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Council Tax Debt Collectors – Do I Have to Pay?

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Scott Nelson

Managing Director

MoneyNerd’s founder, Scott Nelson, has a decade of financial industry experience, including 6 years in FCA regulated loan and credit card companies. Troubled by a lack of conscience in the industry, he founded MoneyNerd to give genuine advice to those in debt and struggling financially.

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Janine Marsh

Financial Expert

Janine Marsh is an award-winning presenter and a valuable member of the MoneyNerd team. With a wealth of experience as a financial expert, she's been featured on BBC Radio 4, BBC Local Radio, and BBC Five Live, and is a regular on Co-op Radio.

Learn more about Janine
· Feb 7th, 2024
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An enforcement agent, often known as a “bailiff” is a person who works on behalf of a creditor, such as a local council, to attempt to collect debts owed to that creditor. When all attempts to collect a council tax obligation have been unsuccessful, your local council has the authority to appoint an enforcement agent.

If you have unpaid council tax, an enforcement agent may contact you or visit you at home. This is something that can turn out to be a really stressful experience. If you reside with someone who currently or once owes money to another person and that person used to live with you, an enforcement agent may try to collect that money from you. 

Here, I will help you understand the difference between a debt collector and a bailiff and whether you have to pay them for council tax debts.

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Who Has To Pay Council Tax?

In general, your council tax bill is calculated based on at least two adults residing in the premises. Married couples or partners are jointly responsible to pay the council tax. Some people are not counted towards the headcount for council tax, as shown below.

  • Children under the age of 18.
  • A person on an applicable apprenticeship.
  • Young people (18 to 19) who are in full-time education.
  • Somebody attending college or university full-time.
  • Anyone under the age of 25 who is getting Education and Skills Funding Agency funding.
  • Anyone studying to be a nurse.
  • People with severe mental illness.
  • A carer who lives in.
  • A registered diplomat.

The amount of council tax you have to pay, depends on the council tax band that is derived from the value of your home. The table below shows what these bands are.

Property Value Council Tax Band
Up to £40,000 A
Over £40,000 and up to £52,000 B
Over £52,000 and up to £68,000 C
Over £68,000 and up to £88,000 D
Over £88,000 and up to £120,000 E
Over £120,000 and up to £160,000 F
Over £160,000 and up to £320,000 G
Over £320,000 H

If you think that there has been an error, you might be able to challenge your tax band.

You can challenge your council tax band online but you will need to have supporting evidence that proves there has been a mistake.

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Do I have to pay council tax debt collectors?

In short, no. If someone shows up at your door, whether that is a debt collector or a bailiff, you do not have to make any payment there and then. I do recommend, however, that you contact the council before it gets to the enforcement stage to organise a repayment plan so you do not have to go through the stress of enforcement agents turning up at your door.

If bailiffs do come, don’t be intimidated into letting them in. You may need to talk to them to discuss a repayment plan, but there is plenty of useful information on the MoneyNerd website about what bailiffs can and cannot do, so go and have a read!

» TAKE ACTION NOW: Fill out the short debt form

What powers do bailiffs possess when it comes to collecting council tax debt?

Bailiffs can’t come to your home unless they have let you know in writing that they intend to do so. This letter, which is referred to as a notice of enforcement, must be received at least seven complete days before the visit. Taking into account the weekends, this gives you at least nine or ten days to either make a complete payment or come to an agreement with the council. If you don’t do either of these, you can expect the bailiff to pay a visit.

If you give permission, a bailiff can come into your home peacefully through the front door. They are obligated to identify themselves and explain the reason for their presence. It is against the law for bailiffs to break down your door or use force to enter your home. They are not allowed to push past you in order to go inside, nor are they permitted to enter the house if the only person there is aged 16 or under. 

After they have gained access to the property, they can start making a list of the items that they will later remove and put up for auction.

A bailiff cannot force their way into your home to collect a council tax debt and I recommend that you do not let them in. 

Other ways that a council may recover council tax debt

If you do not engage with debt collectors or enforcement agents and have not set up a payment plan with the council directly, there are other steps that they will take to recover the debt.

These include:

  • Taking the money directly from your earnings. This is called an attachment to earnings and is a fixed percentage of your take-home pay
  • Attaching the debt to your home if you owe more than £1000 using a charging order
  • Prison sentences up to 3 months (only in England). This is very rare and only used if someone is deliberately refusing to pay council tax. 

What can you do instead of paying a debt collector or bailiff?

You can get in touch with the council and make a payment offer before it gets to the enforcement point. Make a budget and work out how much you can afford to offer the council to start paying off your council tax arrears. The council will usually ask for a copy of your budget, and if they accept it, you should start making payments right away.

Even if they refuse the offer, make the payments anyway. This shows that your offer is currently affordable and will make a dent in your arrears. You can ask the council to look at your offer again and take your financial situation into account. 

Make sure that when you make a payment, you include the liability order number if you have one and the council tax reference number, as well as inform them which council tax year you are making payments for so that your payments go towards paying off arrears rather than towards the current year’s bill.

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How do I appeal my council tax bill?

If you think that your council tax bill is wrong, you need to write to your council and tell them why you think that your bill is incorrect. You can find out who your local council is here.

Your council will then reply to you within 2 months.

This reply will either:

  • Tell you you are correct, your bill is wrong, and a new bill will be sent.
  • Tell you that the bill is right and explain why.

If the council replies and says that your bill is wrong, you must carry on paying the amount on your old bill until a new one comes.

If you wish to appeal your council’s decision, or you don’t get a reply within 2 months, you can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. This is a free services but you need to pay for your own costs.

For your appeal to be valid, you need to:

  • 2 months of the council telling you their decision
  • 4 months after you first wrote to the council about your council tax bill.

If the Valuation Tribunal agrees with you and says that the council was wrong, your new bill will be sent along with your monthly adjustments.

What is the Council Tax Reduction Scheme?

The Council Tax Reduction Scheme or the Council Tax Support Scheme is one way of lowering your council tax bill if you can’t afford to pay it.

Keep in mind that not everyone is eligible, but you can reduce your bill by up to 100%. You don’t need to be a renter or homeowner to apply, and you also don’t need to have a particular employment status.

The reduction that you get depends on:

  • Your local council – each council has their own process and scheme
  • Your personal circumstances – how many dependents you have, your benefit entitlement, etc
  • Your total household income
  • If your children live with you
  • If other adults live with you.
Could you legally write off some debt?

Answer below to get started.

How much debt do you have?

This isn’t a full fact find, MoneyNerd doesn’t give advice. We work with The Debt Advice Service who provide information about your options.

The authors
Scott Nelson Profile Picture
Author
MoneyNerd’s founder, Scott Nelson, has a decade of financial industry experience, including 6 years in FCA regulated loan and credit card companies. Troubled by a lack of conscience in the industry, he founded MoneyNerd to give genuine advice to those in debt and struggling financially.
Janine Marsh Profile Picture
Debt Expert
Janine Marsh is an award-winning presenter and a valuable member of the MoneyNerd team. With a wealth of experience as a financial expert, she's been featured on BBC Radio 4, BBC Local Radio, and BBC Five Live, and is a regular on Co-op Radio.