Debt relief orders
This fact sheet covers England & Wales. You will need different advice if you live in Scotland.
Use this fact sheet to:
- find out what a debt relief order is and what it does;
- find out if you qualify for a debt relief order and how to apply;
- find out which debts can be included in a debt relief order; and
- understand the effects of a debt relief order on you.
The sample letter mentioned in this fact sheet can be filled in on our website.
If you need time to get debt advice and find a debt solution, you may want to consider applying for breathing space.
Breathing space will stop most types of enforcement and also stop most creditors applying interest and charges for 60 days.
To find out more, see our Breathing space fact sheet.
What is a debt relief order?
A DRO may be able to help you if you do not own your home, have few assets and little available income to pay your creditors. It is a cheaper option than bankruptcy. If your DRO application is successful, most creditors cannot take action to recover your debts for 12 months. The debts are then written off after the 12 months are up.
How to apply for a DRO
You can only apply for a DRO through a special adviser called an ‘approved intermediary’. It is not possible to apply directly to the Insolvency Service yourself. You must get advice from an approved intermediary first, and if they agree that a DRO is right for you, they will give you advice and make the application on your behalf. Applications are sent to the official receiver's office through a special on-line system.
The official receiver is a government official who will deal with your application. There is no court hearing. Business Debtline has approved intermediaries who can help you. See the section How we can help.
Do I qualify for a DRO?
There are strict rules that you have to meet to qualify for a DRO. These rules will be changing soon, but to qualify for a DRO now you must:
- be unable to pay your debts;
- have total debts of £20,000 or less at the date the application is approved by the official receiver;
- have assets worth a total of £1,000 or less;
- not have a car or motor bike worth £1,000 or more;
- have £50 a month or less spare income after normal household expenses are taken into account;
- live in England or Wales (or have lived or run a business in England or Wales in the last three years); and
- not have had a DRO in the last six years.
For details of how these rules will be changing, see the later section Future changes to qualifying criteria.
When can't you apply?
If you are already bankrupt or have an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA), then you will not be able to apply for a DRO. Contact us for advice.
No joint applications
You cannot apply for a DRO jointly with another person. If you and your partner both want a DRO, you each have to apply separately. This means you each have to pay a £90 application fee. Contact us for advice.
You can remain self-employed as a sole trader or in a partnership. See the later section, Effects of a DRO. You cannot go into a DRO if you are a director of a limited company. If you are a director of a limited company or have shares in a limited company, contact us for advice.
Future changes to qualifying criteria
The government is planning to bring in the following changes to the qualifying rules for DROs.
- Increasing the total debt you can have from £20,000 to £30,000.
- Changing the value of assets you can have from £1,000 to £2,000.
- Increasing the maximum allowed value of a car from under £1,000 to under £2,000.
- Allowing you to have up to £75 a month spare income rather than the current level of £50 a month.
The government expects to bring in these changes on 29 June 2021.
We will update this fact sheet when the changes go through.
You can have assets worth up to £1,000 and still qualify for a DRO. Lots of basic household items such as cutlery, crockery, cookers, telivisions, beds or furniture do not count as assets.
Tools of the trade
Tools of the trade include books, tools and equipment that you need to use personally in your business. Tools of the trade do not usually count towards the £1,000 asset limit. If you have tools of the trade and want to know how these might be treated in a DRO application, contact us for advice.
If you own a car or motorbike, it will not be counted as an asset as long as it is worth less than £1,000. You can check the value using Parker's Guide. See Useful contacts towards the end of this fact sheet. If you have a specially adapted car because of a disability, contact us for advice.
Motor vehicles used for business
If you own a vehicle which you need to use in your business, this will not usually be considered a tool of the trade. You may be able to have a business vehicle if:
- it is the only vehicle you have;
- you also use it for personal use; and
- its value is less than £1,000.
If your household already has a vehicle then the business use vehicle will not be covered under the vehicle rule, but would fall under the rule about assets worth up to £1,000.
Cars on hire purchase or conditional sale agreements
Don't include a car you have on a hire purchase or conditional sale agreement as an asset. The car belongs to the creditor until you have paid off the total debt. See the later section, Hire purchase or conditional sale.
