Debt Relief Orders

If you're in over your head with debt, bankruptcy isn't the only option. A debt relief order gets creditors off your back for 12 months.

Applying for a Debt Relief Order can feel stressful, but it needn't be

What is a Debt Relief Order?

So, what is a Debt Relief Order (DRO)? Simply put, they’re a way of dealing with your debts if you’re unable to pay them. They’re granted by the Insolvency Service and can work out cheaper than declaring yourself bankrupt. If you’re considering bankruptcy instead, try our ‘what is bankruptcy’ article here.

They usually last for 12 months. During that time none of the people you owe money to (your creditors) will be able to take action against you to get their money back. At the end of the year you’ll be free of all the debts listed in the order.

Qualifying for a DRO


In the UK or Northern Ireland, to qualify for a DRO your debts must be £20,000 or less and include:

  • Credit cards, overdrafts, loans
  • Rent, utilities, telephone, council tax
  • Benefit overpayments and social fund loans
  • Hire purchase or conditional sale agreements
  • Buy now, pay later agreements

Income and assets

Your income must be no more than £50 a month after paying your normal household expenses.
The things you own (your assets) and any savings must be worth no more than £1,000. In addition, if you have a motor vehicle this must be worth £1,000 or less, unless it has been specially adapted because you have a physical disability.

In the last three years you must have lived, had a property or run a business in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.


You won’t be able to use a DRO to deal with your debts if:

  • You’re currently bankrupt
  • You have an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) or are applying for an IVA
  • Your creditors have applied to make you bankrupt but the hearing hasn’t yet taken place (though you might still be able to apply for a debt relief order if your creditors agree)
  • You have petitioned for bankruptcy but your petition has not yet been dealt with. However, this doesn’t apply if you’ve petitioned for bankruptcy and the judge has referred you for a debt relief order instead
  • You have had a debt relief order in the last six years

How to apply

To apply, you’ll need to contact an authorised adviser at your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) who will check whether you meet the conditions and apply on your behalf. The order will cost you £90, but you can pay this in installments over six months.

You can also find advisors, known as approved intermediaries, by contacting any of the competent authorities listed by the Insolvency Service.

It is an offence to give false or misleading information in your application.

Once your debt relief order has been approved you should not pay any of the creditors listed on the order. Your creditors will be told about the debt relief order and you will be protected from them taking any action.

Your debt relief order will be published on the Individual Insolvency Register. You can only apply for one once every six years.

What expect during the debt relief order period

During the period of your debt relief order you won’t need to make any payments towards the debts listed in the order.

You will need to continue to pay your normal household expenses, which may include rent, council tax, gas, electricity and water charges. You will also need to pay off any debts that are not included in the debt relief order.

You can’t add other debts to the debt relief order. You will have to tell the Official Receiver (the person now in charge of your debts) about any new debts that you get during the period of the order.
You must tell the Official Receiver if your circumstances change once you have a debt relief order, or if you forgot to include information in the order.

Getting credit with a debt relief order

Your debt relief order will appear on your credit file. It will remain on your file for six years. This may affect your ability to get credit in the future.

You may find it difficult to open a bank account once you have a debt relief order.

Things you can’t do when you’ve got a DRO

While a debt relief order is in place, there are certain things you won’t be able to do. These include:
Getting credit over £500 without telling the lender you have a debt relief order.

Carrying on a business in a different name from the one under which you were given a debt relief order, without telling all those you do business with the name under which you were granted a debt relief order.

Being involved with promoting, managing, or setting up a limited company without permission from court. Also, you can’t act as a company director without getting permission from the court.

What if you’re being harassed by debt collectors?

Being harassed by debt collectors can be pretty intimidating. Here’s a question we received at The Mix:

‘A credit company employee turned up at my workplace uninvited and discussed my loan in full view and hearing distance of my work colleagues and customers. He was demanding money in front of all these people. Was this legal? Is there anything I can do about it?’

It can be unpleasant to find yourself in a position like this. It’s never nice discussing the details of your financial situation within earshot of your colleagues, and this sounds like a particularly distressing situation.

If this action was taken by a debt collector from the company you have a loan with, this could be considered harassment and therefore illegal.

Harassment of people in debt by creditors or their agents is a criminal offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The regulations prohibit aggressive commercial practices, including aggressive practices used by creditors to pressurise debtors into paying their debts.

How will I know if I’m being harassed by a debt collection agency?

The following examples of behaviour may constitute harassment:

  • Making demands for payment that are deliberately meant to alarm, distress or humiliate the debtor, their family or household
  • Contacting you too frequently, or late at night
  • Trying to contact you through Twitter, Facebook or another social networking site
  • Pressuring you to sell property (such as your home if you own it) or to take out more credit
  • Using more than one collection company or debt collector at the same time
  • Not telling you when the debt has been passed to another company
  • Using documents which look official (for example have a business logo) when they’re not, or saying a document is official when it’s not
  • Pressuring you to pay the debt in full or in large instalments which you cannot afford
  • Threatening you physically or verbally
  • Ignoring you if you say you don’t actually owe the money
  • Trying to embarrass you in public
  • Threatening to tell someone else about your debts, such as your neighbour or family
  • Falsely claiming to work for the court or to be a bailiff, or, in Scotland, a sheriff officer
  • Implying that action can be taken that is not legally possible, such as implying that your property can be taken without a court order
  • Saying that court action has been taken against the debtor when it hasn’t
  • Suggesting that not paying the debt is a criminal offence – for most, it’s not

What to do if you’re being harassed

If you believe that the debt-collecting agency is harassing you, you should keep a record of when they call you, visit you, and send you letters as evidence that they’ve been harassing you. Then write to whoever you owe money to, quoting the fact that their agent has committed an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

After that you could make a formal complaint to a trade association, trading standards, the Office of Fair Trading, a professional body about a solicitor or the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Where to go for more advice on debt relief

If you need further support on this topic, give us a call on 0808 808 4994. We’re unable to give specific money advice but can guide you to the best places for expert support. Some other useful links include:

Next Steps

  • The Money Helper offers free, unbiased and independent advice about all financial matters. 0800 138 7777
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.



By Holly Turner

Updated on 28-Jul-2021

Photo of stressed girl by Shutterstock.