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Remember to speak to a qualified debt adviser before taking any action to tackle your debts.

Asking a lender for a debt write-off

Coercing a partner into debt is a common tactic that perpetrators of economic abuse use. They seek to create instability, and make it difficult for you to leave and rebuild your life.

An abuser may have: 

  • forced you to take out credit
  • used credit in your name
  • made you use your credit against your wishes.

This may have left you with debts you can’t repay. 

There are a number of solutions to coerced debt that you can explore with a qualified debt adviser. These include explaining the circumstances to the lender and asking them to write off the debt. This is not a guaranteed solution. It is important to speak to an adviser about all your options and the best option for you. 

In partnership with:

Money Advice Plus

Tackling coerced debt 

You are in debt to a lender (a creditor) if there is money owing on a credit agreement in your name. The credit agreement is a legal obligation to repay the debt. 

If you have been coerced into taking out the credit agreement, or if the abuser’s behaviour has forced you into spending more credit than you can afford, repaying the debt may feel extremely unfair. By working with a qualified debt adviser, you may be able to find a solution that is manageable for you and helps relieve the pressure of the debt. 

“I was already feeling vulnerable in my home life and worried about keeping myself and my children safe. But dealing with creditors chasing me for money amplified my anxiety of the whole world collapsing on top of me.”

Some people decide to ask the lender for a debt write-off. This is successful in a small number of cases, however there is no legal obligation on the lender to write off any money owed to them. Whether this is the right course of action for you will depend on your personal circumstances. If it is something you wish to pursue, it will help to do this with the support of a qualified debt adviser. You can discuss with them other options, including debt management and insolvency. We have resources on these topics, and on challenging the liability for coerced debt if this is something that you wish to consider. 

All debt solutions, including seeking a write-off, can have long-term consequences depending on your circumstances. If you wish to ask a lender to write off money you owe, it is advisable to do this with the support of a qualified debt adviser. 

Can a debt be written off? 

It is not easy to convince a lender to write off a debt that is owed to them. However, some people have successfully asked the lender to write off a debt by explaining the circumstances of the abuse. It is not always successful and the response you receive will vary from lender to lender. Some lenders may refuse while others agree. 

Sometimes, a lender may be sympathetic to your situation. Others may need to be convinced that there is no hope of the money being repaid and so it is not worth pursuing the debt. 

Requesting a debt write-off can be more difficult if you have assets, such as a property, in your name. When a debt adviser requests a write-off, they will usually send the lender an income and expenditure form to show that you don’t have assets or surplus income. The lender may be less likely to agree to a debt write-off if you have money left over or assets. 

Good practice guidelines 

The UK Finance 2021 Financial Abuse Code outlines on how banks and building societies should respond to financial abuse. This includes recommending that firms provide support for customers with debt and arrears. It advises banks to respond to customers on a case-by-case basis. It also advises them to adapt usual processes where appropriate to help customers experiencing abuse. 

These good practice guidelines place no legal obligation on lenders to write off any customer’s debts. A decision on whether to write off a debt is at the lender’s discretion. 

Mental health 

The Money Advice Liaison Group gives guidance on how debt can have a negative impact on mental health. They have produced Good Practice Awareness Guidelines for helping consumers with mental health conditions and debt. The guidelines say that lenders should consider writing off debt when: 

  • the customer has a long-term mental health condition 
  • the condition is unlikely to improve 
  • it is unlikely that the customer would be able to repay their debts. 

If you have experienced mental health difficulties, asking for a debt write-off on these grounds may be another option for you. 

If coerced debt is affecting your mental health, a qualified debt adviser may suggest that you consider using the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form. This is a short form that can be completed by health and social care professionals to confirm the effects of the debt on your mental health. It can help lenders understand your situation and assess what support they can offer. 

“I was so relieved when my debt adviser explained the situation to the creditor and they agreed to write it off. It’s one less thing hanging over me while I start my new life. Before, I was constantly anxious about whether I would have enough money in my account to make the payments every month.” 

Before approaching a lender 

Gather information about credit agreements in your name 

The abuser may have taken out credit in your name without your knowledge. They may also have withheld information about credit agreements in your name from you. 

