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Breathing space

This fact sheet covers England & WalesYou will need different advice if you live in Scotland.

Use this fact sheet to:

  • find out if you might qualify for breathing space;
  • understand how breathing space might benefit you; and
  • find out which debts can be included in breathing space.

What is breathing space?

Breathing space is a government scheme which is designed to give you time to receive debt advice and find a solution to sort out your debt problems. There are two kinds of breathing space.

  • Standard breathing space is where most creditors will have to stop collection and enforcement of your debts. The later section Protection during breathing space has information on the enforcement action that breathing space stops. Creditors will also have to freeze interest and charges on any eligible debts. See the Which debts can be included in breathing space? section.
  • Mental health crisis breathing space can provide extra protection for people who are receiving mental health crisis treatment. You can find more information in the What is a mental health crisis breathing space? section.

Limited companies

A limited company cannot apply for breathing space. For information on dealing with limited company debts, see our Limited companies fact sheet.

If you are a director of a limited company, you can apply for breathing space for debts that you are personally liable for. Where you have given a personal guarantee for a limited company debt, you would have to include any amount that has fallen due under the terms of the guarantee in your breathing space. See Limited companies in the later section Business debts for more information.

Am I eligible for standard breathing space?

To be eligible for standard breathing space you need to meet the following criteria:

  • you need to live in England or Wales;
  • you must be unable to repay some or all your debts 'as they fall due';
  • you must not be in a DRO, IVA or be an undischarged bankrupt; and
  • you must not have had breathing space in the last 12 months.

You will need to apply for standard breathing space through an approved debt adviser. Your debt adviser must agree that:

  • you need time to get debt advice; and
  • you are likely to enter a debt solution.

Are you up to date with payments?

Breathing space is more likely to help if you are already behind with your payments. If you are up-to-date with your household bills, business bills and credit repayments and can afford them, breathing space is unlikely to be an option for you. Breathing space gives you time to get debt advice but does not give you a 'payment holiday' by deferring your debt payments.

If you stop making payments to your creditors, your credit file could be affected. Your account will fall into arrears and this can lead to your creditor treating your account as being in default.

Overdrafts and access to credit

You need to be careful if you regularly use your overdraft or another form of credit, such as a credit card, to live on or to run your business.

As all eligible debts must be included in breathing space, you may lose access to credit that you rely on. Contact us for advice if you are concerned that losing access to credit will make it difficult to cover your living or business expenses.

It is also a good idea to make sure that you have a safe bank account before applying for breathing space. A safe bank account would be one with a bank or building society that you do not owe any money to. For more information, see our Safe bank account fact sheet.

What happens when you apply for standard breathing space?

Once you are in breathing space, all creditors who have been included will be informed and they must stop most collection or enforcement activity.

Breathing space will last for 60 days as long as you remain eligible. Once the breathing space ends, creditors will be able to collect the debt in the usual way.

During breathing space, you will need to try to decide on the best solution to deal with your debts.

To do this, you will need to work out what payments you can afford to pay towards your debts. Use our online tool to complete your budget. For more information on your possible debt solutions, see our Ways to clear your debt fact sheet.

Once you have had a standard breathing space you will not be able to have another one for 12 months.

You will be expected to meet certain requirements during the breathing space period. These are explained in the Requirements during breathing space section.

Creditor review

Your creditors can ask your debt adviser to review your breathing space. This could happen if the creditor felt that:

  • you do not meet the eligibility criteria;
  • the debt you have with them is not eligible for breathing space; or
  • you have enough money to repay the debt.

Your debt adviser will carry out the review. The debt adviser can cancel your breathing space if they agree there are sufficient grounds.

If your creditor is unhappy with the outcome of the review, they can apply to court to try to get your breathing space cancelled or have their debt removed. If the court agrees with your creditor’s request for review, you may be asked to pay the creditor’s costs.

Your credit file and the breathing space register

While you are in breathing space, creditors will report any payments you miss to the credit reference agencies in the usual way. The credit reference agencies will not be told that you are in breathing space.

Individuals creditors who have been included in breathing space may keep their own record of you having breathing space. This could mean that future borrowing with that creditor might be affected.

Basic personal details will be placed on a separate breathing space register. This will include:

  • your name and address; and
  • your trading name or the name and address of any business carried on by yourself.

The register is not available for everyone to view. Only creditors who have a debt included in your breathing space will be able to access it and they will only be able to view their debt along with your details.

