Can I Go To Jail For Being In Debt?

Over one-third of people living with personal debt problems believe they will end up in prison because of their credit card and council debt. Personal debt problems often leave people feeling vulnerable and alone but can you really go to jail for being in debt?

The answer is, of course, no. But it’s a fear many people have because of the severity of their money problem. It’s also compounded because creditors say they will enforce the debt and commit somebody to prison. This is just a threatening tactic, most of the time.

In some instances people can go to jail for being in debt, but there’s a reason for that, which I’ll explain.

Can I Really Go To Jail For Debts?

Most people in the UK are morally ethical and honest people. When they borrow money they have every intention to repay the debt. However, for one reason or another it becomes impossible.

I put myself through a torrid time trying to pay my debts back and it really felt horrible. It didn’t help that I thought I’d go to jail for not paying my debt back. I was told that borrowing money and not repaying it is fraud. I, like most people, know that fraud is bad!

This spirals people into making decisions about their money and debt which is not thought through.

Prison Because of Debts

If you deliberately borrow money and have no intention of repaying the debt then you can go to prison. This is fraudulent and if proven can mean you’re liable of the debt.

Most people borrow the money and intend on repaying the debt. When sudden unemployment hits, divorce or separation occurs or some other event changes the norm, then repaying debt can be impossible. It’s no-ones fault, it just happens. The jails would be filled with hundreds of people struggling with debt.

Council Debt Means Prison

There’s a difference between a credit card debt and council tax debt. One is a priority expenditure and the other isn’t. Paying council tax, for council services, is a priority. This means it must be paid, otherwise action can quickly ensue.

If you’re a “won’t pay” council tax then you will have a court order stating you must pay it. If you decide you’re not paying it then you’ll go to jail for failing to comply with a court order, not for being in debt.

Should you be unable to pay your council tax, because of debt problems, you would not go to jail. The council would instruct debt collectors to gather the money but you wouldn’t necessarily go to jail. More often than not people avoid jail and have to pay a monthly repayment amount.

When Do You Go Straight To Jail?


You should always pay your debts where appropriate, but when you can’t it doesn’t mean you’ll be imprisoned.

Jail will occur when you don’t comply with a court order. The fact you’re disobeying the court means you’ll be placed in jail. The court will not order you to pay the debt if you’re clearly struggling financially. The court will expect a payment plan to be established, which you must maintain.

Seek debt help from a charity if you’re worried you can’t afford to repay your debts. It’s better to get ahead of a debt problem so get help!

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John The Bankruptcy Guy

As an ex-bankrupt, John has experienced the highs and lows of credit. It's with this knowledge that he writes Debt Advice Resource - to help others avoid, or navigate out of, the pitfalls of debt.

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