If you don’t pay your council tax and ignore a final notice, you will probably receive a court summons. But if you cannot pay the council tax you owe but don’t want to deal with the Magistrates’ Court, there are other solutions and great advice. 

Stay tuned as we explain everything you need to know about debts relating to council tax, what happens when you don’t pay – and our top tips. 

What is a summons council tax?

If you do not pay your council tax arrears when asked by the council, they can apply for the court to make you pay. The process starts with a court summons, asking you to attend the court if you disagree with the council tax arrears. You do not need to attend the court hearing if you acknowledge you owe the money.

If you receive a summons but then pay the amount you owe including costs for the hearing, you do not need to attend court. Moreover, if you make an arrangement to pay with the local authority beforehand, you don’t have to attend court either. 

The court will automatically issue a liability order if you agree you owe the amount of council tax that the council claims. 

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What is a liability order?

A liability order is a legal document given to the council from the Magistrates’ Court. It makes you legally responsible to pay your council tax. 

And it gives the council permission to enforce the debt in other ways if you still don’t pay your council tax bill. You will need to pay the costs associated with the issue of a liability order, which is around £20.

If you think there is a mistake and want to avoid this, make sure to go to the court and explain your case. 

Is a council tax summons a CCJ?

It is not the same as a County Court Judgement (CCJ), and council tax court summons do not lead to a CCJ being issued. 

Does a council tax summons affect credit rating?

If you have received a council tax court summons for not paying your council tax, this will not affect your credit rating.

Summons process

#1: Letters

If you have not paid what you owe, the local authority will send a reminder asking you to pay within 7 days. If paid, your payments carry on as normal.

A second letter will be sent if you have not paid in full the amount. If you pay within 7 days, you can still carry on paying in instalments.

If a third reminder notice to make a payment has to be sent within the same fiscal year, you lose the right to pay your council tax in instalments. And you can be asked to pay the full amount of municipal tax owed for the rest of that year. 

The bottom line? Make a payment as soon as possible or further action will be taken. Some people cannot afford to pay but they can agree to a payment arrangement to make it more affordable. 

And remember, you might be able to claim deductions to your account if you live alone or receive benefits like pension credit, universal credit, employment and support allowance etc. Or you can claim a reduced amount by challenging the band your property is placed in. it could have been added to the wrong valuation list. 

#2: Court summons

The local authority can ask the Magistrates’ Court to consider a liability order if you still don’t cough up, which simply makes you liable to pay. The summons is issued at least 14 days before the hearing date. 

Do I need to go to the court hearing?

You do not need to go to the court hearing if you pay the full amount; the new total amount will be what you originally owe plus costs from the liability order and the Magistrates summons. Or you won’t have to attend if you make an arrangement to pay. You also don’t need to go to the court if you agree about the amount you owe. 

#3: Liability order

Once the liability order is issued, the local authority can enforce the debt recovery in various ways, namely:

  1. Charging order
  2. Enforcement officers (bailiffs!)
  3. Attachment of earnings
  4. Bankruptcy proceedings 

Enforcing the liability order

The local authority is most likely to enforce the debt using enforcement officers or the attachment of earnings. 

The latter is when the court asks the debtor’s employer to take money from their wages and send it to the court to pay back the debt. The same can be done to DWP income, such as deducting money from your income support or pension credits. 

Enforcement officers are also common. They will try to get the money back in full or offer to make an arrangement where repayments are secured against your valuables, i.e. if you miss a payment your possessions will be taken and sold. If you fail to pay or agree to a payment arrangement, they will come to your home and attempt to seize your goods to pay the debt back. 

When this happens they give 7 clear days’ notice. The added costs when enforcement regents are involved can be eye-watering. 

Charging orders and bankruptcy are less common but still possible. Seek advice if you are facing any of these methods to recover your debts. 

Can bailiffs force entry for council tax debt?

Enforcement agents cannot force entry to collect local authority tax unless they are seizing goods within a Controlled Goods Agreement (CGA) that you have failed to stick to. Even then, they can only force entry under certain conditions. 

What if you still don’t pay your council tax?

What happens when you avoid enforcement and still haven’t cleared the debt? The local authority can ask the Magistrates’ Court for a further hearing, which you must attend or an arrest warrant may be issued. 

The Magistrates will decide if you willfully neglect or reject the debt, and if they agree you do, they can send you to prison for up to 90 days. 

Need further council tax support?

Further council tax support and assistance can be found at debt charities or on our dedicated blogs answering your FAQs. Contact a local or national charity for instant help and advice! 

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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