If you have debts, getting them under control should be a priority. We have information about dealing with debts and where to get support.

Make a list of your debts

Making a list of your debts can help you decide what you need to pay first.

Some debts are priority debts. These will have the most serious consequences if you do not pay them back. This could be your rent or mortgage.

Others are non-priority debts. These may have less serious consequences if you do not pay them on time. This could be a bank overdraft.

Examples of priority debts

People or companies you owe money to are called creditors. These are some examples of priority debts.

  • Mortgage (secured loan) payments

    Your mortgage lender may start a process to take back (repossess) your home. This may happen if you cannot pay your mortgage for a few months. It is very important to talk to your lender as soon as possible if you are having difficulty paying. There are options that your lender must consider to help you manage repayments. These options will depend on your situation. Or you might be able to get financial help from the government.

  • Unpaid rent (rent arrears)

    If you cannot pay your rent, your landlord might try to evict you (make you leave your home). It is very important to talk to your landlord as soon as possible if you are having difficulty paying. You may be able to get financial help from the government.

  • Council tax in England and Wales

    If you cannot pay your council tax, your local authority can take money from your pay or benefits. They may also send bailiffs to take possessions from your home. It is very important to talk to your local authority as soon as possible if you are having difficulty paying. You may be able to get help with the cost of your council tax if you are on a low income.

  • Council tax in Scotland

    If you do not pay your council tax, your local authority can take you to court. If you still do not pay, they can take money from your income or benefits. They may also send sheriff officers to take possessions from your home. It is very important to talk to your local authority as soon as possible if you are having difficulty paying. You may be able to get help with the cost of your council tax if you are on a low income.

  • Rates in Northern Ireland

    If you do not pay your rates, the Land and Property Services (LPS) can take you to court. If you still do not pay, they can take money from your pay or bank account. They may also take possessions from your home. It is very important to talk to the LPS as soon as possible if you are having difficulty paying. You can call them on 0300 200 7801 or text phone 18001 0300 200 7801. You may be able to get help with the cost of rates if you are on a low income

  • Energy bills

    If you are having problems paying gas and electricity bills, talk to your supplier as soon as possible. If you tell them you have cancer, they should put your name on a list of customers who need extra support. You might be able to get a grant to help pay your bills or spread the cost of your payments.

  • Phone bill

    If you are having problems paying your phone bill, talk to your provider as soon as possible. They may be able to give you more time to pay your bill. If you do not contact your provider, they may disconnect your phone.

  • Fines, maintenance and compensation orders

    If these are unpaid, the court may take money from your pay. They may also send bailiffs (or sheriff officers in Scotland) to take possessions from your home. You could also be sent to prison.

  • TV licence

    If you do not pay your TV licence, you may get a court fine (see above). If you are having problems paying your TV licence you can call TV Licensing on 0300 790 6113. They may be able to help you with a payment plan.

  • Tax and VAT

    If you do not pay your taxes, the government can use a debt collection agency to collect the money. They might send bailiffs (or sheriff officers in Scotland) to take possessions from your home. They can also take you to court. It is very important to talk to HM Revenue and Customs HMRC as soon as possible if you are having difficulty paying. You may be able to get more time to pay your tax bill or pay in instalments. Find out more at gov.uk.

  • Hire purchase or conditional sale agreements

    Hire purchase (or conditional sale agreement) is a type of borrowing. You can use it to buy big items such as a car. You pay an agreed amount in instalments. You do not own these items until you have paid for it in full. If you cannot make the payments, the lender may take back (repossess) these items. If you are having problems with making payments, it is important to get some advice. You can contact StepChange Debt Charity or Citizens Advice for more information.

  • Parking penalties

    If you do not pay a parking penalty on time, the amount can increase. If you still do not pay, you may have to go to court. Your vehicle may also be taken away. If you cannot pay a parking fine, it is important to get some advice. You can contact StepChange Debt Charity or Citizens Advice for more information.

Getting debt advice

If you cannot repay your debts in a reasonable amount of time, it is important to get specialist advice from a free debt advice agency. Organisations that can help include:

These organisations provide telephone advice services and online information.

Citizens Advice and Advice NI also offer face-to-face debt advice. You can also search for face-to-face and local debt advice services near you at moneyadviceservice.org.uk.

We have more information about what happens if you cannot repay your debts, and where to get support in our booklet Managing your debt.

What happens to your debts if you die

Everything you leave when you die is called your estate. This is made up of everything you own, minus everything you owe. This includes money, property and belongings. It also includes your share of anything you own jointly with someone else.

Anything you owe is taken off the value of your estate. This includes any unpaid debts.

If your debts add up to more than the value of your estate, they are cancelled (written off) if:

  • the debts are only in your name
  • there is no guarantor (someone who has legally agreed to pay the debt if you cannot pay).

If your debts add up to less than the value of your estate, any money or possessions you leave are used to repay them.

If you take out a joint loan with someone else, you are both responsible for the whole loan. If you die, your joint borrower becomes responsible for repaying any leftover debt.

Organisations such as StepChange Debt Charity and National Debtline can advise you on what will happen to your debts if you die.

Student loans

If you die before your student loan has been repaid, the loan is cancelled.

Claiming on life insurance

You may have taken out life insurance along with a loan secured against your home, or your mortgage. This means the insurance can be used to pay off these debts when you die, without selling your home.

You may have also taken out life insurance with other loans. This means the loan can be repaid when you die without reducing the value of your estate.

How we can help

Macmillan Grants

If you have cancer, you may be able to get a Macmillan Grant to help with the extra costs of cancer. Find out who can apply and how to access our grants.

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