Although the public cannot see the breathing space register, you can still ask that your residential address is not added to the register if you believe there may be risk of violence against you or someone you live with. Discuss this with your debt adviser.

Debts in joint names

If any of the debts you have included in breathing space are in joint names, the other person named on the agreement will also be protected against enforcement action by your creditors.

However, other people who are liable for debts included in your breathing space will not be added to the breathing space register.

Not paying your debts will have an effect on the other liable person’s credit file as well as your own. You may want to discuss this with the other liable person to see if they want to maintain the payments even if you cannot.

After the 60 days breathing space, creditors will be able to start collecting the debt in the usual way. If the other liable person is unable to maintain the payments, they will need to seek debt advice themselves.

It is not possible to make a joint breathing space application. The other liable person may need to make their own breathing space application if they have their own debts that they need help with.

Debts with a personal guarantor

Some creditors ask for a guarantor before agreeing to lend money or provide a service. If the person who borrowed the money or used the service doesn’t pay, the creditor will ask the guarantor to pay.

If somebody has given a personal guarantee for a debt you include in a breathing space, they will not receive any protection from the creditor. If you are behind with the debt repayments or the guarantor cannot keep up the payments, the creditor can still carry on with collection and enforcement activity against the guarantor.

Which debts can be included in breathing space?

Most types of debt can be included in breathing space and you are not allowed to leave any eligible debts out of your application.

If you accidentally miss an eligible debt out of your application, you can add this in later. However, it will only receive the protections until the end of the breathing space period, not for the full 60 days.

Arrears on essential bills

Arrears are payments that you have missed on your debts and household or business bills. Arrears can also include interest and charges that have been added. You can normally include arrears on essential bills. Examples include:

  • rent arrears;
  • mortgage arrears;
  • gas and electricity arrears;
  • water arrears;
  • hire purchase arrears;
  • council tax and business rates arrears; and
  • income tax and National Insurance arrears.

While you can include arrears on essential bills; you will usually have to keep up with your ongoing repayments. See the What you must do during standard breathing space section for more detail on what may happen if you don’t pay your ongoing essential bills.

Non-priority debts

You can usually include non-priority debts, such as:

  • mobile phone arrears;
  • credit cards and store cards;
  • bank overdrafts and bank loans;
  • loans to finance companies;
  • catalogues;
  • home-collected credit;
  • family or personal debts; and
  • mortgage shortfalls (money you owe if your house was sold for less than the outstanding mortgage).

Which debts can’t be included in breathing space?

Some debts cannot be included in breathing space. These include:

  • magistrates’ court fines;
  • maintenance, Child Support Agency (CSA) and Child Maintenance Service (CMS) payments and arrears;
  • student loans;
  • budgeting loans and crisis loans;
  • money owed under a ‘criminal confiscation order’;
  • Universal Credit advances;
  • fraudulent debts; and
  • debts resulting from certain personal injury claims against you.

You will be expected to pay your ongoing payments to these debts, and any arrears you may have. You can include them in the outgoings on your budget sheet.

There are also some business debts that cannot be included in breathing space. See the later section, Business debts.

Secured debt payments

For secured debts, such as a mortgage, secured loan or hire purchase agreement, you can’t include the secured lending itself in breathing space. You will be expected to pay your ongoing payments to these agreements. You can include any arrears that you have for eligible secured debts. If you are uncertain whether a debt is secured or eligible to include in breathing space, contact us for advice.

Business debts

Sole traders and partnerships

A business debt is not eligible for breathing space if you are registered for VAT, or you are in a business partnership with anyone else, and the debt you have relates solely to the business. Contact us for advice if you are not sure whether a debt you have would be eligible for breathing space.

Commercial rent arrears

If your breathing space includes arrears on a commercial property lease, the landlord will not be able to do the following to recover these arrears during the breathing space.

  • Use a bailiff to seize goods.
  • Start a claim through the County Court for the arrears.
  • Petition for your bankruptcy.

However, the breathing space may not stop the landlord from using forfeiture to end your lease and take the premises back. For more information on forfeiture, see our Commercial property leases fact sheet.

Commercial mortgage arrears

Arrears for commercial and buy-to-let mortgages can be included in breathing space. Lenders cannot take court action during the breathing space to recover the arrears. However, the breathing space may not prevent a lender instructing receivers. Receivers’ powers can vary, but they are sometimes able to arrange the sale of a property.

