Taxes. One of the few things in life that we can all agree are a pain.
However, they’re also a fundamental part of how our society functions. In theory, if everyone contributes according to their means, communities work better for everyone.
In this article, we take a look at one specific area related to tax – Hereford County Council debt – and what you can do about it.
What Is Council Tax?
Council Tax is a pretty universal tax that’s collected by local Councils. Just about every adult living in the jurisdiction of a local authority has to pay it, and it’s based on the property you’re living in, the size, and its location.
Up until 1993, there was a different tax called poll tax, and before that, it was known as local rates. However, they’re essentially the same thing. Local authorities generally get around 25% of their revenue from Council Tax, and each can use it in a way that they see fit.
Why do I have to pay it?
All of us live in a community of some kind. Whether big or small, we all make use of and benefit from the streets, schools, parks, and other local amenities. Many of these are owned, run, and funded by the Council. As such, we all have to pay our way to make sure they stay open and operational.
The thinking behind Council Tax is that if everyone pays a little bit, everyone can benefit from the services and projects in the community. We all contribute when we’re able to, and therefore, we can all enjoy the community we live in.
Of course, some people are unable to pay Council Tax. The elderly, those with severe disabilities, and others might not be able to contribute. However, as they’ve given to the community when they can, it’s our duty to make sure they’re taken care of. Council Tax is often used for this.
What is it used for?
Council Tax is used for all kinds of services and projects. Many of the things we take for granted are actually funded by local authorities, which often makes Council Tax more than worth it. However, because we don’t often directly see where the money goes, it can seem unfair when we have to pay it.
Below, we’ve outlined some of the main places where your Council Tax money goes. These are just some of the things it can be used for:
- Police and fire departments and services
- Libraries and other educational services
- The collection of rubbish and disposal/recycling of waste
- Maintaining streets, such as lighting, cleaning, and road maintenance
- The upkeep and maintenance of leisure and recreation projects, such as parks and sport centres
- Record keeping and administration, such as birth certificates and death certificates
- Local elections
As you can see, many of these essential services are paid for using your Council Tax money. It’s only fair that we all pay our way when we’re able to.
What is Hereford County Council?
Hereford County Council is the local government authority for the Herefordshire County. It has the powers of both a non-metropolitan county and a district.
When Hereford and Worcester split back into separate counties in 1998, there was a need for a new Council. This was when Hereford Count Council was formed. Since then, they’ve outsourced many of the key services, such as leisure, social housing, and waste management.
How much is Hereford County Council Tax?
Council Tax is calculated based on a bands system. In England and Wales, there are eight different bands, ranging from A to H. These bands are calculated based on the value of your property. However, it’s not based on the current value. Instead, it’s based on what it would have been on 1 April 1991.
There are several factors that impact the calculation of the bands. Some of the main ones are the size, layout, and location. If your property wasn’t built in 1991, then it’s compared to similar types in the area.
When it comes to Hereford County Council Tax, there are separate bands as well as separate rates for parishes within those bands. As an example, we’ve taken Allensmore Parish Council rates for 2020/21:
- Band A. £1,272.38 per year.
- Band B. £1,484.43 per year.
- Band C. £1,696.51 per year.
- Band D. £1,908.57 per year.
- Band E. £2,332.70 per year.
- Band F. £2,756.81 per year.
- Band G. £3,180.95 per year.
- Band H. £3,817.13 per year.
As you can see, these are all fairly significant amounts of money. It’s not hard to see why someone might end up with Hereford County Council debt.
Do I have to pay it all at once?
Although the lump sum seems like a lot of money to pay in one go, it’s unlikely that you’ll have to do so, at least initially. Most local authorities allow you to pay in installments, usually over the course of 10 months. It depends a little on your situation and the Council, but you might automatically be put on a monthly payment plan.
However, if you do get a bill for the full amount, you can always request to have your account moved to a monthly payment. You’ll then get another letter outlining the change of arrangement. It’s worth taking this course of action in most circumstances, as you won’t have to pay any more or less, and monthly payments are a lot more manageable.
What happens if I don’t pay?
So, what happens if you accrue Hereford County Council debt? There are some fairly serious consequences for missing your Council Tax payments, and most local authorities are hot on the case of those who don’t pay.
