Meg Van Rooyen of National Debtline
BBC News' Ask the Expert column gives readers a chance to get their financial questions answered by experts.
This week, Meg Van Rooyen of National Debtline, a free telephone service for people with debt problems, helps a reader who is being tormented by her former partner's debts.
The woman (we have withheld the name) separated from the father of her children a few years ago.
But, since last year, she has received demands for outstanding debts, addressed to her ex. She has since found out that he owes money to banks and credit card companies.
She is returning the letters as they arrive, but is now worried by the prospect of bailiffs.
Is she liable to repay his debts, as the demands are being sent to her home? Is there anything she can do to protect herself?
Ms Van Rooyen says:
It is very important to realise that you are not liable for debts such as credit agreements that have been taken out in somebody else's sole name.
It makes no difference whether you were partners or married.
You are only liable for debts that you have signed an agreement for in your name or if you have taken out credit in joint names.
If the debts are in joint names with your ex-partner then you are held to be - jointly and severally - liable for the debts.
This means you both owe the entire debt and the creditor can choose to pursue either of you for it.
Household bills can be a bit different. You would both be jointly liable for council tax during any period you both lived in the house.
You should make sure your former partner is no longer on any fuel or water bills. These are your responsibility from the date he left.
From what you say, it appears unlikely that the debts are in your name. If this is the case then you have no legal liability whatsoever - and your ex-partner's creditors cannot pursue you for his debts.
They certainly cannot send bailiffs into your house to take your goods for his debts.
If a creditor does not have a forwarding address then they will often write to the last known address for the person who owes the money. They may even sue the person in the county court at the last known address.
If a collection agent visits your house you do not have to let them in - they have no right to enter your home.
If there is a county court judgment against your former partner at your address then even a bailiff has no right to enter your home unless you invite them in. Do not let them in.
However, it is very important that you provide them with any forwarding address that you have and tell them not to call again.
Make sure none of the debts are in your name
Check any credit agreements you have. If your name is on any of the letters, write to the creditors for copies of your credit agreements.
If any debts are in your name then seek advice on how to deal with your debts, contact the creditors and how to make an offer of payment. Contact National Debtline on 0808 808 4000.
- Write to all the creditors/collection agents who have sent letters to your address
Tell them your former partner does not live there and provide a forwarding address.
Information Commission: 01625 545 745 (Data Protection Helpline); 01625 545 700 (general)
Experian: 0870 2414297 (leaflet order line); 0870 2416212 (helpline)
Callcredit: 0870 0601414
Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance Scheme (Cifas): 0870 010 2091
Tell them not to contact him at your address in the future. Explain the debts are not in your name and that you are not liable for them and that you expect to receive no further letters regarding the matter.
If a company persists in writing to your address, tell your local trading standards department. You can find out how to contact them through your local council.
- If you receive any hassle from debt collectors, mention the Office of Fair Trading debt collection guidance
This prohibits various unfair business practices by collection agents, such as "pursuing third parties for payment when they are not liable" and "sending demands for payment to an individual when it is uncertain that they are the debtor in question" and "requiring an individual to supply information to prove they are not the debtor".
- Contact the main credit reference agencies and check your credit file
There are three agencies in the UK: Experian, Equifax and Callcredit (see information box for contact details, and website links on the right) which hold details about your credit histories.
You have the right to obtain a copy of your credit file, which will cost you £2 per file.
The Information Commissioner publishes a very useful booklet called "No credit?" which may help you (see useful contacts box for details).
If your former partner's details show up on your file, make sure you contact the credit reference agencies with what is called a "notice of disassociation" to remove your former partner from your credit file because you no longer have a financial connection with him.
FREE DEBT ADVICE
National Debtline (0808 808 4000): Free confidential helpline to those in debt
Consumer Credit Counselling Service (0800 1381111): The service offers free advice and information to those affected by debt
Citizens Advice: You can find out details of your local CAB by using the website's online directory (see link on right) or by looking up its local offices in your telephone directory
You can also ask to include a "notice of correction" which is a statement of up to 200 words.
This could include your ex-partner's name and a clarification that he does not live at your address. However, credit reference agencies can refuse to add a notice if it is defamatory about someone else.
Credit reference agencies also interact with CIFAS who operate a protective registration service which warns creditors checking your credit file to be extra careful to double check that the person applying for credit isn't using your address details fraudulently.
You can find out more about this issue from Experian's Credit Crossroads leaflet on identity fraud, which can be found on its website through its consumer advice section.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.