Arrears on hire or lease agreements

If you hire or lease equipment, tools or a vehicle, the arrears may be eligible for breathing space. The creditor will not be able to take court action for the arrears during breathing space. However, breathing space may not protect the goods from being taken if the agreement allows repossession without a court order.

VAT debt

VAT arrears can only be included in breathing space if you are no longer VAT registered. See our VAT debt fact sheet for information on the enforcement action HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) can take.

Limited companies

If you are a director of a limited company, you may have given a personal guarantee for some of the limited company’s debts. Any amount that has fallen due under the terms of a personal guarantee will have to be included in the breathing space. Consider the following for company debts with a personal guarantee.

  • Your company needs to continue with repayments on the debt.
  • Creditors are not prevented from carrying on collection or enforcement activity against the limited company.
  • If you include any amount of the debt in breathing space, the creditor will be contacted about you entering into a breathing space. This may be an issue if the credit is repayable on demand at short notice, as the breathing space could result in the creditor demanding payment of the whole balance.
  • If a creditor is aware that you have had a breathing space, it may affect their future decisions on lending to the limited company.

The advantages of breathing space

  • Your creditors cannot add interest or charges to an eligible debt during breathing space.
  • Your creditors or collection agency cannot contact you to ask for payment towards a debt that has been included in breathing space.
  • No enforcement action can be taken against you for a debt that has been included in breathing space. You can find more information about what types of enforcement you would be protected from in the Protections during breathing space section.

Protections during breathing space

A breathing space will stop most creditors from starting or continuing with enforcement action against you for debts included in breathing space. The protections you receive will depend on the types of debt you have and the kinds of enforcement action that are being threatened or taken.

Bailiffs (also called enforcement agents)

Bailiffs are also commonly called enforcement agents. In this fact sheet, we refer to them as bailiffs.

  • A creditor will not be able to start bailiff action against you while you are in breathing space.
  • A bailiff is not allowed to try to take control of your goods while you are in breathing space.
  • If a bailiff has already taken goods from your property, they will still be able to sell these. However, fees accrued during the breathing space for storage of goods cannot be charged either during the breathing space, or after it ends.

If a bailiff takes any action while you are in breathing space, show them your breathing space confirmation and contact your debt adviser for advice.

Bailiffs can be involved in collecting a variety of debts. Rules can be different depending on the type of debt they are collecting. For more information see the following fact sheets:

Court action

  • A creditor will not be able to start court action against you while you are in breathing space.
  • If a creditor has already started court action, they should not take enforcement action to try to recover money from you.
  • A creditor cannot start bankruptcy proceedings against you or issue a statutory demand.

However, if you are employed and a creditor has already obtained an attachment of earnings order to take money from your wages, breathing space will not stop this.

For more information about court action and enforcement, see the following fact sheets:

Your home

  • If you rent your home, in most cases your landlord will not be able to start court action to evict you for rent arrears while you are in breathing space.
  • If you have a mortgage, in most cases your mortgage lender will not be able to start court action to repossess your home while you are in breathing space.

You will be expected to maintain your usual ongoing mortgage or rent payments during the breathing space.

For more information about dealing with arrears on your home see our Mortgage arrears fact sheet and Rent arrears fact sheet.

Energy

  • In most cases, your energy supplier will not be able to disconnect your household gas or electricity while you are in breathing space.
  • Your energy supplier will not be allowed to fit a prepayment meter in your home to take payments towards the debt while you are in breathing space.
  • Breathing space may stop a supplier from disconnecting a commercial supply of gas or electricity.

You need to keep paying your ongoing energy bills during breathing space.

For more information about dealing with energy arrears see our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet or Commercial energy debt fact sheet.

Harassment and complaints

Creditors, including debt collection agencies, should not contact you to ask for payment while you are in breathing space.

If you feel you are being contacted unreasonably by your creditor, see our Harassment by creditors fact sheet.

Some creditors will still have a legal obligation to send letters under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 such as a 'notice of arrears'. You do not need to reply to these letters, and you are still protected by breathing space.

If a creditor ignores the breathing space protections, tell your debt adviser. They can remind the creditor of their obligations. If appropriate, your debt adviser can tell the Insolvency Service what has happened.

You can also make a complaint to the creditor yourself and take your complaint to the relevant ombudsman if you are unhappy or don’t get a response.

