The world of personal finance can be tricky to navigate, and one of the most common questions asked on our forum is whether you’re still responsible for old debts, or ones your ex-partner has racked up. Below, we’ve provided answers to just a handful of your queries.

I left the UK and moved abroad 10 years ago, leaving behind several thousand pounds worth of debt. I have now moved back to the UK and have received a letter from a debt collector asking me to call them and arrange payment.

A debt becomes ‘statute barred’ in England and Wales if your creditor has not contacted you and you’ve not acknowledged the debt, nor made an attempt to pay it in the past six years. During those six years, however, a creditor could have taken court action using your last known address. Of course, if you’ve been out of the country it may have been difficult to enforce it – but the court could allow creditors to pursue it once you’ve returned.

When a debt is statute barred the creditor cannot enforce it through the courts, although they could try and still chase you for the monies owed. If they request payment from you, and you are sure the debt is statute barred, you must write a letter to the creditor explaining that the limitation period has passed. You must be certain the debt is statute barred because if it isn’t, you start a new six year period for the debt from the date of acknowledgement.

If a creditor argues the debt isn’t statute barred and tries to get a county court judgement (CCJ), they would have to prove you have acknowledged the debt or made a payment within the last six years. Without proof, they have no right to chase you for money. You can, however, make a full and final settlement to pay back a proportion of the debt.

I’m being chased for a store card debt for the first time in 12 years. Why now and do I have to pay it?

Your creditors may have made attempts to chase you in the past but perhaps couldn’t find the right contact details. The debt could also have been sold on to another debt collection company, which can take further steps to claim back what is owed.

Even though a debt collection company owns the debt, they cannot take legal action for a statute barred debt, although they can chase you for payment. Once you have told them the debt is statute barred, they should not chase you any longer (unless they can prove otherwise).

My ex-partner racked up a great deal of debt while living at my address. We are now separated and I have no idea where he lives but I have debt collectors ringing me for payment. I’ve told them he doesn’t live here anymore but I’m worried they’ll turn up and try take my belongings.

First of all debt collectors cannot seize your belongings, only bailiffs can and they wouldn’t be able to take any of your property, providing you are the owner of your goods and not your ex-partner. Remember these are not your debts so you are not liable for them. If debt collectors continue to call or even visit, simply explain your ex-partner doesn’t live there anymore and the debts are nothing to do with you. If you have joint debts, then creditors are permitted to contact either of you, as you are jointly and severally liable for the debt.

I’ve ignored a credit card debt for five years now and I thought it had been forgotten about because the company hadn’t chased me. I have now received a letter asking me to make a payment. Do I need to pay it or has it become statute barred?

The debt has not become statute barred because it is within the six-year threshold. Scottish residents are eligible for ‘short prescription’ (the equivalent of statute barred) after five years, when the debt is also extinguished.  

You mention the creditor has not chased you for this debt but have you changed your address or contact details during this time? They may have started to pursue the debts again because you have registered to vote, for example. As the debt is still valid, they are allowed to chase you and you should contact them to arrange payment. Failure to do so may lead to them taking further action.

Can I be chased for rent arrears from seven years ago? I moved out of a rented property in 2009 and didn’t realise the landlords had applied for a CCJ against me in 2010. But as they didn’t have my new address, they couldn’t enforce it. I’ve just had a letter from the landlords asking me to repay the rent arrears but surely they can’t chase me for this debt after all this time? The CCJ isn’t even on my credit record anymore.

Since six years have gone by, your landlord will need to make another court application and explain why it wasn’t enforced – which, in this case, was because they didn’t have an address. It’s therefore likely that they will continue to chase you for the debt, so you should get in touch with them to arrange repayments.

The only way the debt would be ‘written off’ is if you were declared bankrupt after the CCJ was issued.

For free and impartial debt advice, contact one of our advisers or by calling 0808 278 3459.