Advice Column – Council Tax Debt
I am struggling to pay my Council Tax again this month – what will happen?
If you’ve missed a Council Tax payment, you’re in ‘arrears’ – this means you owe money to your council.
Don’t 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.
Council Tax arrears is a ‘priority debt’. This means you need to pay it before debts like credit cards.
If you have more than one debt, or if you want help with ANY of the following information, you should contact your nearest Citizens Advice.
If you can’t pay your Council Tax
Ask your council if they’ll let you pay your Council Tax in smaller amounts.
If you’re on a low income, you might be able to get a reduction on your Council Tax bill.
When you miss a Council Tax payment you’ll get a reminder from the council about 2 weeks later. 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.
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 certain benefits payments.
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.
Bailiffs (also called ‘enforcement agents’) can charge fees for collecting your debt.
Bailiffs have to follow a 3-stage process and can charge you at each stage –
· Writing to you (‘compliance’) – £75 fee
- Visiting your home (‘enforcement’) – £235 fee
- Taking and selling your belongings (‘sale’) – £110
(Please note there are different rules and amounts if your debt is being collected by High Court bailiffs).
If your debt is over £1,500 they’re also allowed to charge you an extra fee (7.5%). The fee is only charged on the amount of debt over £1,500 rather than your full debt.
Don’t ignore your fees, if you do this could make your situation worse because more charges could be added.
Bailiffs have to give you a written bill telling you how much your fees are – you should check your bill carefully to make sure it’s correct.
Bailiffs should follow extra rules if you:
- are disabled or seriously ill
- have mental health problems
- have children or are pregnant
- are under 18 or over 65
- don’t speak or read English well
- are in a stressful situation like recent bereavement or unemployment
The bailiffs might have to let you get advice before charging fees – if they don’t you could complain.
You can’t be charged fees if you prove the debt isn’t yours or the bailiffs can’t collect the debt.
If bailiffs are trying to evict you from your home, fees work differently.
Check the other costs on your bill
You might have to pay the bailiffs some of their expenses. On your bill these might be called ‘disbursement costs’.
You can only be charged for the cost of:
- storing your belongings after they’re removed
- a locksmith if the bailiffs were allowed to use force to enter your home
- court fees if the bailiffs had to apply to court to deal with your case
- selling your belongings – including advertising the sale and auctioneer’s fees
- an online auction for selling your belongings – you can be charged up to 7.5% of any money made through the sale
The bailiffs must charge you the amount these services normally cost – get quotes for similar services if you’re unsure of this.
Occasionally bailiffs can charge for other things but they have to get a court order for the costs.
Get a receipt for any charges the bailiffs tell you to pay – in case you later have to prove you paid or if you want to challenge how much you had to pay.
Complaining about your bill
You can complain by writing to your creditor – this is the council you owe the money to.
Ask your creditor to either get the bailiffs to cancel the fees or return your money if you’ve already paid.
You can complain for example if:
- you’ve been charged the wrong fixed fees
- the percentage fee for any stage is wrong
- you’ve been charged for something the bailiffs haven’t done
- you think you’ve been charged too much for the bailiffs’ expenses or they haven’t given you a receipt for these costs
You can also complain if the bailiffs charged you fees even though they weren’t allowed to because of something they did wrong – for example if they lost their licence.
If complaining doesn’t help
You can apply to court for a judge to decide if the bailiffs can charge you the fees.
Think carefully if it’s worth applying to court especially if the fees you’re complaining about are low. Going to court might cost you more than your fees.
If you still don’t pay
In extreme cases you could go to prison, but normally only if you’re deliberately not paying your Council Tax.