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Joint debts

How can I deal with joint debts?

If one person can’t or won’t contribute money towards a joint debt it can leave the other person in a difficult situation where they can’t afford the payments.

If you have arrears on a joint debt, any action that creditors take will affect both of you.

Coming to an agreement over joint debts

In some situations it might be easier to try to make an arrangement with the other person on how you’ll repay the debt. Because the debt will affect you both if you don’t keep up the payments, talking about this might help you agree how you’ll both deal with it.

Sometimes things aren’t as straightforward, for example if you’ve separated on bad terms or because a change in circumstances means one of you can’t afford your share of the payments. In this case you should keep in touch with the creditor and seek expert debt advice on what your options are.

Can my creditor or bank force my ex-partner to pay off a debt?

The bank or creditor can’t force your ex-partner to pay their share of a joint debt. They’re likely to contact your ex and request payments, but they’ll expect the monthly payment to be made in full from at least one of you.

If one of you can’t or won’t repay a joint debt, you’re both liable for the full debt no matter which one of you spent the money. This is known as ‘joint and several liability’.

My ex-partner took out debt in my name without my permission - what can I do?

If your ex-partner took out debt in your name without telling you, either by applying ‘as you’ or adding your name to a joint debt, this could be classed as fraud. In this situation we’d recommend reporting it to the police.

If you believe the debt was taken out fraudulently, you should report it to the police. If they consider it to be a criminal fraud offence, prosecutors may decide there’s enough proof to start criminal proceedings. This isn’t guaranteed however.

You may be able to pursue the matter as a private action through the civil courts. If you decide to do this, we recommend you speak to a solicitor first.

Reporting credit fraud against an ex-partner can be difficult to do for many reasons. For example, if this was an abusive relationship, you may worry that reporting your ex-partner to the police could result in repercussions against you, your family or your property.

As far as your creditors are concerned, unless they investigate your claim and conclude the credit was taken out fraudulently, you’re still liable for the debt as it’s in your name.

Speak to your creditor in confidence, as they may have processes in place to help people deal with debt from relationships that end badly or that have a history of abuse.

Could I take my ex-partner to court for money that they owe me?

There have been some cases in the media of people taking their ex-partners to court and successfully suing them for money owed.

If you have correspondence such as emails, SMSs or letters from your ex-partner that admit they owe you money it may be possible to take further action via the small claims court.

If you and your ex-partner made an agreement on how much money was paid to the debt each month, and your ex-partner has kept up with these payments, the Court is likely not to consider your case. However, if your ex-partner has missed payments or refuses to pay, and you can prove that an agreement was made, then you may be able to take the case to court.

You’ll need to speak to a solicitor to find out if this is worth pursuing. Depending on how much is owed to you, it may cost more money to take an ex-partner to court than to consider other ways they could pay the money back.

Visit the Citizens Advice website for information on how to get free or affordable legal advice.

What happens to joint debts if I die?

If a person dies and leaves an unsecured debt in joint names, the other person named on the agreement will become responsible for repaying the full amount of the debt.

The loss of a loved one can have many implications on your financial situation, and our bereavement and debt section will cover the basic information you need.

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Help and advice with joint debts

If you’ve taken out a debt in joint names that you’ve been left responsible to pay, or you’re not sure how to deal with it then we can help. We can offer free advice on the best way to deal with your debts and give you information on what action creditors can take.

You can use our online debt advice tool to get personalised, free advice on your options.