If your business has any stock, it will be treated as an asset and will count towards the £1,000 asset limit.
Money owed to you
Any money owed to you is treated as an asset. This could be money owed by somebody you have done business with, or money owed to you by a family member or a friend. However, if you can show that you have taken steps to try to recover the money but still have not been paid, it can be treated as a 'bad debt'. Any sum treated as a 'bad debt' will not count towards the £1,000 asset limit. If you are owed money by somebody else, contact us for advice.
Private pensions approved by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) do not count towards your £1,000 asset limit. A small number of private pensions not approved by HMRC will count as assets. Any money you receive from a pension will be treated as income when deciding whether you qualify for a DRO.
Be open about your assets
It is important to be open about any assets you have. The official receiver could end your DRO and take further action against you if they find out that you have not told them about an asset that takes you over the £1,000 limit. You also have to tell them about any asset you gave away, or sold for less than it was worth, in the last two years.
How we can help
If you qualify for a DRO, Business Debtline’s DRO team can help you to apply. An adviser will check that you meet the criteria and send you an application form. We will also send you a hold action letter which you can send to your creditors (the people you owe money to).
This will let them know that you are applying for a DRO through Business Debtline. See the Hold action while you apply for a debt relief order sample letter. Before sending it to your creditors, contact us for advice.
It may take several weeks for Business Debtline to help you with your DRO application. However, this can change from time to time. Contact us for information about how long it is likely to take at the time you are considering applying for a DRO.
If you apply for a DRO through Business Debtline, you will need to pay the £90 fee in full within two months of us receiving your completed application.
Total debt level near £20,000
If your debt is near the £20,000 limit, you can still apply for a DRO through Business Debtline. However, as it can take several weeks before your final application is submitted to the official receiver, there is a risk that your debt could go above £20,000. If this happened, you would not get a DRO. See the later section, What if my debts are near the £20,000 limit?.
Debts that are included
You can include most types of debt in your application as long as your total debts are less than the £20,000 limit.
You should include priority debts. Examples include:
- rent arrears;
- gas and electricity debts with your current supplier;
- arrears on your phone bill if you need to keep it as an essential service;
- council tax, business rates and community charge arrears; and
- income tax, VAT and National Insurance arrears. Please contact us for advice if you have a tax debt as there are special rules about this.
Your ongoing bills
When you are working out how much you owe, make sure you include any arrears you have on priority debts. You will still need to pay your ongoing rent, energy, council tax bills and so on as normal.
Even if you include rent arrears in your DRO, your landlord can still take court action to evict you. However, they cannot recover rent arrears you build up before your DRO.
You must make sure you include all your credit debts in the application. If you leave a debt out, it cannot be included later. See the section What happens if a debt is left out?.
Examples of debts you should include are:
- water arrears;
- credit cards and store cards;
- bank overdrafts and bank loans;
- loans to finance companies;
- home-collected credit;
- benefit overpayments;
- family or personal debts;
- hire purchase and conditional sale agreements if you are in arrears (if you are not in arrears you may be able to exclude this type of debt in certain circumstances);
- hire agreements;
- parking penalty charges; and
- mortgage shortfalls (money you owe if your house was sold for less than the outstanding mortgage).
You may also owe debts from your small business such as:
- money you owe to employees;
- debts to customers who have paid for goods or services that you were unable to supply; and
- debts to suppliers.
Benefit overpayments cannot be recovered by any method, including deductions from your ongoing benefits, if they are included in a DRO.
If you are not sure what debts you should include in the DRO application, contact us for advice.
Some debts do not count towards the £20,000 limit, although you still have to list them in the DRO application. This means you are still liable to pay these debts in full. You cannot 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’; and
- debts resulting from certain personal injury claims against you.
You will need to make sure you pay ongoing payments on these debts and include them in your outgoings.
Hire purchase and conditional sale agreements
If you are not in arrears, you can choose to exclude hire purchase and conditional sale agreements from your DRO in certain circumstances. See the section Hire purchase or conditional sale.
Hire purchase or conditional sale
If you are not in arrears with your hire purchase (HP) or conditional sale agreement, you can choose to exclude the debt from your DRO application. However, if you are in arrears, you must include it. Any further payments to the creditor must stop.
