Council tax arrears. What to do if you can’t pay council tax debt.
Your council tax bill is a ‘priority debt’, as there can be serious consequences if you can’t pay your arrears.
Most people have to pay council tax, but the amount you’ll pay will depend on the value of your house, your age and income, and who else lives with you.
Local authorities have extra legal powers to collect council tax and will act quickly if payments are missed. This could result in bailiffs (or sheriff officers in Scotland) visiting your property.
If you fall behind with your council tax it’s important to contact the council and try to make arrangements to pay your council tax arrears. Explain to them your situation by sending a copy of your budget showing your income and outgoings. If you need help with this or you’re struggling to deal with the arrears, we’d recommend getting free, expert advice as soon as possible.
Need council tax arrears advice?
How is council tax paid?
An annual bill will be sent in March each year showing how much you need to pay.
You can spread the cost over 12 months by paying in weekly or monthly installments. Council tax bills often show payments over 10 months but your local authority must let you pay over 12 months if you ask.
If your council tax bill was sent out later than April, for example because you’ve moved house, you’ll have a shorter time to pay it. The bill must be paid off in full before the end of the following March.
What are council tax bands?
Council tax is charged in bands based on the value of your house in 1991. More expensive houses are in a higher band and pay a higher annual council tax bill. Band A is the cheapest and band H or I is the most expensive. Your band will be shown on your council tax bill.
If you think your house was put in the wrong band, you can ask for it to be reassessed. You can save money if your house is changed to a lower council tax band, but this isn’t guaranteed, and if you’re unlucky the band could even go up.
Am I entitled to council tax reduction and relief?
There are some ways to reduce your council tax bill, you may qualify for council tax relief:
Complete our call back form to find out if you’re entitled to any help with your council tax.
If your circumstances change during the year, make sure you tell your local authority so they can send you an updated bill.
What happens if I am in arrears or miss payments?
If you’re more than 14 days late paying a council tax installment you’ll be sent a reminder letter.
If you make the payment within seven days of the reminder letter you can continue paying your council tax in installments.
But if you don’t make the payment within 7 days, your local authority can ask you to pay the whole council tax for the rest of the year. You have another seven days to pay the whole amount, then the local authority can take you to court. The court process differs depending on where you live.
Council tax court action in England & Wales
If your local authority starts court action, you’ll get a summons in the post which will give you a date and time for a court hearing. An extra charge will be added at this point.
If you get a letter about council tax court action, call us for advice.
At the hearing, a magistrate will issue a liability order. This order gives the local authority permission to take further action to collect the unpaid council tax.
You can attend the hearing and tell the magistrate if a mistake has been made, or if your council tax has been paid in full before the hearing date. You should keep in touch with the local authority before the hearing and ask them to agree to you paying the arrears in installments.
Once a liability order has been issued, your local authority has several options to collect the unpaid council tax. The most common ways are:
They also have the following options, but these are rare and are only used as a last resort if there are no other ways to collect the debt:
Council tax court action in Scotland
Can I complain if I think my council tax bill is wrong?
If you have any problems with council tax, contact your local authority first. You can make a complaint if you think you’ve been treated unfairly or your bill is wrong.
You must give your local authority eight weeks to reply to your complaint. If you’re not happy with their reply, you can contact one of the following independent organisations who can give you more help and investigate your complaint.
Help with council tax debt
If you’ve missed council tax payments or you’re struggling to pay arrears, get free debt help now before your local authority takes any further action.