Information about your credit record is held by credit reference agencies. You can request a copy of your credit report from them. The agencies may each hold different information. You may wish to get a copy of your report from each of the three main credit reference agencies in the UK – ExperianEquifax and TransUnion

As part of the UK Finance 2021 Financial Abuse Code, all lenders are also advised to support people with information on accounts held with them. 

Speak to a qualified debt adviser 

Before writing to a lender to ask for a debt write-off, speak to a qualified debt adviser and explain your circumstances to them. It is important to let them know the details of your situation along with as much information as you can about debts in your name, so that they can best advise you on all the options available. There are organisations that can support you to find a qualified debt adviser. 

Writing to the lender 

Asking a lender for a write-off a is not a guaranteed solution to debt. There is no formula for what to say to lead to a successful outcome. The response you receive will vary from lender to lender. However, a qualified debt adviser can support you to draft a letter that shares the details of your circumstances. This will make the lender aware of the situation so they can make a decision. 

In your letter, you may wish to include: 

  • Details of your situation: Your debt adviser can work with you on wording that explains the abuse you have experienced and how this has affected your economic position. 
  • How the debt arose: You may wish to give information about how the debt arose. This could include saying whether the abuser forced you to take out a credit agreement or if this was done without your knowledge. 
  • Evidence of your situation: Some people include evidence of their situation, such as: a letter from a GP, or other health or social care professional; letters from any domestic abuse service supporting you; and crime report numbers or copies of injunctions. Discuss this further with your debt adviser. 

“My daughter thought that she may be entitled to have the debts written off. When she contacted the companies to explain the situation, though, they advised that because the debts are in her name it’s her responsibility to pay them off in full.” 

The lender’s reply 

If you receive a response from the lender, it is important to discuss this with your debt adviser and to speak to them about your next steps. There are a number of ways in which a lender may respond to a request for a debt write-off. 

Refusing to write off the debt 

With your debt adviser, you may wish to reply to the lender to ask them to explain why they have refused to write off the debt, if they have not given reasons in their reply. 

Offering to fully write off the debt 

In some cases, the lender may decide that, based on the information you have provided, they are able to write off the debt that is owing on credit agreements in your name. It is important to keep any letters confirming that the lender has agreed to write off the debt. Check your letters with a debt adviser to be sure that this is what the lender is offering. 

Agreeing not to pursue the debt 

The lender may agree not pursue you for the money owing, but this does not mean the debt is written off. Money is still owed and the debt may still appear on your credit file. If you receive a letter that states you will not be pursued for the amount owing, show this to your debt adviser. They can discuss this further with you. 

Not replying 

If the lender does not reply to your request, this does not mean that the debt is written off. They could get back in touch with you to pursue the rest of the money owing at any time. 

Other things to consider in relation to the lender’s reply

  • Keep a copy of any letters you send to lenders and replies that you receive. 
  • If the lender follows up with a phonecall, ask them to respond in writing. 
  • If you are not happy with the lender’s behaviour, make a note of the details. This may be helpful if you later decide to complain. 

Remember that getting a debt written off can have a long-term effect on your credit rating. Lenders may record the write-off on your credit report using the terms ‘settled’ or ‘partially settled’. This may affect your ability to get credit in the future. Before writing to a lender to ask for a debt to be written off, you should speak to a qualified debt adviser. 

“I had been putting off speaking to anyone as I didn’t know how to approach these companies. But with the help of my debt adviser, I was successful in removing a contract in my name and the debt was written off in full.” 

Other ways of tackling coerced debt 

Asking a creditor to write off your debts is successful in some cases and not in others. It is not right for everyone. It is important to speak to a qualified debt adviser about your circumstances and all your options. 

Other debt solutions may be available, including challenging the liability of the credit agreement, a debt management plan or insolvency. We have resources on these topics. The right option for you will depend entirely on your circumstances, so advice from a qualified debt adviser is essential. We have details of some organisations you may wish to contact for support. 

Through the Economic Justice Project, SEA has been working to challenge debt that has been coerced. This includes working with domestic abuse and money/debt advice services, creditors and other financial services as well as influencing policy. 

Last updated August 2022

Further support 

If you are experiencing economic abuse, you are not alone. We have more information that can support you to take steps towards safety and begin to regain control of your finances.