If you have council tax arrears, you might be wondering if you can be taken to court or receive a CCJ.

If you do want to know if you can receive a court summons and a CCJ for your council tax debt – read on! We cover everything you need to know about council tax and CCJs, as well as other hot topics and FAQs. 

And remember that first-class advice is always available from respected charities like Step Change or organisations like Citizens Advice. 

What happens if you do not pay your council tax arrears?

If you do not pay your council tax, the council will send a letter to your registered address as a notice to pay within seven days. If the debt is not paid off within those seven days, they will send a final reminder to pay by a certain date. If they have to send a final reminder notice for the third time in one year, they can ask you to pay the remainder of the year’s council tax, which can be a substantial amount.

If you cannot pay or refuse paying the bill. They can take you to court and the costs you have to repay can grow. 

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What is a county court judgement?

A County Court Judgement (CCJ) is a legal decision made by the court. 

For example, if you are disputing a debt with a utility company and it goes to court, the judge could decide you owe the money by issuing a CCJ. This makes you legally responsible to pay or face further consequences. 

You do not have to attend the hearing if you pay the bill in full or agree to an arrangement to pay the money owed back using instalments. You also don’t need to attend the Magistrates’ Court hearing if you agree the debt is yours to pay. 

Can you get a CCJ for council tax?

If you receive a summons to attend a Magistrates’ Court about your council tax debt, the court action does not lead to a CCJ. But it can lead to a liability order being issued.

There is a difference between the two.  

What is a liability order?

A liability order is a document that the court can provide to a council. The document makes you responsible to pay what is owed to your local authority or face enforcement action. 

The order costs around £20 to issue, and this is added to your debts. 

The council can enforce it using:

  1. Attachment of earnings – this is when payments are automatically taken from your employment income by your employer, or from benefits by the DWP. The deductions are made before you are paid.
  2. Bailiff enforcement agent – this is when the authority employs bailiffs to recover the money owed on your account plus legal and bailiff agent fees.
  3. Charging order – a charging order is used so the council tax debt is secured against a property you owe, meaning it will be paid from the sale of that property. 
  4. Bankruptcy – the council may apply to make you bankrupt under certain conditions. 

Note, you will need to pay related service fees as well as your debt if it happens to escalate this far. Get advice from a charity if this is your current situation. 

Does a liability order expire?

A liability order does not expire, meaning the council has as long as they need to enforce the debt. However, this does not override the possibility that the debt becomes legally unenforceable. Keep reading to learn more.

Dealing with council tax arrears

Dealing with court proceedings, a charging order, enforcement agents, bankruptcy or an attachment of earnings is not fun and can be expensive.

As soon as you receive a notice at your address asking for payment, it’s time to take action. Either make the payment in full or pick up the phone and call your authority to explain why you are unable to make a payment at this time. The council is likely to agree on a payment plan to help you repay what you owe affordably over time.

Search online for the phone number of the correct department at your local authority. 

If you have already received a summons, also contact the council to see what can be agreed upon. As soon as the liability order is issued, the debt becomes more problematic and costs you more.

And don’t forget to get advice from a charity. They can even help you budget so you know what amount of repayment instalments you can accept. 

How to get council tax deductions

The most common way people get council tax deductions is if they live alone or live with people who don’t have to pay this tax, such as children or full-time students in their teens. 

You may be able to get a reduction if you receive some benefits, such as Employment and Income Support Allowance, Pension Credit or Universal Credit. 

Can bailiffs break in for council tax?

Bailiffs cannot break in to collect council tax debts unless you have broken a Controlled Goods Agreement (CGA) and the goods secured against the debt are inside your property. Even then, they must meet other criteria to force entry, and they cannot harm you or search your person. 

How long can you be chased for a council tax debt?

Even though a liability order doesn’t expire, this order only lets the local authority enforce the debt. The debt itself can become unenforceable by law after six years in England and Wales, and 20 years in Scotland.

This is due to the Limitations Act 1980, which stops old debts from being taken to court to prevent legal resources from becoming stretched. 

But the six-year countdown can restart if you make a repayment or if you acknowledge that you are responsible to repay in writing. You may need to search your transactions to find out when you last repaid on your debts to work out when they become Statute Barred

If you think your debts are too old to collect, contact a charity for advice and to assess whether they really are Statute Barred. There are a number of charities that can help!

Does council tax debt affect credit rating?

Local authorities will not send information about your council tax arrears to any of the credit rating agencies. This means your council tax debt will not affect your credit score. 

This isn’t an excuse not to pay your council tax bill. 

Can you go to prison for council tax arrears?

It is rare but possible that you will be sent to prison for not paying a council tax debt. You can be sent to jail for up to 90 days if you have willfully neglected or rejected making payments.

If you have avoided the different methods of enforcement action, the council could ask the court for a further hearing. You will receive a summons to attend the Magistrates’ Court on a specific date. Do not ignore the summons because not showing up can result in the judge issuing an arrest warrant.  

Contact the council if you want to make a full payment before the hearing and get support from a debt charity. 

When you do attend, the court will decide if you simply could not afford to make payments or if you have willfully rejected paying. If it is the latter, you may be sent to jail.

What is a means enquiry summons?

A means enquiry summons is an enquiry into your financial situation when the debt started. It is used to decide if you had the means to pay or if you willfully neglected the debt. Thus, it can be used to decide if you should be sent to jail. 

Charity advice services are available!

You can access advice for all types of situations from a charity like National Debtline. They will offer knowledgeable advice when you need to communicate with the authority to come to a repayment arrangement, deal with a bailiff or go to court. 

If you’ve received a letter from the council because money is due on your account and you can’t afford to pay, look no further than a debt advice charity. 

Search online to find a local or national charity that can assist – or read more guides here on MoneyNerd!

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
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