What if I can't pay my Council Tax?
If you are unable to come to a payment arrangement with the council or if you make arrangements to pay but don’t, your council can ask the Magistrates’ Court for a ‘Liability Order’ (a demand for you to pay the full amount you owe, plus costs).
You have the right to attend the court and offer evidence as to why you are not liable for the debt. Even if you decide not to attend court, you should speak to the council or, if you prefer, your Local Citizens Advice Bureau. The council will try to come to a reasonable arrangement with you for payment but they cannot do that unless you contact them.
The consequences of ignoring a Liability Order
If the court makes a Liability Order against you, your council can take enforcement action against you in order to recover the debt. This will usually mean either deductions from wages and benefits or the use of bailiffs, although bankruptcy and charging orders are other options.
Deductions from wages
Your council can order your employer to deduct a regular amount from your wages toward your unpaid Council Tax. This is called an Attachment of Earnings. If this causes you financial hardship, you can ask your council if they're willing to accept smaller payments.
Deductions from benefits
Your council may be able to apply for deductions from your benefits. £3.65 a week can be taken from income support, income based jobseekers allowance, income related employment and support allowance or pension credit.
Council Tax Bailiffs
Your council can send bailiffs to your home to seize property to sell. The money raised goes towards paying your debt, plus costs. The billing authority must send a letter two weeks before the bailiff’s first visit stating how much money you owe under the Liability Order.
You can contact the Council and the bailiffs and offer to come to an agreement on payments. It’s important to do this straight away, because if the bailiffs make a visit their costs could be added to your bill.
Court hearing for Council Tax Arrears
If your council has tried using bailiffs but your Council Tax still isn’t paid in full, they may apply to the Magistate’s Court for a warrant committing you to prison. The council will only take this step when other efforts have failed.
Before issuing a warrant of commitment the court must hold a means enquiry with you present. A warrant will only be issued if the court is satisfied that the failure to pay is the result of wilful refusal or culpable neglect. The maximum period of imprisonment is three months.
The court may decide to postpone the period of imprisonment on certain conditions, normally relating to payment of the debt over a period of time. The court also has the power to remit all or part of the debt.
What to do next
Our panel of specialists can quickly advise you on what to do if you have fallen behind with your Council Tax. Simply call the team free on 0800 088 2208. Alternatively take the online debt help test and find your best solution.