMEDIC. I RECEIVED A TEXT TO APOLOGIZE FOR HIS BEHAVIOR, AS HE HAS JUST LOST HIS MOTHER? I HAVE TOLD HIM THAT MY EX PARTNER DOES NOT STAY AT HIS MOTHERS ANYMORE, WHO IS DISABLED. BUT IS STILL TEXTING ME, THAT THE DEBT IS ON THE HOUSE AND NOT THE NAME. MARSTONS HAVE CONFIRMED THAT THE DEBT IS AGAINST THE NAMED PERSON AND NOT THE PROPERTY, SO DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY ADVICE THAT CAN STOP THIS PERSON FROM HARASSING MY MOTHER IN LAW OR MYSELF? HE HAS LIED CONSTANTLY AND DENIED IT, I’M LOST FOR WORDS WITH HIS BEHAVIOR, MARSTON HOLDINGS ARE UNHELPFUL. HE HASN’T GOT A CLUE WHO I AM, BUT IS HASSLING ME FOR THE MONEY. AND THE CHERRY ON THE TOP… THE COURTS ARE SAYING THE FEES ARE TO BE PAID, BUT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM!

    • moneyaware

      Hi Heather,

      I’d recommend that you get in touch with us as this is something we may be able to offer more advice on for you. Without knowing the extent of the situation, it would be difficult to offer advice here.

      To find out how to get in touch, please visit our website at http://www.stepchange.org/contactus.aspx

      Kind regards

      Rory

      • HEATHER ARMSTRONG

        Hi,
        thanks for the reply, however, at the time I needed info on the same day, which I did not let you know. So I took matters into my own hands and reported the agent to Marston’s…. and to CIVEA.’www.civea.co.uk/code-of-practice.htm’ . I received two more calls from Mr Dixon which I did not answer, giving me a final threat that the bailiffs were outside my mother in laws house and the police were on their way. They were not. If I paid him there and then, the matter would be finished. I didn’t and gave no response to the calls and messages. I have not heard anything else from him. He broke all code of conduct rules and bullied me with threats. I advise everyone not to panic and do your homework. These people are relentless, the work on basic + commission, and will lie through their teeth to make you pay. If you pay the court fine to the court, then there is nothing the collection agencies can do. What bugs me, is the fact that everyone I called for help said they didn’t handle these matters and to call the citizens advice bureau. Any government fines have to be paid, but what no-one knows is that bailiffs have to have an active warrant to retrieve their fees, and this becomes inactive as soon as you pay the court. Check legislation..

        Kind Regards

        Heather

  • Becca

    Hi Guys,

    I have recently moved in with my partner, and he is in the process of resolving debts and 2 CCJ’s (obtained through a bad stage in his life), i need to know if i register him on my council tax and not register him on the electrol roll, will they be able to trace him through the council tax?

    I know it maybe a silly question i just want to make sure that my house and the belongings will be safe and we wont be having visits from bailiffs.

    Any help or advice would be appreciated.

    Becca

    • moneyaware

      Hi Becca,

      The best way to make sure your partner’s debts don’t lead to bailiff visits to your property would be for him to sort out the CCJs. Bailiffs are only sent for CCJs when the agreed payment hasn’t been made. It’s possible to arrange affordable payments for CCJs – there’s a section on “variation” in this page of our website which should help: https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/ccj/cant-pay-a-ccj.aspx.

      I would also recommend that your partner gets in touch with us for advice on how to deal with these debts. We can help him work out a budget and give him a recommendation on the best way to sort out his debts. Here’s our contact details: https://www.stepchange.org/Contactus.aspx.

      Debt collectors use a variety of methods to track down people they’ve lost touch with, so it’s hard to say exactly what information might lead to them finding your partner. Generally speaking it’s better to get advice and take positive steps to deal with debts.

      Kind regards

      James