Need council tax debt help? You came to the right place.

We discuss all the details about these types of debts without confusing jargon. Get straight to the point and simple answers to the most common debtor questions. 

And remember that debt advice is free and accessible from the best charities. Use their advice for unrivalled tailored support. 

What is council tax?

Council tax is a payment to a local council for services and maintenance to the nearby area. It pays for essentials like road maintenance, bin collection, fire and rescue services and local schools, as well as recreational areas such as parks.

The amount of council tax you pay depends on the location of your home its size.

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Do I have to pay council tax?

It is likely you will have to pay council tax if you rent or live in a property in the UK and are over 18 or over 19 and not in full-time education.

Can I get a council tax reduction?

Some people can claim a council tax bill reduction. This type of local tax is based on two adults sharing a property, so if you are a sole occupier or occupy alone with someone not subject to council tax – such as an under 18 – you can claim a deduction

You might be able to get a reduction if you claim benefits. Get advice from a charity for support and clarity on this subject. 

What happens if I fail into council tax arrears?

If you miss a payment, you will have 14 extra days to pay before the local authority makes contact. If you still haven’t paid your outstanding council tax bill, the council will send you a letter asking you to pay within 7 days. 

Council tax is a priority debt, meaning it should be paid before you pay other debts. Get advice if you have multiple debts and don’t know what to do first. 

How do I clear my council tax debt?

If you have received a letter asking you to pay your council tax, you should pay the whole amount back or contact your local authority to make an arrangement. They may allow you to pay in instalments based on how much you can afford to repay each month. 

Local authorities will listen to your circumstances and may help you make monthly repayments to clear the debt, but only as much as you can afford to repay. If you plan on coming to an arrangement to pay it back over time, you should contact the council as soon as possible.

What happens if I don’t pay within seven days?

advice council tax

If you do not pay or agree to an affordable payment arrangement, they will send a final notice. 

You will be asked to pay the full amount again, and the council can request you to pay a full year’s council tax (the remainder of the year) at this point. The council may take legal action if you still do not make a payment. 

If the council takes court action to enforce council tax payment, you should seek debt advice. 

What is a liability order?

A liability order is a legal document given to the council by the court, granting them permission to enforce the collection of council tax arrears. 

The ways they can enforce the debt with this document are:

  1. Bailiffs
  2. Attachment of earnings
  3. Charging order
  4. Bankruptcy (if you have £5,000+ of total debt)

Attachment of Earnings

An attachment of earnings will allow the local authority to collect the debt from your wages or from your DWP payments, such as income support, jobseekers’ allowance, pension credit, universal credit or employment and support allowance income.

Your employer or the DWP will take money directly and send it to the courts, who then send it on to pay your outstanding bill. Everything is automated and there is no way to change from this arrangement until everything is paid off. 

Bailiffs and Council Tax Arrears

Councils may use bailiffs to recover the council tax debt. The bailiffs must follow a strict process when recovering the unpaid council tax, starting with a letter asking you to either:

  1. Pay your council tax in full
  2. Agree to a Controlled Goods Agreement (a repayment plan secured against your valuables)
  3. Or prepare for them to visit you and seize goods in seven days from the letter

Council tax bailiff fees

Bailiffs can only charge fixed amounts for collecting council tax debt. The initial fee for contacting you is £75 and if they have to visit you to collect council tax arrears, £235 will be added to the debt. There can be other associated costs too.

Paying your council tax payments before bailiffs get involved can save you money!

Can bailiffs force entry for council tax debt?

In most cases, enforcement agents cannot force entry to recover council tax debts. They can walk through open entryways and unlocked doors, even when you’re not home. 

There is one instance when the agents can force entry to recover council tax debt. If you fall behind on a Controlled Goods Agreement (CGA) due to a non payment, the bailiff can provide notice of their intentions to visit and remove goods from inside your property. They can only force entry to repossess goods listed within the agreement. 

Can I go to jail for council tax debt?

It is extremely rare to go to jail due to council tax debts, but it’s not impossible. If you evade all types of enforcement action, you could be summoned to the Magistrates’ Court and sent to jail for up to three months if the court believes you have willfully rejected paying the debt. 

The court decides if you willfully neglected and rejected paying council tax. If so, you will be sent to prison for actively avoiding this priority debt. You should seek debt advice if you have been summoned to court. 

Can council tax arrears be written off?

It is rare that a local authority will wipe a debt due to financial difficulty or low income. But there are debt solutions that can help you write off the debt.

You may qualify for a Debt Relief Order (DRO). This is a solution for people with less than £50 disposable income and no assets worth more than £1,000. 

If accepted by the Official Receiver, the DRO will ban all creditors from contacting you and saying you need to pay for a whole year. If your finances have not improved at the end of the year, all your debts will be wiped and you won’t have to pay any current bill to your local authority. 

You should also know that these debts become Statute Barred in England and Wales after six years. If you haven’t been made to pay after six years, they can be no longer enforced and you’ll never have to cough up. Unfortunately, the length of time before they become unenforceable in Scotland is much longer – 20 years!

More questions? MoneyNerd has more answers!

If you found value in this guide, you’ll benefit from our other guides and posts, all discussing these types of tax debts. Head over to our dedicated pages to learn more and get answers to FAQs.  

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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