In short, no. You can’t go to prison simply for being in debt, as being in debt is not a crime. However, you can go to prison if you got into debt fraudulently – this includes claiming benefits you weren’t entitled to, or taking out credit with no intention of repaying it.
If you have got into debt legally – if you applied for credit cards, loans, utility bills, store cards with all intention of repaying them – then this would class as a civil matter, and you cannot go to prison, even if you refuse to pay the debt.
However, the refusal to repay your debts, may lead to a situation where you could be sent to prison.
The only way you can be imprisoned as a result of your debt is if you fail to comply with certain court orders set up to help repay your debt. For example; if you fail to repay a debt, you may have an attachment of earnings placed against you in court. If you fail to stick to this order, you could go to prison for up to 14 days.
However, you will not be sent to prison simply over non-payment of debt, but failing to follow a court order.
If it gets even vaguely close to this point, you need to talk to someone. Your first call is talk directly to the people to whom you owe the debt. In general, they don’t want to take you to court. If you explain your circumstances to them, they are likely to come to some agreement with you regarding repayment.
If you can’t do this, or the creditors simply aren’t helpful, then there are companies who specialise in this – such as Debt Assist UK – and who can take a look at your finances as a whole, and help you come up with a good, long-term plan to clear your debts.