If you are not in arrears, you may decide to leave out your HP or conditional-sale agreement from your DRO. If you do this, future payments towards the agreement will only be allowed if the item is necessary to satisfy the basic domestic needs of you and your family. Otherwise, if you want to keep the item, payments under the agreement would need to be made by a third party, such as a family member or friend.
If you have a vehicle on a HP or conditional-sale agreement and it is worth more than £1,000, payments would not be an allowable expense in your DRO. Therefore, you would have to include the debt in your application unless a third party is willing to take over the agreement for you.
If you are self-employed and have an item on HP or conditional-sale that you think is essential to the running of your business, contact us for advice.
For more information on HP or conditional-sale agreements and DROs, contact us for advice.
Creditor ends the agreement
Some hire purchase or conditional sale agreements may contain a clause which allows your creditor to end the agreement if you get a DRO. Check your agreement and contact us for advice.
Contract hire and lease hire agreements
Under these types of agreement, you pay a regular monthly amount to the creditor so that you can use the goods. However, you do not own the items.
If the contract hire or lease hire is for an item your business could not operate without, the official receiver will look at whether the amount you are paying for these items is acceptable or not. If the official receiver allows you to keep paying for these items, the debt will not go into the DRO. Contact us for advice.
What happens if my debts are near the £20,000 limit?
Creditors can add interest and charges to your debts up until the date the official receiver approves your DRO. Therefore, if your debts are near the £20,000 limit when you start the application process, your debts could rise to above £20,000 by the time the official receiver considers your application. If this happens, the official receiver will not approve your DRO. You will not get the money you have paid in fees back if this happens.
You need to think about the following ideas and get further advice.
- Check what sort of debts you have. Some creditors may not be adding extra interest and charges. But you may have a credit card or a store card which has a high interest rate that is building up each month.
- Think realistically about how long it will take you to save up the money for the fee, as you may miss your chance to apply for a DRO if your debts grow to more than £20,000.
- If saving the £90 fee will delay your application, you could ask a charity to help with the fee. This could help speed the process up. If you need help with the fee, contact us for advice.
- Try to persuade your creditors to freeze the interest. You can send your creditors the Hold action while you apply for a debt relief order sample letter. However, this letter should only be sent to your creditors when you are at the stage of completing your Business Debtline DRO application pack.
- If you are able to, make payments to your creditors to prevent the debts reaching the £20,000 limit. Contact us for advice as you need to be careful to treat all your creditors fairly if you decide to do this.
- Think about whether anyone can help you make the payments to help keep your debt below £20,000.
- You may be able to apply for a time order. This is a way of asking the court to give you more time to pay a particular type of debt, which may help to prevent the debts reaching the £20,000 limit. See our Time orders on unsecured debt fact sheet for more information.
- With a time order, the court can also change some of the terms of the agreement, such as the rate of interest. This is a complicated area so contact us for advice.
Before I apply
You will need to think about the following steps.
- Get advice about whether you may qualify.
- You can do a budget to see how much money you have coming in and going out.
- Start collecting details about your debts and how much you owe each creditor.
- Check your credit reference file to make sure you haven’t forgotten any debts.
- Make sure that your tax returns are up to date.
- Start saving up money towards the application fee.
Changes in your income
Many people who are self-employed see a lot of change in their income during the course of 12 months. During the 12 months of a DRO, you would have to tell the official receiver every time your income increased. Your DRO could be ended if the increased income meant you had more than £50 to pay towards your debt in that month. Think about what a 'best month' is for you and whether you would still have less than £50 left to pay towards your debt in that month. See the section The official receiver and contact us for advice on whether a DRO is the best solution for you.
The fee for a DRO is £90. There is no reduction if you are on benefits or a low income. You are allowed to pay in instalments. If you cannot pay the fee, you might be able to apply to a charity for help. Contact us for advice.
How do I make payments?
- You can start saving up towards the £90 fee as soon as you like.
- When you have completed the application with your intermediary (who will be a member of the Business Debtline DRO team if you apply though us), they will send you a copy of the application to read along with a special bar code. This bar code will enable you to make payments towards the £90 fee.
