There is often a lot of confusion about how long a debt can be valid since the rules vary depending on the type of debt as well as the circumstances surrounding the debt.

There have been several times where I have been approached by debtors that were stressing over debts that weren’t even enforceable anymore. 

Today, we’ll be discussing council tax debts and how long can you be pursued to pay it back. 

how long can you be chased for a council tax debt

What is a Statute-Barred Debt? 

A debt becoming statute-barred means that it cannot be enforced anymore. What this essentially means is that your creditors cannot pursue court action against you in regards to the debt. While the debt still technically exists, you won’t have to pay it off.

It generally isn’t considered fair for creditors to wait for an extended period of time before attempting to pursue a debt. This is because important paperwork related to the debt could be lost over the years and the debtor could even forget about the debt. 

This is why a “limitation period” has been defined after which the debt will become statute-barred. 

This limitation period is six years for most types of debt but it’s twelve years for a few other types of debt such as mortgages. 

Please note that there are strict conditions that need to be valid in order for the limitation period to be valid. 

These conditions are: 

  • You do not have a County Court Judgment (CCJ) against you in relation to the debt. 
  • You have not made an acknowledgement of the debt in six years. 
  • You have not made any type of payment towards the debt in six years. 

If all these conditions are met, then your debt will effectively become unenforceable.

Please note that if your creditor has taken out a County Court Judgment (CCJ) against you, then the limitation period does not apply. Your debts cannot become statute-barred if your creditor(s) have taken out a CCJ against you. 

This is why I always recommend that you always cooperate with your creditors whenever they contact you so that the matter does not escalate to court action. 

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Does This Limitation Period Apply to Council Tax Arrears? Can I be Chased for Council Tax Arrears After Six Years? 

Your council tax arrears will be statute-barred after six years but it’s highly unlikely that your council will let that happen. 

They will definitely keep contacting you if you have council tax arrears and you refuse to acknowledge your debts and make payments towards them, your local council will most likely take legal action against you. 

If your local council does not contact you in regards to your debts for over six years, you can definitely dispute their claims if they ask you for council tax payments after that period. 

Again, I will reiterate that it’s highly unlikely that your local council will let your debt slide without asking for a council tax payment for six years. 

If your local council demands payment from you and you refuse, your council has many powers in order to get you to pay the money you owe.

This is why council tax arrears should always be treated as a priority debt. This means you should always take care of it first before attending to other non-priority debts such as credit cards. 

Not only can they send bailiffs to your home to seize your goods in order to pay for your debt, they can also apply to a magistrate’s court and get a ‘liability order’. 

If you’re facing a liability order, I highly recommend seeking debt advice from an independent charity such as StepChange or Payplan.

What is a Liability Order? 

A Liability Order is essentially a legal demand for payment. Your local council can apply to a Magistrate and get this order approved if you have been refusing to pay back the money you owe to them.

Your local council has the right to apply for a liability order 7 days after they have issued you a final letter demanding you to make payments. 

Any court costs e.g., hiring a lawyer, etc. that may have been incurred by the court will most likely be added to the money you owe. This can add hundreds of pounds worth of money on top of the debt you already owe.  

Last but not least, this also means that your debt now has no time limit to be enforced. This means that your local council can chase you for these arrears for an unlimited period of time if you refuse to pay. 

Your council can also apply to take money from your benefits in order to make up for your unpaid debt. They can take money from your Employment Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Pension Credit and even Universal Credit.

I highly suggest that you do all that you can to prevent your council from seeking a liability order against you.

If you’re having trouble paying your tax arrears, you should contact your local council and explain your financial situation to them.

You can send them a letter with a copy of your expenditure and income in order to get them to better understand your circumstances. 

In this way, your council may agree to a different payment plan that is more affordable to you.

If you can’t afford a payment plan at all, your council may agree to hold off on getting a liability order until you are able to sort your finances out. 

If you have applied anywhere for help with your council tax bill, make sure to tell your local council this. Ask them to give you enough time until the claim comes through. 

The ultimate key is to always be communicative and cooperative with your local council. If they are aware of your situation and know that you’re doing all you can to pay off your debt to them, they will most likely not pursue any type of court action against you. 

Can I be Sent to Prison for Not Paying the Money I Owe to My Local Council? 

If you’ve been refusing to make payments towards your local council, they will eventually send you a letter that will be a final notice for the payment. You will then have 7 days to make arrangements to pay them.

If you don’t, they will pursue court action against you. The court will then decide whether or not you can afford to pay your local council or not.

If it’s decided by the court that you can indeed afford to pay your local council, then a payment plan will be set up that you will have to strictly adhere to.

If you refuse to stick to this payment plan and the court decides that you’re deliberately refusing to make the payments even though you can afford to, then you may be sent to prison.

You can be sent to prison for up to 3 months for not paying your council tax bill even though you have the means to do so.

Please note that you cannot be sent to prison in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland but the power to imprison still exists in England. However, even in England, it happens very rarely. 


Just like most other types of debts, council tax bills can become unenforceable too. While this is quite rare, it’s definitely possible.

If you feel your debt with your local council has become unenforceable and they’re asking you to pay it, it’s a good idea to seek debt advice from a professional.

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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