If you have never been in debt before, you probably have 101 questions about what will happen to you and your possessions. Hopefully, you can find a debt solution, but some people who don’t see any way they can pay their debts ask us: Can debt collectors send you to jail?

The answer to this question in most circumstances is a resounding no. But that is not the whole story and there are some instances when debt could land you behind bars for a short period. Here we will get into the details so you can understand how to avoid jail when in debt.

Can Debt Collectors Send You to Jail?

As mentioned, it is almost impossible to wind up in jail because of debts. Around one century ago that was not the case as many people were put in jail for failing to pay what they owed. But today, this is very rare. It should also be said that even if you were sent to jail for your debts, this wouldn’t be done by a debt collector.

What Debt Could Put Me in Jail?

So, you probably want to know what types of debt could lead to jail time. Most people who go to jail for unpaid debt and refuse to pay have:

  • Criminal fine debt
  • Council tax debts
  • Business expense debts
  • HMRC debt (unpaid tax)
  • Unpaid child maintenance debt

Can I Really Go to Jail for Unpaid Council Tax?

Although council tax debt is among the list of debts that could put you in jail, it is still unlikely. Like all of the types of debt listed above, you can only be put into jail as a very last resort. You will need to have ignored the creditors or government departments and/or refused to pay before jail would be contemplated.

Can I Go to Jail for Unpaid Loans and Credit Cards?

No, you cannot go to jail for an unpaid personal loan or unpaid credit cards. Only the debts mentioned earlier have a small chance of landing you in jail. But just because it is impossible or unlikely that you would go to jail for your debt, does not mean you shouldn’t pay.

If you ignore debts and fail to pay, they can increase because of interest and then stop you from getting a mortgage to own a home, or prevent many other luxuries in life. For further information on how to get out of debt, don’t forget to look at the debt solutions discussed on Money Nerd.

One More Way that You Could Go to Prison

There is one more way that your debt can put you in prison. This occurs not because of the debt itself but your failings to obey a court order.

When a creditor wants their money from you and you are refusing to pay (or can’t pay), they can apply to the courts for a CCJ which forces you to pay. If you then ignore the letters from the court to pay, a bailiff may be sent around to enforce the payment or repossess items. In some cases, the bailiff could take come and get you and take you to court.

Important: This can only be done by a bailiff or law enforcement officer. Not by a debt collection agency. They are not the same thing.

When at court, the judge may give you an additional penalty for failing to comply with the CCJ instruction. The judge is allowed to send you to prison for 14 days in this situation, but it is still a last resort.

Although you may have a CCJ to pay the debt, this prison sentence is not given to you because you have debt, but rather, because you have not done what the court has asked you. Therefore, it could be argued that this short prison term is not because of debt, although they are linked.

Debt Collection Agency Prison Threats

Because of the very small chance that you can end up in prison because of unpaid debt, some UK debt collection agencies have tried to illegally use it to their advantage. When they send debt letters asking you to pay, some rogue collection companies may try to use it to threaten you. It is known that some debt collection agencies will write to you to say that if you don’t pay you will be sent to jail.

They do this even if there is no chance of you going to jail – and that is illegal.

What to Do If a Debt Collection Agency Threatens Jail Time?

If a debt collection agency threatens you with jail time and the threat is unfounded, you should make an official complaint about them. First, you need to complain directly to the debt collection agency and state what they did was illegal. If they don’t respond to your complaint or fail to respond in the way you would hope, you can then take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman will then look at the evidence and make a decision on if the agency acted inappropriately or illegally. They have the power to penalise the debt collection agency and even award your compensation.

Remember Debt Solutions Are at Hand!

You can avoid any chance of going to jail by finding ways to pay off your debt. If you can come up with some way to repay the debt through monthly payments or an IVA, you will be able to make your debt repayments manageable and never have to serve time.

Debt solutions are available and you can find more information at Money Nerd. For further support, you can reach out to excellent debt charities who offer free advice and debt guidance.

About the author

Scott Nelson

Scott Nelson is a financial services expert, with over 10 years’ experience in the industry, including 6 years in FCA regulated companies. Read more
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