Have you taken in a lodger and are now worried that you won’t qualify for a council tax reduction? What happens in this situation? We discuss how long someone can live with you before you lose a discounted council tax rate – and other common FAQs.

And don’t forget that a debt charity can offer help and support!

What is a council tax bill?

A council tax bill is an annual payment to a local authority to contribute to local services and maintenance. Your council tax bill pays for things like bin collection, road maintenance, fire rescue services and much more. 

How much you pay is determined by the size of your property and its location to nearby services and amenities. Every property is placed in a council tax band that decides how much needs to be paid – but these bands can be outdated and contested. 

Some people are exempt and others can get a council tax payment reduction. 

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This 4 question debt calculator will tell you if you’re eligible.

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Can you get away with not paying council tax?

If you are subject to council tax payments, you will not be able to get away without paying. Non-payment of your council tax can lead to court action, bailiff involvement, and in some cases, even prison. However, your credit score shouldn’t be affected for not making payments. 

If you are struggling to pay, consider speaking with a debt charity. 

Council tax reductions

A council tax bill is based on two adults. So, if you live alone or live with someone not classed as an adult, such as under 18s or full-time students, you can claim a reduced rate.

There are also discounts available to people on a low income who receive state benefits, such as jobseekers’ allowance, income support, pension credit and employment and support allowance. 

How long can someone stay without paying council tax?

If you can get a reduced rate for living alone, it begs the question: how long can someone live with you before you lose your discount?

If you claim a reduced rate for single occupancy, but now have someone lodging with you who is classed as an adult, it is likely that the reduced rate no longer applies and you should tell the local authority immediately. 

Not informing your local authority can result in backdated underpayment debt – and even fines up to £1,000. 

But if the lodger usually lives in another home and makes council tax payments on that home themselves, it is not likely to affect your reduced rate as a single adult. 

What happens after non-payment of council tax?

If you have unpaid council tax arrears, what happens now? You should expect your local authority to do the following:

  1. Reminder to pay

The local authority will send you a reminder asking you to clear the unpaid council tax within seven days. 

If they do not receive the money within seven days, they will send another letter and could ask you to pay the whole council tax for the rest of the year.

If you are asked to pay the whole amount, this could be hundreds or even thousands of pounds. For this reason, it is best to pay within the seven days given and seek charity advice as soon as possible. You can also agree to repay the local authority in affordable instalments. 

Use a budget to help you work out what is affordable to you!

If you still don’t make a payment or come to an agreement to pay with instalments, they could take you to court. If they take you to court, the amount you owe could increase. 

  1. Liability order

If the local authority has not been able to collect the money you owe by the date in their letter, they could take court action. When this happens, they ask the court to issue a liability order, which in a nutshell, makes you legally responsible to repay – but it also gives the local authority permission to enforce the debt. 

The cost of this document is £20, which is usually added to what is owed. 

  1. Enforcement action

Once the order has been issued, you could contact the council and ask to pay the money you owe on your account, possibly in an affordable repayment plan. 

Otherwise, the council could collect the council tax debt by:

  1. Employing enforcement agents to collect it for them. The bailiff will give you seven ‘clear’ days to pay the bill or offer a payments plan secured against your valuables (CGA). if you do not make payments, they will come to your home to collect goods. The valuables they collect will be sold at an auction to repay your debt. 

If you need help with bailiff companies, click here!

  1. Using an attachment of earnings. This is when the court instructs your employer to take payments from your wages before it hits your bank account. 
  2. Using a charging order. This is when the debt is secured against any property you own, meaning you repay when that property is sold. 
  3. Making you bankrupt. This is less likely and only applies to certain situations. 

Can bailiffs force entry for council tax debt?

Bailiffs typically cannot force entry to collect your council tax debt. The only time they could force entry is when you have defaulted on a Controlled Goods Agreement and the possessions secured within the repayment plan are inside your home. 

They must give notice. 

They can walk through unlocked doors and stand in open doorways to access a property and seize goods. They cannot come through unlocked or open windows. 

How long can you be chased for council tax arrears?

In England and Wales, you can only be chased for payments for six years, as per the conditions within the Limitations Act 1980. In Scotland, the rules are slightly different and you can be chased for 20 years. 

The reason there is a time limit on recovering the monies is to protect the legal system. The Act has been designed to prevent a backlog of older cases landing on the desks in courtrooms and stretching resources. 

However, be aware that the six-year countdown restarts if you ever acknowledge what is owed in writing or if you repay any amount. 

Can I be sent to prison if I don’t pay my council tax?

If you manage to avoid all further action and continue to refuse to make payments, you could be sent to prison for up to 90 days. The council will apply to the Magistrates’ Court for a court hearing, and you will receive a summons to attend. 

If you do not attend the hearing, an arrest warrant could be issued by the court. 

If you attend and the judge decides you have willfully rejected and neglected clearing your bill, you could be sent to prison. However, just because you cannot afford the payments is not enough to send you to jail. 

If you need further support and guidance, don’t hesitate to speak with one of the fantastic charities and organisations helping people deal with these types of money problems every day!

And come back to us for more helpful guides and easy answers to confusing questions!

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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