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If I owe money in France will my debts expire after a set time?

We look at how different organisations treat debt and if there is a time limit to your liability if you can’t pay

Older man looking at a bill

For a loan paid back in instalments, the 'délai' (time limit) may only begin the first time the borrower defaults Pic: Anastasija Vujic / Shutterstock

Creditors in France only have a set amount of time to reclaim any money they are owed – once the deadline has passed, the debtor is released from the obligation to repay.

Read more: Fees, fraud, debt: How bank clients can get help in France

Read more: Household debt in France: You can now apply online for help

Limitation period for electricity and gas

A délai de prescription (limitation period) applies to actions taken to recover debts and generally lasts two years for bills involving a professional and a member of the public. 

This includes, for example, debts owed to doctors, dentists, gas and electricity suppliers, retailers and insurance providers. 

Check who supplies water

It also applies to water bills, as long as the supplier is a private company. 

However, there are some exceptions, as detailed in the Code civil or by specific texts.

One is if your water is supplied by your municipality rather than a private firm - in this case, it has four years to launch proceedings against the debtor.

Telecoms and rent

The délai is only one year for unpaid telephone or internet bills, meaning telecoms operators are not able to claim payment after 12 months have passed. 

Délais de prescription are longer if they relate to a landlord claiming back rent owed. 

Tax authorities and copropriétés

French tax authorities also have three years in which to recover unpaid income tax. 

Notaires, on the other hand, have five years in which to seek payment from clients, as do copropriété schemes.

Court orders

In general, the limitation period begins the day after a debt becomes payable.

However, for a loan paid back in instalments, the délai may only begin the first time the borrower defaults. 

The period can also be interrupted by an action such as a court order demanding the individual repays what they owe, or the individual’s acknowledgement of their debt.

In this case, the délai restarts.

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