If you are not sure who you should complain or take your complaint to, ask for a copy of the creditor’s complaints process.

Third-party deductions

You may be having deductions taken from your benefits for a particular debt, such as a benefit overpayment or energy arrears. These are often called third-party deductions.

  • If you receive Universal Credit, these deductions will usually continue even if the debt is eligible for breathing space. New deductions will also be possible.
  • If you receive Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit, then these deductions should stop if the debt is eligible for breathing space. New deductions for arrears will not be possible. Check with your creditor whether the deductions will stop. Payments deducted from Universal Credit won't normally stop. If a payment does stop, your creditor may be able to set this up again.

You may be paying some important debts through a deduction from your benefits, such as rent arrears. Breathing space may stop the deduction. If you want to carry on making the payment, you'll need to speak to your creditor and arrange another way of making the payment.

Continuing with payments will be especially important if, for example, you have an arrangement to pay rent arrears through court. Contact us for more advice if you are unsure about this.

You may have a third-party deduction for some ongoing payments rather than repaying a debt. These deductions can continue for rent, fuel and water. Check with your creditor if you are unsure what your deductions are for.

If you are having a deduction made from your Universal Credit to repay a Universal Credit advance, these deductions will continue as Universal Credit advances are currently not eligible debts for breathing space. See the Which debts can’t be included in breathing space section for the list of debts which are not eligible.

Time limits for recovering debts

If you have debts which you have not paid or talked to your creditor about for a long time, it might be the case that these debts will soon become 'statute barred'. This means the creditor has run out of time to make a court claim to recover the debt.

See our Statute-barred debts fact sheet for more information.

If you have a debt which is due to become statute-barred while you are in breathing space, the time limit for the creditor to start a court claim will be extended for eight weeks after the breathing space finishes.

If you have a debt which is soon to become statute-barred, you will need to be careful not to acknowledge the debt. It is not clear, at the moment, whether applying for breathing space is treated as an acknowledgement of the debt or not. If it is, your creditor will usually have another six years to start their court claim.

If you have a debt which you think may be statute-barred or may soon become statute-barred and you are thinking about applying for breathing space, contact us for advice.

What you must do during standard breathing space

There are some things you normally must do when you are in breathing space. Your debt adviser will contact you during breathing space to see if you are meeting these requirements.

Important

If you aren’t able to meet these requirements, it may mean your debt adviser will cancel your breathing space and your creditors will be able to collect the debt as usual. However, this is up to your debt adviser.

If you are unable to pay your ongoing liabilities because you can’t afford them, it is unlikely your breathing space will be cancelled. Speak to your debt adviser.

Pay your ongoing liabilities

While in breathing space you must make payments to your ‘ongoing liabilities’ if you can. Ongoing liabilities are generally payments that you must make and are not eligible for breathing space. Ongoing liabilities are covered in detail below.

Your mortgage and/or secured loan payment

You will need to keep paying the contractual monthly payment on your mortgage or other secured lending on your home. This includes any business premises that is also used by you as your home.

A mortgage or secured loan payment on a property that is solely used for business purposes is not treated as an ongoing liability. However, if you fall behind with payments after breathing space starts, the new arrears will not be covered by the breathing space protections.

You do not have to pay anything towards any arrears that you may have. However, it may be a good idea to make some payments if you can. Discuss this with your debt adviser.

Your rent or lease payment on your home

You will need to maintain the contractual monthly payment on the rent or lease on your home.

You do not have to pay anything towards any arrears that you may have. However, it may be a good idea to make some payments if you can. Discuss this with your debt adviser.

Council tax and business rates

If your council tax bill or business rates are still being paid in monthly instalments, you must try to continue to pay these.

If your council has issued a reminder notice (sometimes called a ‘further notice’ for business rates) or the bill for the whole year has become due, you do not need to continue to make payments. Speak to your debt adviser if you are unsure about whether you need to continue with payments.

Water, electricity, gas and other fuel

You should continue to pay ongoing usage for your energy and water supplies. You do not have to pay anything towards any arrears that you may have. However, it may be a good idea to make some payments if you can. Discuss this with your debt adviser.

If you have arrears on a commercial water supply, the supplier may be still be able to disconnect the supply during breathing space.