- You can make payments by cash only using your local Payzone. Payzone can be found in newsagents, petrol stations and corner shops.
- You can also pay in cash at your local post office. You can find your local branch by using the ‘branch finder’ service on the Post Office website www.postoffice.co.uk.
- You can pay the fee in as many instalments as you like, but there are strict time limits for you to do this. Under the DRO rules, you will be allowed a maximum of six months to pay your fee in full from when your online application began.
- However, if you apply for a DRO through us, we require you to pay your fee in full within two months of us receiving your completed application pack. Other organisations may have different timescales. If you do not pay the full fee as required, your application will not be allowed to go ahead.
- You can ask the official receiver for a refund if you have made some payments towards your fee and then change your mind about applying for a DRO. You cannot get a refund once the application is sent in by your intermediary and you have paid the fee in full.
When you should pay the fee
You must have paid the full £90 fee before the official receiver will look at your application. You only have a maximum of 10 days after your intermediary has sent your online application to the official receiver to complete your payments towards the fee. To make sure that your payments are processed on time, you will usually need to have paid the full £90 before your intermediary sends in your application.
If you forget about a debt and find out about it after the DRO has been agreed by the official receiver, the debt cannot be included in the DRO. The creditor can continue to take action against you to recover the debt. This means you will need to negotiate repayments separately with that creditor. If this happens to you, contact us for advice. If this debt takes your total debts over £20,000, the official receiver will consider ending or ‘revoking’ your DRO.
What if my debts are higher than the amounts I put on the form?
It is important that you put accurate amounts for what you owe on the application form. This is because the official receiver will only include the amount of debt that you have stated on the application form in the final DRO.
This means that if you use an out of date statement to find out how much you owe a creditor, or if a creditor adds on some interest or charges to a debt after you have completed the application form, you may find that the creditor asks you to pay the difference.
For example, if you have a credit card debt that was £3,200 when you completed the application form and some interest gets added on and it rises to £3,225, the creditor may ask you to pay the extra £25.
If there is a big delay between you filling in the application form and it being sent to the official receiver, you may find that you owe some more money to several of your creditors.
Possible action against you
If you do not tell the official receiver about the extra debt, the official receiver may be able to take criminal or civil action against you. Contact us for advice.
What happens next?
- The official receiver will decide whether to grant your application for a DRO. They can ask you for more information and you must be as helpful as you can. You may want to seek more advice if this happens. Contact us for advice.
- The official receiver will also ask a credit reference agency for information about your credit file. This will help them to check the details that you have provided in your application.
- If the official receiver approves your application, they will send you a letter to confirm that you have been given a DRO.
- The official receiver will also send the order to all the creditors listed in your application.
- Your creditors may object to the DRO being made. They can also object to being included in the DRO or if the information you have given about a debt with them is inaccurate. They can only make such objections on certain grounds, for example that you are not eligible for a DRO. It is not a valid ground for a creditor to object just because they don’t want to be included in the order.
- If your DRO stands, all the debts that are included in the order are put on hold for 12 months. This is called the ‘moratorium period’.
- You should not usually make any more payments on your debts. There are some exceptions to this rule (for example in some situations if you have rent arrears). Contact us for advice.
- Your creditors that are included in the order are not usually allowed to ask you to make any more payments. If this happens, tell the creditors about your DRO and let the official receiver know. Contact us for advice.
- If your application is rejected, the official receiver will tell you and your intermediary the reasons.
Future statements from creditors
Under the rules in the Consumer Credit Act 1974, your creditors will usually have to keep sending you annual statements, as well as arrears and default notices in a set format. This will happen even when you are in the 12 month moratorium period under your DRO but should stop after that. Don’t worry. This does not mean that there is a problem with your DRO. If you receive other letters demanding payment, contact us for advice.
The official receiver
It is very important that you co-operate with the official receiver throughout your DRO application.
- You must tell the official receiver about any changes in your circumstances after you apply for a DRO.
- You must give information about your finances to the official receiver if they ask.
- Make sure you have given the official receiver a full list of your debts and assets.
