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The Limitations Act 1980

The Limitations Act 1980 outlines the time limit within which a creditor can chase a debtor for outstanding debts.

The Limitation Act 1980 only applies when no contact has been made between the creditor and debtor within the given time limit and only applies to residents of England and Wales.

Creditors are given a fixed period of time to chase their debtors, which is outlined in the Limitations Act 1980. The time scale mainly depends on the type of debt and can be extended at the courts discretion. The time limit begins when you last admitted owing the money or made a payment.

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Should the creditor fail to maintain contact with the debtor, for a period of 6 years or more, it is possible to claim that the outstanding debt is “Statute Barred” under the conditions of the Limitations Act 1980.

The Limitations Act 1980 also has additional effects, depending on the type of debt in question:

Unsecured debt

You may have assumed that your creditor has “written-off” a debt if you have not heard from them for a long period. In many cases, it could be down to your failure to inform them of a change of address, but the debt will still exist and creditors are entitled to chase the debt indefinitely (even after the debt has become Statute Barred), however they can only use the legal system to recover the monies for up to 6 years after the last payment was made to the account.

Remember, creditors are still able to pursue an unsecured debt if:

If a creditor continues to contact you after accepting that a debt is Statute Barred and you have stated that you no longer intend to pay the debt, you may be able to claim harassment contrary to section 40 (1) of the Administration of Justice Act 1970.

County Court Judgment

If the creditor has previously taken you to court and you have received a County Court Judgment, you will be unable to use the Limitations Act 1980 to dispute the debt. If the judgment is over 6 years old the creditor may need the permission of the Court to enforce the debt.

Council Tax

If the Council Tax was due more than 6 years ago then the council are unable to ask the Court for a Liability Order (a liability order allows the council to deduct the Council Tax debt from your wages or benefits). However, it is unlikely that the council will have allowed this to happen, and they will usually have obtained a Liability Order before the 6 years are up.

Mortgage shortfalls

Your mortgage lender may begin chasing you for a mortgage shortfall, which was the result of repossession. The time limit is slightly different for the mortgage lenders as they have 12 years before the debt becomes Statute Barred.

Income Tax and VAT

There is no time limit for these debts to be chased. You can always be pursued for debts owing to HM Revenue and Customs.

Benefit Overpayments

The Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) can chase debts after 6 years without going to court. They reclaim the overpayments by deducting them from current benefits.

What to do if a creditor contacts you after six years

Don’t admit to owing the money

Once you agree to owing the outstanding amount within 6 years of the debt being due, then you are required to pay the debt back and the creditor can take steps to have the collection of the debt legally enforced by a court (see above County Court Judgment).

If a payment is made after a 6-year gap, the Limitations Act 1980 is still enforceable and the debt remains Statute Barred. However, in this instance, it is unlikely that you will be able to claim back any payments made after the 6 years from the creditor because you still owe them the money.

If a creditor, who you haven’t had any communication with for 6 years contacts you about the debt you should write to them quoting the Limitations Act 1980.

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