Every so often I get asked the question, “can I go to jail for not paying my bills?”
The quick and short answer is no, usually not.
The “usually not” part is what sparks a bit of fear in someone, but the reality is, you would not be jailed for just owing a debt.
We will discuss what would need to occur for someone to face imprisonment, and it is not just for debts alone.
Where this concern about being in debt or not paying one’s bills and being jailed goes back to what used to be called, “debtor’s prison”.
In most instances if someone owed money, and the person they owed the money to got a court-ordered judgment, the “debtor” could then be sent to prison to work there to pay off the debt. However, the debtor while jailed not only worked to pay off their debt, but they also worked to pay the cost of their incarceration.
The debtor could be in prison for some time.
Here in Great Britain we had debtor’s prisons until the “Debtors Act of 1869” which ended someone being jailed just for owing a debt. However, some debtors that had the means to pay their debts and did not pay them, could be imprisoned for up to six (6) weeks.
In Great Britain in the heyday of these types of prisons and as so many people could not pay their debts, there were around seven (7) prisons that housed debtors.
One such prison was Marshalsea.
The prison which was in London, was famous for housing prisoners due to being in debt. In the 18th century, half of all prisoners in jails across the country were jailed for owing money.
Prisoners could face years in these prisons as even though they may have been working, they accumulated unpaid prison fees. It was a vicious cycle of debt and poverty.
Fortunately we do not have such prisons any longer, however, there are countries where not being able to repay a loan can have you tossed in jail.
Dubai is one of those places.
If you owe a loan or credit card in Dubai and default on it, the bank can have a warrant issued for your arrest through the police there.
Once arrested you serve time in jail until they feel the debt has been paid.
However, there have been some changes for non-UAE citizens to stop these arrests. And in the majority of cases for non-UAE citizens they just leave the country. Many of these people lost their Visa’s and jobs, so why stay.
You can even leave the country (UK) with owing debts, there are no travel restrictions just because you may be in debt.
By leaving it doesn’t make the debt(s) go away, and you could still be chased for them, but outside of the EU, the creditors are not going to have much authority.
Then the next question that is a follow-up to the “so I can leave the UK owing money, but can I return to the UK?”
Once again, yes, you can return to the UK, owing money and debts here is not a reason alone to be denied entry.
Recently, some people trying to leave the UK to go on holiday were warned if they owed a TV licence fee or fine, or council tax, they could be “inconvenienced” at the airport. Which means they could be detained until they paid what they owe.
No reports on how many people this may have affected.
Why Would Someone Be Jailed In This Day and Age
You go to jail or prison if you are found guilty of a crime, owing money or being in debt is in itself not a crime.
There have been incidents of those that owed money, went bankrupt, then ignored a Director’s ban, or have hidden assets, moved money to keep it out of the bankruptcy, or commit some form of fraud, were caught, and sentenced to prison.
They were sentenced not for owing money or debts, but other criminal activities that may have stemmed from the debts or a bankruptcy.
Fraud is a serious crime, and punishable by being sentenced to jail, even in some instances of benefit fraud.
Unless a crime has been committed, and even then it may be rare, someone would go to jail for owing money.
What Happens to My Debts If I Do Go To Prison
When some people are sentenced to time in jail or prison, they may have outstanding bills or debts they owe. There are a couple of things they may want to do.
The person may wish to send notices to the creditors they owe advising them of their situation. If a person is only going to be incarcerated a short period of time, they may be able to begin repayments once released.
Just by notifying the people you owe does not mean they will not still attempt to collect the debt, however, if you have no assets and no jointly held debts, there is little the creditors can do.
Any jointly held debts, or loans that someone else has guaranteed, the creditors will seek payment from the guarantor, co-signer, or other person on the loan.
If the person jailed has any assets, such as property, their creditors may look to make them bankrupt, or seek out a CCJ and have it enforced with a Charging Order.
Will the debts be waiting for you upon your release from prison….possibly.
Depending on the nature of the debt, and how long you have been away, will be factors as to if the creditor(s) will be waiting.
Some debt after a period of time may be written off, or a creditor may have got a CCJ against you.
If you have been in prison for a long period of time, and the creditors have not had contact with you for over six (6) years, the debts could be statute barred, or no longer owed.
Then of course upon your release if the debts are still outstanding and your creditors chase you for payment, you can always review insolvency options such as bankruptcy, IVA/Individual Voluntary Arrangement, DRO/Debt Relief Orders, or even a Debt Management Plan.
Fortunately with the moving times, things such as debtor’s prisons are no more, and also fortunately for us here in the UK, we have many options and solutions to address any debt issues we may experience.
,Every so often I get asked the question, “can I go to jail for not paying my bills?” The quick and short answer is no, usually not. The “usually not” part is what sparks a bit of fear in