- Tell the official receiver if your income increases, or if you come into any property or a lump sum whilst you have a DRO. You would need to inform the Insolvency Service each month that your surplus exceeded the £50 threshold. It would then be up to them to decide if DRO should be revoked.
Effects of a DRO
If your DRO application is approved, it can affect you in the following ways.
- Certain restrictions will be placed on you for 12 months from when the DRO is approved.
- In certain circumstances a ‘debt relief restrictions order’ can be placed on you.
- Your bank account may be frozen.
- The DRO will be recorded on your credit reference file.
- The DRO will be recorded on a public register called the Individual Insolvency Register.
- Your job could be affected. This is only likely to be the case where your contract of employment states that you are not allowed to have a DRO.
- If you rent your home, your tenancy could be affected. Check your tenancy agreement to see if it states that you are not allowed to have a DRO and contact us for advice.**
What restrictions will be placed on me?
The main restrictions are as follows.
- You must not take out credit of £500 or more without telling the lender that you have a DRO. If you are self-employed and your business relies on you being able to obtain credit for cashflow purposes, think if it will be possible to continue to run your business with this restriction.
- You cannot run a business in a different name without telling everyone you do business with the name you used for your DRO.
- You cannot be involved with the promotion, management or formation of a limited company, or act as a company director without getting permission from the court.
- You may not hold certain public offices.
- You cannot apply for a DRO again for six years.
Debt relief restrictions orders
If the official receiver finds that you have not been honest and open about your finances either before or during the DRO, or they decide that you have behaved irresponsibly, they may ask you to agree to a ‘debt relief restrictions undertaking’. If you refuse, they may apply to the court for a ‘debt relief restrictions order’. This means that you will still have certain restrictions on you for between 2 and 15 years after the date of the DRO. Your details will also be kept on the Individual Insolvency Register for the lifetime of the order plus an extra three months.
What will happen to my bank account?
If your DRO application is successful, your bank account will not necessarily be frozen. It will be up to your bank or building society to decide if you are allowed to keep the account open. If you have a debt with your bank or building society, it is likely that your account will be frozen after your DRO is approved. Even if you do not have any debts with your current bank, you account may still be at risk. Check the terms and conditions of your account and contact us for advice.
There is nothing to stop you applying to open a new bank or building society account when you have a DRO, but the bank or building society may ask you if you have a DRO. It is then up to the bank or building society to decide whether they will let you open an account with them. You may be able to open a basic bank account instead. It is a good idea to open a basic bank account after your DRO is approved to try to avoid any problems.
See our Safe bank accounts fact sheet for more information.
How will a DRO affect my credit rating?
Credit reference agencies keep information on DROs for six years in the same way as they do for most other information.
Even after six years, your ability to get a mortgage could be affected. This is because some lenders may ask if you have ever been made bankrupt or had a DRO.
See our Credit reference agencies fact sheet for more information.
How long will my DRO be on the Individual Insolvency Register?
- Your DRO will be displayed on the Individual Insolvency Register in the same way as a bankruptcy order.
- Your details will be held on the Individual Insolvency Register for the 12 months your DRO lasts, plus an extra 3 months. This means 15 months in total.
What other solutions are there?
If you do not qualify for a DRO, there may be other solutions for dealing with your debts such as bankruptcy, a debt-management plan or an IVA. Contact us for advice on the solutions available to you in your circumstances. See our Ways to clear your debt fact sheet for more information.
Parkers Guide www.parkers.co.uk/cars/prices/
Payzone UK Ltd Davidson House, Gadbrook Park, Northwich, Cheshire CW9 7TW Phone: 01606 566 566 www.payzone.co.uk
The Debt Relief Order Unit Insolvency Service, 1st Floor Cobourg House, Mayflower Street, Plymouth PL1 1DJ Phone: 0300 678 0015 Email: DRO.Unit@insolvency.gov.uk
The Individual Insolvency Register A register of individuals who are currently in a formal insolvency or are subject to insolvency restrictions. www.insolvencydirect.bis.gov.uk/eiir/
The Insolvency Service The Government agency providing public services to those affected by financial distress or failure www.gov.uk/government/organisations/insolvency-service
The Post Office Phone: 0345 722 3344 www.postoffice.co.uk