Are you struggling to pay your council tax bill and keep your account up to date? You certainly aren’t alone in wondering what happens next!

Keeping your council tax account up to date can be tough, especially if you are experiencing new financial hardship or other debts. 

And that’s why so many people ask about not paying council tax on time and the repercussions. What happens if you don’t pay your council tax bill straight away? 

If they do send you a reminder, you will first have seven days to pay and get your account up to date. At this point, you still have the right to pay in instalments. 

Find out more details in this friendly guide!

First, what is a council tax bill?

Your council tax bill covers local maintenance and services, such as roads, schools and local services like bin collection or the fire rescue service. Each property is put in a ‘band’ based on size and location, which decides how low or high your council tax bill will be. 

It’s important to make payments and keep your account up to date. You will receive a reminder if you don’t.

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How to pay your council tax

You can repay in lots of ways. 

Some people set up a direct debit payment from their bank, while others pay online, over the phone or by bank transfer. You can choose to make payments in different frequencies, ranging from all at once or even weekly. 

If you are finding it hard to pay, don’t hide from the problem and search for a debt charity for advice. 

Can you get away with not paying council tax?

You will not be able to get away without paying the council taxes you owe, even if you are struggling to pay. Councils have a process to recover money if you don’t make a payment on time. 

But there are other solutions…

If you are struggling to pay your council tax, it might be worth picking up the phone and speaking with the council directly. You may qualify for a reduced rate or they can come to an arrangement if you are struggling to pay the full payment due. 

What happens if you don’t pay council tax on time?

If you do not pay your council tax on time, maybe because you are finding it hard to pay straight away, the council can apply for a liability order to enforce the debt with bailiffs or other means. 

Most councils will follow the same process to recover tax payments when they have not been paid on time. 

Read on to find out what happens when you don’t pay straight away:

#1: They send you a reminder

The council will send you a reminder asking you to pay as soon as possible if 14 days have passed since you were supposed to make a payment. When they send you a reminder, you are given a further seven days to pay.

If you cannot afford to pay, make sure you contact them within these seven days to pay to discuss other options. 

If you pay the money you were behind, no further action will be taken. If you are finding it tough, you have the right to pay back what you owe in affordable instalments. 

You will lose the right to pay in instalments if you do not make contact to discuss your arrears after they sent the reminder. Do this as soon as possible if you are struggling to pay.  

If you still do not make a payment to clear the amount you are behind within those seven days, the local authority will send you a second reminder. 

But the second reminder is even more demanding…

This time they will ask you to pay the remaining year’s worth of tax – which can be a substantial amount. You may also lose the right to pay with an instalments arrangement. 

For this reason, it is best to pay as soon as possible if they send you a reminder. 

#2: Court action

If you do not make a payment to get your account up to date, or agree to an affordable arrangement of instalments, the local authority can ask a court to issue a liability order. The liability order makes you responsible to pay the whole amount you owe, and thus, allows the council to enforce the debt.

The council can use the liability order to enforce debt recovery either:

  1. Using bailiffs (they give you seven clear days to pay or agree to a payment plan – or seize goods)
  2. Using an attachment of earnings (taking money directly from wages and DWP payments)
  3. Charging order (take payment from any property sale you make)
  4. Make you bankrupt

You might be able to avoid any of these by agreeing to pay as soon as possible. 

Bailiffs are one of the most common tactics used to enforce these debts. 

They will ask for a full payment straight away or give you the option to agree to a Controlled Goods Agreement, which is like any other instalment arrangement but payments are secured against your valuables and can be seized if you fail to pay. 

#3: Further action

But what happens if you evade any of the methods above? 

The local authority can apply for a hearing at the Magistrates’ Court. Here you will be asked why you have not made payments to clear the debt straight away. The court will look to find out if you willfully neglected the debt or a repayment arrangement you made.

If they believe you have, the judge can send you to prison for up to 90 days. 

If you have found it difficult to pay your council tax due to financial difficulty, this is not a reason alone to send you to prison. 

Does paying your council tax late affect credit rating?

Local authorities do not report debt to the various credit scoring agencies. Thus, if you have failed to pay any arrears, it will not be visible on your credit report. However, further legal action taken by the local authority could be. 

Can you write off council tax debt?

Local authorities do have the power to write off these debts, but this only happens in severe financial difficulty. Other ways to write off the debt include bankruptcy applications and a Debt Relief Order. 

The takeaway is you do have the right to pay your council tax in an affordable repayment plan early. When you are given seven days to pay, make sure you contact them as soon as possible to explain your circumstances. 

Never ignore a reminder and seek debt charity advice for help!

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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