If you have not been paying your council tax, your local authority could go to the court and ask for a liability order to be issued, forcing you to pay the council tax outstanding. They may even go further to the Magistrates’ Court. 

This certainly won’t be the first course of action taken by the council, but if you are worried about a liability order or already have one issued, this guide is for you. 

Read on to discover more, and remember to contact a charity for advice and support!

Struggling to pay your council tax?

If you are struggling to keep up with council tax, you should give your local authority notice and discuss your circumstances. By speaking with them and not avoiding the problem, they might accept an affordable repayment plan.

If you do not communicate or provide notice about your difficulty paying, they are likely to apply for a liability order, which can come with added fees, and you may eventually have to deal with a bailiff agency. 

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What is a liability order?

A liability order is a document that a court can give to a local authority if you have not paid the amount of council tax you owe. The document gives the council the power to collect what’s owed in a number of ways. The way the council enforces the collection is up to them.

How much does a liability order cost?

A liability order costs £20 to be issued, and such costs can be added to your debt. 

What happens when a liability order is granted?

Once a liability order has been granted, you still have an opportunity to pay the council tax you owe in full, and possibly agree on a repayment plan if you cannot afford to pay in full. You should do this as soon as possible to prevent enforcement action. 

If the council use the liability order to enforce the debt, they can do this in a number of ways, namely:

  1. Using enforcement agents – this is when the council employs enforcement agents to recover payment or collect what’s owed by getting you to agree to a payment plan. Failing that, they can repossess your valuables to cover the amount of council tax owed. There will be additional enforcement agency fees when they are used to visit your home. Contact a charity for advice if you are worried or if you think the costs incurred are too high. 
  2. Attachment of earnings – this is when the council can apply to have money taken from employer wages directly from your bank account. Or they can take payments from DWP benefits, such as employment and support allowance, pension credit, universal credit, income support etc. The amount of employer wage deductions they can make are regulated by law. 
  3. Charging order – this will prevent you selling a property without paying what you owe to the council first. You will be subject to additional legal costs.
  4. Bankruptcy – the council can make you bankrupt if they have had difficulty with other enforcement action. 

Does a council tax liability order affect credit rating?

A liability order is not the same as a County Court Judgement (CCJ) and will therefore not affect your rating. But this is not a reason to not pay your council tax debt.

There are ways to search your current rating

How long does a council tax liability order last?

A liability order does not expire, meaning it gives the council indefinite time to use the various means of enforcement action. However, it does not override Statute Barred law that prevents creditors (including the council) from collecting debt after so many years.

Read on to understand when the council can no longer recover what you owe…

How long can you be chased for council tax debt?

The length of time you can be chased for council tax depends on where it originates. If the debt is in England or Wales, it can not be enforced after six years, or after six years since your last payment towards the debt. 

In Scotland, you will owe the money for 20 years. 

If you have been issued with a liability order, which does not expire, it still doesn’t stop the debt from becoming unenforceable after six or 20 years in England and Wales, or Scotland, respectively.  

What happens if you ignore a liability order?

If you ignore a liability order and do not make arrangements to pay, your local authority will use one of the methods of enforcement explained above, i.e. bailiffs, attachment of earnings (DWP deductions), charging order or bankruptcy. 

If you willfully avoid these methods of recovery, they can apply to the Magistrates’ Court for a court hearing, which might result in a short prison sentence. 

Can you go to jail for not paying your council tax?

If you evade all forms of enforcement, further legal action will take place through the Magistrates’ Court and you could receive a prison sentence of up to 90 days

They will apply for a hearing at the Magistrates’ Court. You will then receive a summons asking you to attend a court hearing in person at the court. If you do not go to the court when asked, the judge can issue an arrest warrant for you. 

At the court hearing, you will be asked why you did not clear your bill. If you are found to have willfully rejected making a payment (not the same as not being able to afford to pay!), you can be sent to jail.  

Can council tax arrears be written off?

If you are having difficulty paying the money you owe, there are ways to write some or all of it off through debt solutions. 

One of the most effective for someone with little leftover money each month is a DRO. 

We explain everything about a DRO here!

In a nutshell, the DRO will prevent any creditor from requesting payment for a full year. A search will be completed on your finances to ensure you meet the criteria. And if your financial situation doesn’t improve after a year, all debts can be wiped. 

You can find other solutions on our dedicated page!

Your Other FAQs Answered

Can I reduce my monthly payment?

Some people can pay less council tax if they are the sole occupier of the home, and for other reasons. It’s best to contact your local authority to find out what deductions are available.  

Will I receive a reminder first?

The local authority will send a reminder asking you to pay by a certain date. If you cannot pay, contact them to discuss your options.

Can a council make me bankrupt?

The council can make you bankrupt if you fail to repay after an order that has been issued. Bankruptcy is also a solution that can help some people. 

Do I have to attend a Magistrates’ hearing?

If you receive a summons for a Magistrates’ hearing, it is important that you attend. If you do not attend when it is due to take place., an arrest warrant may be issued.

Who can give me advice?

You can get advice from charities and organisations. They can help with lots of circumstances and help you understand confusing topics like enforcement agents, visits and their costs, charging orders on a property, summons procedure, Magistrates’ Court and much more. 

But just as important, they can help you make an arrangement to pay back what’s owed. 

Does a bailiff have to give notice?

A bailiff will first ask you to pay or agree to a CGA (an arrangement to pay back in instalments secured against valuables). You will need to clear the debt or come to an arrangement within seven clear days of the date of their Notice of Enforcement letter. 

The same letter will state they intend to visit your property and seize goods if they do not hear back. 

Can a bailiff enter my property?

A bailiff can enter your property if the doors are open or unlocked. They can only force entry on a visit if you have defaulted on a CGA. They will take and put your goods up for sale at an auction. The money from the sale of goods will be put towards your debt, however, the sale price is usually below their value. 

What is a bailiff CGA?

A Controlled Goods Agreement is an arrangement to pay back what is owed in instalments. But unlike other repayment arrangement plans, this arrangement is secured against your valuables. So if you stop repaying, they can come and collect the possessions.

If you have difficulty sticking to a CGA, you should contact them to discuss. 

And always remember that advice is available if you contact a debt advice charity!

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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