Taxes, duties and National Insurance contributions

If you have to complete and send income tax returns to HMRC, you will need to keep budgeting for taxes and National Insurance on your profits. For more information, see our Sole traders fact sheet or Business partnerships fact sheet.

You will need to pay any taxes, duties and National Insurance contributions where the payment becomes due during the breathing space. If you know that you will receive a bill during the next 60 days that you won’t be able to pay, you may want to consider delaying your application for breathing space until after you receive the bill. Contact us for advice.

If you are registered under the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) or are employed, the deductions for income tax and National Insurance will be taken from your pay as normal.

Insurance agreements

If you have any insurance agreements such as life insurance, contents insurance or business insurance, you will need to keep paying these.

Inform your debt adviser of any change in your circumstances

You will need to inform your debt adviser of any change in your circumstances, such as a new job or a change in your income.

Taking out more credit

You must not borrow more than £500 at any one time when you are in breathing space. Credit includes using a rolling trade account or an invoice from a supplier to pay for goods by a future date. If you know that you will need to use more than £500 of credit at any point during breathing space, then breathing space will not be suitable for you.

Keep in touch with your debt adviser

Your debt adviser will want to know that you are taking steps to resolve your debt situation while in breathing space. It’s important to try to keep in touch as this is part of the requirements of breathing space. This could include replying to an email, phone call, or seeing your adviser face-to-face.

How to apply for standard breathing space

You will need to speak to a debt adviser to be considered for breathing space. We are able to apply for breathing space for you. If it appears that breathing space may be a good option and you wish to apply, we will need the following information:

  • your name;
  • your date of birth;
  • your usual residential address; and
  • details of who you owe money to.

If you are self-employed, we will also need the trading name of your business and the address of your business, if there is one.

It would be useful to have as much information available about each debt as possible. This includes:

  • the creditor’s address;
  • the account or reference number; and
  • details of any collection agency or enforcement agent collecting the debt.

What is a mental health crisis breathing space?

You can only get a mental health crisis breathing space in very limited situations. A mental health crisis breathing space provides protection from creditors for people who are struggling with debts and who are also receiving mental health crisis treatment. Someone is classed as receiving mental health crisis treatment if they are:

  • detained for assessment or treatment under the Mental Health Act 1983;
  • removed to a place of Safety under the Mental Health Act 1983; or
  • receiving crisis, emergency or acute care or treatment in any setting from a specialist mental health service. (this would be a mental health service provided by a crisis home treatment team, a liaison mental health team, a community mental health team or any other specialist mental health crisis service).

An approved mental health professional (AMHP) will need to confirm that you are receiving mental health crisis treatment. An AMHP will be someone approved under section 114(1) of the Mental Health Act 1983 by any local social services authority in England, or approved under that subsection by any local social services authority in Wales.

You can make a referral yourself, but an evidence form signed by an approved mental health professional will need to be submitted with your application.

Mental Health and Money Advice has more information about mental health breathing space, including who would qualify. The Money and Pensions Service has more information about how to submit a referral for a mental health crisis breathing space.

Important things to know

  • A mental health crisis breathing space will provide you with the same protections as the standard breathing space.
  • A mental health crisis breathing space will last for the duration of your mental health crisis treatment plus 30 days.
  • Unlike a standard breathing space, people who wish to enter a mental health crisis breathing space will not need to receive advice and find a debt solution.
  • You can choose someone to talk to the debt adviser for you.
  • There is no limit to the number of times that you can enter a mental health crisis breathing space. You can also apply if you have had a standard breathing space in the last 12 months

See our Debt and mental health fact sheet for more information about mental health and dealing with your debts.

Other fact sheets that may help you

Attachment of earnings orders fact sheet

Bankruptcy fact sheet

Business partnerships fact sheet

Business rates fact sheet

Commercial energy debt fact sheet

Commercial property leases fact sheet

Complaining about your lender fact sheet

Council tax arrears fact sheet

County Court bailiffs fact sheet

Debt and mental health fact sheet

Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet

Harassment by creditors fact sheet

High Court enforcement fact sheet

Income tax debt fact sheet

Mortgage arrears fact sheet

Penalty charge notices fact sheet

Safe bank account fact sheet

Rent arrears fact sheet

Replying to a County Court claim fact sheet

Sole traders fact sheet

Statute-barred debts fact sheet

Statutory demands fact sheet

Varying a CCJ fact sheet

VAT debt fact sheet

Ways to clear your debt fact sheet