If you can’t afford to pay your council arrears, you’re not alone!

Council tax is not cheap and for some people; it becomes unaffordable due to unforeseen circumstances and financial hardship. 

If you cannot clear your council tax payments, there may be easier ways to pay what you owe, and you might be able to make it more affordable with a council tax reduction. 

Some people might even be able to avoid paying this priority debt. 

Can you get away with not paying council tax?

Nearly everyone in the UK renting or owning property has to pay tax to their local authority, subject to their property council tax band. 

The band dictates how much needs to be paid each year. These payments to the council cover local essential services and maintenance.

There are limited exceptions to having to pay, such as being a full time student. And you may be able to claim a discount for an array of reasons we’ll cover below. 

The bottom line is that most of us will have to pay. 

Find your best debt solution

This 4 question debt calculator will tell you if you’re eligible.

What is the total amount of your debt?

What to do if you are struggling to pay your council tax

If you do not have the money to pay your council tax bill, you should speak with the council as soon as possible to see if there is a way they can help, possibly with a repayment plan.

Most of the time they will show empathy and try to find a solution with you. It might be worth making an accurate budget before getting in touch. 

They will be able to assess your situation to see if you are eligible for a discount as well. 

Living alone, with someone studying full time, or if you receive benefits like jobseeker’s allowance, income support, universal credit or pension credit could earn you a council tax reduction.

This can make it easier to pay future bills, and the council can backdate credit to refund you what you should have claimed.

Contact the council to see what reduction you can get, and speak to debt charity services for impartial debt advice. 

What happens if you can’t pay your council tax bill?

Even with a reduction, some people cannot keep up and end up owing unpaid council tax. 

If you are struggling to pay council tax, it is recommended to get advice from a charity and speak with the local council directly. They might be able to help change your repayment frequency or agree on a repayment plan. 

However, if you ignore your council tax arrears, you can expect a letter from the local council in the post.

They will request you repay the money quickly. If you ignore their letter, they could try to make you repay the remaining money owed in the full year’s bill.

And if you still fail, the council can take you to court to enforce the debts. 

At court, the judge will look over any evidence and decide whether you are liable for the debt. If so, you will be given a court order, known as a liability order. 

The council might add their own legal fees to what is owed.

At this point, you will be instructed to repay straight away or make an arrangement to pay in instalments if you have a low income or receive benefits. 

Once paid, get a receipt!

If you are not able to pay and are worried about legal proceedings, contact a charity for support.

And if you still fail to repay after a liability order is issued, the following steps are likely: 

  1. The council enforces the order and may use the court to take payment directly from benefits, such as employment and support allowance. Or they enforce it by employing a bailiff.
  2. The bailiff will give you an opportunity to repay in full or sign an arrangement (CGA) to pay in instalments secured against your valuables by a certain date (minimum of seven working days including Saturday). This means your valuables will be repossessed and sold if you do not keep up with payments. You will owe bailiff fees even from this point. 
  3. If you do not clear the debt by the date given and fail to accept a CGA, the bailiffs can come to your home and attempt to seize goods. The financial costs at this point increase significantly.

If bailiffs cannot seize goods or recover the money owed, the council can apply to the Magistrates’ Court to summon you for a hearing. It is possible to be sent to prison for 90 days if it gets this far, but only if you have willfully neglected or rejected paying the bill. 

Can bailiffs force entry for council tax debt?

In most cases, enforcement agents cannot force entry into a house to seize goods. The agent can walk through open or unlocked doors, even if the debtor is not home. 

At this stage, the agent may still give you an opportunity to repay in full with a debit or credit card. 

The only time an enforcement agent can force entry to recover council tax is if the debtor agreed to a CGA and defaulted on a payment – and they have given notice about their intentions. 

If the goods are inside the property, the agent can use reasonable force without harm to enter the property and take the items they legally now own. 

They cannot take items you need for employment, such as work tools or computers.

Get advice if you think an enforcement agent has acted wrongfully. 

How long can you be chased for council tax arrears?

You can be chased for 6 or 20 years depending on where you live in the UK.

If you had these types of debts in England or Wales, you might benefit from the Statute Barred law. This is a law from the Limitations Act 1980 that states debts can no longer be legally enforced after six years elapses from when the debt started, the last payment or the last written acknowledgement by the debtor.

This loophole was introduced to safeguard the courts from receiving too many older cases and becoming overwhelmed. 

Scotland also has an identical law, but their law does not cover council bills. The length of time you can be chased for these debts in Scotland is 20 years. 

Consider getting advice to make sure your debt has become unenforceable. 

Can I write off council debt?

There are ways to write off a council tax bill using debt solutions. 

Some of the solutions used to write off these types of debt are Debt Relief Orders and Individual Voluntary Arrangements. 

A DRO is an option for people with limited disposable income (<£50 per month). It prevents people chasing you for money in writing or over the phone for one year. After one year if your financial situation hasn’t improved, all debt is wiped.

An IVA is slightly different and you will need to repay some of your debt. It’s for people with multiple larger debts and enough money to make a sizable repayment (£100 minimum) each month. 

This payment is split among all creditors for five years before all outstanding amounts owed are wiped. Each creditor must accept the IVA proposal to be included. 

Find more information on these and other solutions with us. And don’t forget there are some excellent charities waiting and willing to help you. 

About the author

Scott Nelson

Scott Nelson is a financial services expert, with over 10 years’ experience in the industry, including 6 years in FCA regulated companies. Read more
×