I am in arrears with my Council Tax. What should I do?
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 can’t pay your Council Tax
Ask your council if they’ll let you pay your Council Tax in smaller amounts.
You’ll probably be asked to commit to paying a regular amount each month. If you’re not sure how much you can afford, you can use our budgeting tool or talk to a specialist adviser at Citizens Advice.
If you’re on a low income, you may be entitled to some help towards paying your council tax. This is called a Council Tax Reduction (CTR) – more info at the end.
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.
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.
Council Tax Reduction (CTR)
You can start the process to apply for Council Tax Reduction on GOV.UK. It will direct you to the relevant page on your local council’s website, which will tell you what you need to do next.
You’ll need your national insurance number to apply for CTR. If you don’t have one, you can apply for a National Insurance number on GOV.UK.
Your local council might treat your application as if it was received on a different date to the date they actually received it. For example, your claim might be backdated to the date you started receiving a benefit such as income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.
If you’re awarded CTR, you won’t normally receive an actual payment. Instead, your award will be used to reduce the amount of council tax you have to pay.
CTR will be worked out as a daily amount. This is because your responsibility for council tax is worked out this way.
If, when your CTR award is calculated, the amount of the CTR due to you is more than the amount of council tax you have left to pay for that year, your local authority can either credit the balance to your account or pay the balance to you.
What happens if the award doesn’t cover the whole bill?
If your award doesn’t cover the whole of your council tax bill you will have to make arrangements to pay any balance due.
If you’re of working age, it’s likely that you will have to pay something towards your council tax bill – even if you were getting full Council Tax Benefit before 1 April 2013.
If you’re a pensioner, you should still be able to get the same level of Council Tax Reduction as you would have done if you were getting Council Tax Benefit.
For more information visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk or contact your nearest Citizens Advice.