There are support systems in place if you fall behind with your council tax payments. You don’t need to panic, but you do need to act quickly and be proactive in order to show that you’re trying to get your account up to date.
What to do if you’re struggling to pay your council tax
If you find it difficult keeping up with council tax payments, then act quickly by contacting the council. You could negotiate payments that you can better afford. Only agree to payments that you can realistically keep up with.
You may be eligible for Council Tax Reduction, if you receive benefits or earn a low income.
If you can’t come to an agreement with your local council, or if you don’t pay the amount agreed, then the Magistrates’ Court may provide the council with a Liability Order. This allows them to take action and collect the full amount owed, along with associated costs. If this happens, you can attend court and offer evidence in defence. You can also seek advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).
Acting quickly and explaining your situation will bring the best possible results. If you ignore your debt problem, things could get worse.
Can a liability order be ignored?
A Liability Order can’t be ignored. If you do try to avoid paying what you owe then bailiffs may become involved. Alternatively, you might have payments automatically taken from your wages.
You should also speak to the council, if money is deducted from your wages, and if this causes financial difficulty. They may accept an offer of smaller payments.
You’ll receive a warning at least 14 days prior before a bailiff visit to your home. This warning includes information about how much you owe. The bailiffs will be able to enter your home peacefully, seizing property that can be sold to pay what you owe. If they can’t enter your home without breaking in, either through invitation or through an open door or window, then they may still be able to find your belongings in unsecured external locations. This can include taking vehicles, or accessing an unsecured shed.
After you receive a warning about a bailiff visit, you have time to contact the bailiffs and your local council. Do this immediately and you may still be able to agree smaller payments, a payment plan or similar.
If bailiff action hasn’t raised enough money to cover your Council Tax debt, your local council may apply for a warrant to commit you to prison. This will only be awarded by the Magistrates’ Court is you’ve been found to be wilfully refusing to pay, rather than simply unable to. If you are imprisoned after an enquiry, this will be for a maximum of 3 months. Imprisonment may be postponed if you can come to a final agreement to repay your debt.
What reductions might you be entitled to?
Council Tax Reductions may be available. How much your bill is reduced by will be affected by your income, how many dependents you have, any benefits that you receive and how many other adults live with you, as well as where you live. These reductions are available for homeowners and to people that are renting or living rent-free.
When you share your home with another adult that you’re not in a relationship with, you may be able to apply for a Second Adult Rebate. If you receive no rent from the other person and they don’t pay Council Tax themselves the discount could be applied. The Second Adult Rebate is suitable for people with an income too high to claim a Council Tax Reduction. Your income isn’t taken into account when a Second Adult Rebate is calculated – it’s worked out based on how much is earned by the other person in your household.
People with savings of £16,000 or more do not typically benefit from Council Tax benefits and reductions. Asylum seekers will also find the benefits are also not usually available to them.