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Can I go to prison for debt?

A lot of people worry that not paying their debts could mean going to prison. The answer to this is almost always no.

More than a century ago, prison was a real risk for many types of ordinary household debt. These days, you do not go to prison for non-payment of most types of debt.

What types of debt could lead to imprisonment?

Some types of priority debt could result in prison if you do not pay.

Things like:

  • Criminal fines
  • Council tax (England only)
  • Business rates
  • Child maintenance arrears owed to the CSA

Prison is a last resort even with these types of debt. 

You need to have either:

  • Ignored the debt, or
  • Refused to pay

Do not ignore these debts. We offer free debt advice.

You cannot be sent to prison for not paying most common debts. This includes:

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Are there any situations where other debts could lead to prison?

There are some situations where you could be:

  • Arrested and taken to court, or
  • Sent to prison after a creditor has taken you to court

This is rare and is a last resort if you have not cooperated with the court.

For example:

  • You live in England or Wales
  • You do not pay a County Court judgment (CCJ)
  • The people you owe apply to take money from your wages using an attachment of earnings
  • You ignore the letters the court sends you about this
  • At this point:
    • A bailiff could be sent to take you to court
    • You could be fined or sent to prison for up to 14 days

The fine or prison is a punishment for not following the court’s instructions. It is not for the debt itself.

Some letters from creditors are misleading.

  • It is not true that you could be sent to prison for not paying a debt
  • Unless the debt is a 'priority debt' listed above.

Make a complaint if they threaten this.

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