Can a debtor go to prison for not paying a debt?

No - but yes!

Once Judgment has been obtained against a debtor, one way to find out a debtor’s financial circumstances is to make an application to the Court for an Order for a debtor to attend Court for questioning.  

A hearing is set down by the Court telling the debtor the date and time he must attend Court to answer questions on oath such as whether:

  • he owns any property
  • he has any assets e.g. stocks and shares
  • he owns a vehicle
  • he is working, details of his employer and how much he is earning
  • he is the beneficiary of a will
  • he has any other debts

The debtor will also be required to bring any documents in relation to his finances  such as copy bank statements, wage slips etc. to the hearing.

Who can serve the debtor?

Notice of the hearing must be personally served on the debtor i.e. handed to the debtor.  This can be done by you, the Bailiff or a process server.  This is because the Notice advises the debtor that if he fails to obey the Order, i.e. he fails to attend the hearing or refuses to answer the questions put to them, they can be held in contempt of Court.   The power of this document can often prompt the debtor to pay up.

Will I have to attend the hearing?

You can do but either an Officer of the Court or a Judge will ask the questions on your behalf.  There is a standard form the debtor can complete but you can put forward

additional questions to be asked.

What happens if the debtor is in contempt of court?

If the debtor disobeys the Order, the Court can issue a Suspended Committal Warrant which must also be personally served on the debtor.  The Suspended Committal Order gives the debtor another date when they must attend a further hearing.  If the debtor fails to attend this hearing, a Warrant of Committal can be issued. 

The Warrant will entitle the Bailiff to arrest the debtor and bring them before the Court.  If the debtor still fails to answer the questions, the Court can issue an Order (Warrant of Committal) whereby the debtor will be taken to prison for a specified amount of time. 

The threat of being committed to prison is a powerful incentive for an otherwise evasive debtor to co-operate or to try and settle the debt.


Case study – a warning

Whilst is it unusual for a debtor to be committed to prison, I pursued a debtor who refused to answer the questions put to them.  The debtor was committed to prison for 7 days.  Upon their release, they were brought before the Judge.  Once again, the debtor refused to answer the questions put to them.  The debtor was therefore committed to prison for a further 14 days.  This was an extreme case (and costly) and the debtor never did answer the questions put to them.  However, the client gained some satisfaction that the debtor had not simply got away with disobeying the Court Order.  

Jeremy Paterson studied Economic History at the University of Leicester and then spent several years in marketing working for agencies near London. At the age of 28, he made the decision to change career and embarked on a law conversion course and LPC at the College of Law in Guildford.

In 2007, he completed a training contract in which he gained experience of civil litigation – an area of law where he found great interest and enjoyment from overcoming unknown challenges.
‘I found great satisfaction in resolving disputes’ he recalls. ‘I enjoy problem solving, simplifying complex issues, and keeping an eye on what really matters to the client’

After qualifying, Jeremy went on to specialise in civil litigation working for another firm in the Portsmouth area before working for a firm in Southampton. He joined Verisona Law as a Senior Associate in its Commercial Dispute Resolution team early in 2016.

‘I’d had my eye on Verisona Law for a while as it appealed to me from both a legal and marketing perspective,’ he said. ‘Verisona Law has positioned itself in a unique way for the local area and it has earned a great deal of recognition for the range of specialist legal services it offers.’

Client testimonials

"I appreciate all your work and the positive outcome we managed to get and enjoyed working with you." Anon, June 2020.

"Thank you for all your help in this matter" Anon, April 2020.

“Superb help, advice and support throughout. I was kept informed and updated at every step of my legal journey with Verisona Law. I wholeheartedly recommend their service.” Anon, September 2019

“Jeremy was very efficient and detailed in my case. I would like to thank Verisona for their professionalism, understanding and excellent work to resolve my case; the outcome went over and above expectation.” Anon, August 2019

“I can’t thank you enough for all that you have done for me as you can probably appreciate it has been a very difficult time for me but I can now move on and enjoy my life again so once again Jeremy thank you.” Anon, June 2019

"Jeremy, thanks for all you and Verisona have done for our company. You were a source of calm in a storm. Your advice, guidance and reassurance helped us see off a serious threat to our company and its Intellectual Property." Anon, June 2019

"We will continue to support and recommend our clients to Verisona." Bernard Landi - Landi Accounting, August 2018

"Having recently used Verisona Law to help recover a commercial debt due to us, I would highly recommend them. Jeremy was very professional and helpful, giving information throughout the case, and he was also very calm which really helped us." Anon, June 2018

"I would like to thank you for the first class service we have received from you. Your advice and the professional way you treated us throughout culminated in a result which, prior to your appointment, seemed a long way away." Mr Herridge, June 2018

"Many thanks for your help and constant support." Anon, January 2018

"I was very impressed with your support and advice in this matter." Anon, February 2018

"Verisona have recently acted on behalf of my company regarding a HSE matter. From the outset it became very apparent to me that they were going to leave no stone unturned. I was kept up to date at any time, day or night, and they were always helpful and reassuring. They provided me with a top London barrister who specialised in HSE matters to represent my company in court. I cannot thank them enough for all their hard work in bringing this matter to a close and would highly recommend them to anyone seeking professional legal help." Anon, July 2017

"Thanks again to the Verisona team and in particular Jeremy Paterson. It was reassuring to have an expert in my corner whilst navigating the complicated process of chasing an outstanding debt that was owed to our company." Anon, February 2017

"I was really pleased with the help and support provided by solicitor Jeremy Paterson at Verisona Law. He acted swiftly but concisely with his in-depth knowledge of the law. He covered every possible outcome and kept me updated at every stage of the way without me having to chase him. He went above and beyond anything I have ever experienced before. Really excellent service, achieving a great outcome. I would definitely use Jeremy and Verisona again." Sarah Dineage - Portsmouth Abuse and Rape Counselling Service, November 2016

"Thank you very much for your help in this matter, you have personally done a very professional job for me and I very much appreciate the excellent service I have once again received from Verisona." Anon, October 2016

"Robert and Jeremy provided detailed explanations of legal processes and procedures in an easy to understand style and always made us feel at ease and supported. The dispute was dealt with to our entire satisfaction and we would certainly recommend Verisona Law." Anon, September 2016

  • 2003 Post Graduate Diploma in Law at The College of Law in Guildford
  • 2004 LPC at The College of Law in Guildford
  • 2005 Training contract with Addison Law in Emsworth
  • 2006 Training contract secondment to Churchers in Fareham
  • 2007 Qualified as a solicitor
  • 2008 Specialised in Civil Litigation at Churchers
  • 2013 Civil Litigation at Driver Belcher in Southampton
  • 2016 Commercial Dispute Resolution at Verisona Law
  • Commercial disputes
  • Contractual disputes
  • Property and construction disputes
  • Shareholder and partnership disputes
  • Landlord and tenant disputes
  • Intellectual Property disputes
  • Professional Negligence

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