Can you go to prison for debt?

Written by PayPlan on 15 December 2017

Can you go to prison for debt? It’s a question many people start to ask if they are being chased for payment and dealing with court instructions, such as CCJs and third party debt orders. However, we can confirm that it is very unlikely you will go to prison for your debt.

Here we’ve broken down the types of debt you may have and whether you can be sent to prison for not repaying them:

Type of debt

Can you go to prison for this debt?

Late mortgage payments

No – you cannot go to prison for late mortgage payments.

Rent arrears

No – you will not be arrested for not paying rent arrears.

Credit cards

No – credit card debts are not a criminal offence.

Council tax

Potentially – Council tax debts are processed by the magistrate’s court, so if you do not comply with their orders you could be arrested.

Personal loans

No – you cannot go to prison for debts on personal loans.

Late utility bill payments

No – your utility bill provider cannot have you arrested for not paying utility bills.

Car finance debts

No – you cannot be sent to prison for not paying your car finance debts.

Child maintenance arrears

Potentially – if the debt is taken to court and you still refuse to repay what you owe.

Criminal fines

Potentially – for driving or TV licence offences, for example, you may be taken to court and if you still do not comply you could go to prison.


No – you will not go to prison for not making repayments on your overdraft.


No – it is not a criminal offence to not pay catalogue debts.

In most cases though, prison is the very last resort and for this to happen many enforcement methods will have been actioned first. Such as requesting an attachment of earnings from your employer or passing the debt over to an enforcement agency who will contact you for payment.

If you are threatened with imprisonment this will not be because you did not pay your debts but because you have disobeyed the court, which is an offence.

However, it’s worth noting that it is still very important you deal with any outstanding debts you may have. You may not be sent to prison for not repaying them but you could be faced with chasing from creditors via phone, letter and home visits or even bankruptcy if you find yourself unable to keep up with repayments and manage everyday expenses.

How to ensure you do not go to prison when debt is involved

Again, to confirm, you cannot go to prison for not paying your debts – you will only be arrested if you do not comply with the court’s requests. But to avoid getting into trouble if the court is involved:

  • Turn up to court hearings – Always arrive on time and with all of the correct documentation or information you need.
  • Provide everything the court needs – If the court asks for more information always try to oblige.
  • Seek free debt advice – Feel confident about your situation by talking to an impartial financial advisor, who can help you put together important documentation like financial statements and work out your income and outgoings.

What if a creditor has told you that you could go to prison?

If a creditor has contacted you and claimed you could be arrested for not paying debts, this is simply not true and you should consider making a complaint. Send a written email or letter to their complaints department and request that they stop chasing for payment until they have responded.

If you are worried about your debts and repaying these, then get in touch with our team here at PayPlan who can help you find a solution that suits you. Call us on 0808 250 4545 or get in touch via the contact form on the site.

Filed under Debt Facts

This article was checked and deemed to be correct as at the above publication date, but please be aware that some things may have changed between then and now. So please don't rely on any of this information as a statement of fact, especially if the article was published some time ago.

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