Initially, you’ll get a reminder after around 14 days of missing a payment. From here, you’ll have seven days to make a payment without any issues. You’ll clear the debt and can continue paying monthly installments as normal. It’s worth noting that you only get two reminders per calendar year. So, on the third time of missing a payment, you’ll no longer have the option of paying monthly.
If you don’t pay within the seven days of the reminder, or you’re on your third strike, you’ll be sent a ‘final notice’ by the Council. In this instance, you’ll have to pay the entirety of the outstanding Council Tax for the year within seven days.
If you don’t pay your bill within seven days of the final notice, Hereford County Council can then take legal action against you, which can be very serious.
What legal powers does Hereford County Council have?
If you’ve ever dealt with debt collection agencies before, you’ll know that they’re full of threats but have limited legal powers. However, local authorities have much more sway when it comes to recovering debt. In fact, they even have some additional legal powers, meaning they can act swiftly and effectively to claim their money.
If you’ve got Hereford County Council debt, you should be prepared for some of the steps that the authority will take if you don’t pay. Below, we’ve outlined some of the steps that they can take:
- Apply to the courts for a liability order. This essentially means that the courts demand that you pay the money you owe. You are able to attend court to appeal this motion.
- Send the bailiffs. Bailiffs organised by the Council can attend your house to try and recover property to cover the cost of the debts.
- Take money from your pay. They can ask the courts for an Attachment of Earnings order, which essentially allows them to take money directly from your salary.
- Take money from your benefits. Similarly, they can appeal for an Attachment of Benefit order, where they claim money from your income support, Jobseeker’s, pension credit, or other benefit.
As well as forcing you to pay the money, Hereford County Council can also add on any extra legal costs they incur to your bill.
If you still don’t pay, the Council can take you to court. Here, the court will assess whether you can afford to pay and whether you have reason not to. In extreme cases, you could go to prison for up to three months if you refuse to pay.
Can I get a reduction in my Council Tax?
Thankfully, there are several ways that you can reduce that amount of Council Tax you pay. The first thing to note is that there are several types of people who are exempt from paying the tax. If everyone in a household meets one of these criteria, the property is exempt:
- Apprentices studying for a recognised qualification
- Those under the age of 25 and in training
- Those aged 18-19 and in full-time education
- Student nurses
- Monks and nuns
- Full-time carers who aren’t the partner of the main resident
- Those who live in care homes or are in long-term hospital care
For those who live alone, you might be entitled to a Council Tax discount of 25%. You will have to apply for this with your local Council.
Are the benefits to help with Council Tax payments?
Yes, there are some benefits that can help people pay their Council Tax. Previously, Council Tax Benefit was available, which gave money to those in need. However, since April 2013, these have been replaced with a Council Tax Reduction scheme (sometimes known as Council Tax Support).
Council Tax Reduction is calculated in various ways. For example, it could be a percentage reduction based on your circumstances. Alternatively, it could be a fixed amount. In some instances, you can get up to 100% of your Council Tax reduced.
For Hereford Country Council, you’ll need to use a benefits calculator to find out if you’re eligible. From here, you can then contact the Council to arrange the reduction.
What should I do about Hereford County Council debt?
So, if you have Hereford County Council debt, what should you do? It can be a stressful time, especially if things are tough financially. However, if you act quickly and efficiently, you can stop the worst from happening. Here’s what you should do:
Let them know
If you know you can’t afford to pay your Council Tax bill, you should let the Council know ahead of time. They are far more likely to be able to help you if you give them warning in advance. You can contact Hereford Count Council on 01432 260000 or online.
You should explain your situation and ask for any help and advice they have. Hopefully, they’ll be able to help you avoid any unnecessary Hereford County Council debt.
Don’t ignore letters
If you haven’t been able to contact them ahead of time, it’s vital that you don’t ignore the letters they send. You have seven days after their first letter to pay your bill as normal. After this time, you’ll be forced to pay the whole year, and could end up with court action against you.
Even if you can’t pay, you shouldn’t ignore their correspondence. Instead, look at your options and contact the Council.
If you’re struggling to pay the lump sum in one go, you should be able to arrange regular monthly installments instead. Although it’s common to pay in 10 installments over the year, you can ask to pay over 12 months instead. Remember, you won’t pay more by doing this, so it’s worth considering.
Don’t suffer alone when it comes to Hereford County Council debt. There are options available to you. As well as the potential for Council Tax Reduction (or even a rebate), organisations such as Citizens Advice and Step Change can help you if you’re struggling with debt.