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Council tax arrears and how to deal with them

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It's important to keep up with your council tax payments. If you fall behind, you could lose the right to pay in monthly instalments or even be taken to court.

First reminder about unpaid council tax

You usually pay council tax in 10 monthly instalments. The council should let you pay in 12 instalments if you have trouble paying.

If you miss a payment, the council should send you a reminder giving you seven days to pay the outstanding amount.

The reminder should state:

  • the outstanding amount to be paid
  • that if you do not pay the outstanding amount within seven days, you will lose your right to pay in instalments and become liable to pay the outstanding amount for the whole financial year

If you pay the outstanding amount but miss a payment later in the year, your next reminder should state that if you miss a third payment in the same financial year, you automatically lose your right to pay in instalments without a reminder being sent out.

Use AdviceGuide's budget tool to help work out you much money you have to pay towards your debts.

Second reminder about unpaid council tax

You lose your right to pay by instalments if you have already received a reminder, but have not paid the missing instalment.

Your second reminder will state that you have 14 days to pay the whole amount outstanding for the remainder of the financial year.

Some councils may still accept payments in instalments, but this depends on their discretion.

Negotiate with the council if you can't afford to pay

Contact your council as soon as possible if you're having difficulty paying your council tax.

Make an offer of regular payments which you can afford.

In cases of extreme hardship, you could ask your council if it would consider a one-off payment to help with the costs of the council tax arrears.

Ask the council if you're entitled to have your council tax reduced .

Contact the council if your council tax bill is wrong

Ask the council to look at your account again if you disagree with the amount of your council tax bill, or if you believe you have paid an instalment but the council says you haven't.

While you are waiting for the council to check your account, you must pay the instalments due on the bill you have received until the matter is resolved or the council can take action against you.

Direct payments for council tax arrears from benefits

If you get income support, jobseeker's allowance

or pension credit, you can ask for your council tax arrears to be paid from these benefits.

Court action and liability orders for unpaid council tax

Your council can apply to the magistrates court for a liability order if you do not pay your council tax.

You can attend the court and explain why should not be liable for the debt. You can also contact your council at this stage to see if they will agree to an arrangement with you for payment.

When the magistrates court make a liability order, the council's legal costs may be added to what you owe.

Get advice if you need help going to court. Contact your local Shelter advice centre, Citizens Advice, or another local advice service.

User Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser near you.

Enforcement action following a liability order from the court

Your council can take enforcement action to recover the debt if a magistrates court makes a liability order against you for unpaid council tax.

The council can then recover the debt by making regular deductions from your wages or benefits to pay for your council tax. It can also ask the court's permission to send bailiffs to seize some of your belongings.

The council can also ask the court to force you into bankruptcy .

Deductions from your wages following a liability order

A magistrates court can order your employer to make regular deductions from your earnings to repay your council tax debt.

It is important that the amount of the deductions is affordable for you.

Get advice from a debt adviser if you need help with making debt repayments. Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre.

Deductions from benefits following a liability order

If you receive benefits, such as jobseeker's allowance, income support, employment and support allowance or pension credit, your council can apply for your council tax debt to be deducted from these benefits.

Bailiffs can seize your belongings if you don't pay

The council can apply to the court to send bailiffs to seize your goods if you don't pay your council tax bill following a liability order. The bailiffs costs can be added to your overall debt.

If the value of the goods is not enough to pay for your bill, or you still refuse to pay, you can be sent to prison for up to three months.

You can contact the council before the bailiffs come to ask if it is possible to make an arrangement to pay the amount you owe.

Last updated: 24 June 2015

Category: Taxes

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