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Advice Column: Council Tax Arrears

My first council tax bill of the year has come through and I know I’m not going to be able to afford it with so many other important bills to pay, let alone food. What should I do?

Council tax arrears is a “priority debt”, which means you need to address it before paying off other non-priority loans like credit cards.

Once you’ve missed a council tax payment, you’re in “arrears” and so owe money to your council. You should receive a letter from your council – it’s important not to ignore this as after 14 days your council can take you to court and request you pay your entire year’s bill at once.

Ideally, do not wait for them to contact you. You should contact your council straight away. Ask to speak to someone in the Council Tax office and tell them about your situation.

If you ignore Council Tax arrears, it’s likely your council will take you to court quickly to get all the money at once. You’ll have to pay court costs and possibly bailiff fees as well as your debt, which can add hundreds of pounds to your bill.

If you can’t pay your Council Tax arrears in full

You’ll probably be asked to commit to paying a regular amount each month. If you’re not sure how much you can afford, use the Citizen Advice budgeting tool or talk to one of our specialist advisers.

If you’re on a low income, you might be able to get a reduction on your council tax bill. You might also be able to qualify for your council’s Hardship Scheme. You can read more about getting help with your council tax at


When you miss a Council Tax payment

You’ll get a reminder from the council about 2 weeks after you miss a payment.

If you pay within 7 days, you don’t need to do anything else. The debt will be clear and you’ll be able to continue paying your Council Tax in instalments.

Check the letter you get from the council to make sure you pay your Council Tax arrears into the right bank account. It might be different to the one you normally pay your Council Tax instalments into.

If you don’t pay within 7 days of the reminder

If you don’t pay within 7 days of the reminder (or if it’s the third time you’ve been late with Council Tax payments this year), the council will send you a ‘final notice’.

The final notice will tell you to pay all of your Council Tax for the rest of the year within 7 days.

If you don’t pay within 7 days of the final notice

Your council will usually apply to the courts for permission to collect the debt from you – this is known as a ‘liability order’. They might send a bailiff to your home or take money from your pay.

The court can also take money from benefits payments like:

  • Income Support
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Universal Credit

If the court gives the council a liability order, you’ll have to pay the cost of the court fees. You might also have to pay bailiff fees.

You can read more information about what to do if bailiffs are on your doorstep at

If you still don’t pay your Council Tax

In extreme cases you could go to prison, but normally only if you’re deliberately not paying your Council Tax.

Other useful information :

Depending on your circumstances you might be able to get a reduction on your Council Tax bill. Not everyone will have to pay the full amount of council tax. There are three ways in which your council tax bill may be reduced.

These are:

  • the reduction scheme for disabled people

If there is someone (adult or child) living in a household who is substantially and permanently disabled the council tax bill for the property may be reduced. The reduction is made by charging council tax on a lower valuation band than the one the property is in.

  • discounts

If only one adult lives in a property, they will get a 25 per cent discount on the council tax bill. When working out how many people live in a property, some people are not counted.

  • Council Tax Reduction and second adult rebate.

If you are on a low income you may be able to get CTR OR if you have someone living with you who is not liable to pay the council tax on your property, you may be able to claim a benefit called a ‘second adult rebate’. You will not be able to get a second adult rebate as well as Council Tax Reduction. If you are entitled to both, you will receive whichever is the higher.

You can read more about getting help with your Council Tax at (or visit your local Citizens Advice office for help).

If you’re struggling with multiple debts you can read our ‘get help with debt‘ guide and/or contact your local Citizens Advice.

Citizens Advice Carlisle and Eden have offices in Carlisle and Penrith, as well as outreaches throughout the districts. You can call 03300 563037 or email for an appointment.