As a priority debt, keeping on top of council tax is very important. Find out what happens when you fall into arrears and how to deal with it.
Council Tax Debt - Help and Guidance
If you find yourself struggling to make payments, you should act quickly as Council Tax debt can have serious consequences.
What Is Council Tax?
Council Tax is a tax paid on residential property to your local Council for services such as schools, bin collection, street maintenance, lighting, etc. The amount paid is based upon your house value and local authority. There are certain eligible reductions for full-time students, single adult households or low-income households.
What Are My Options for Paying Council Tax?
You must keep up with Council Tax payments. Ordinarily, Council Tax bills are paid over 10 months with a break in February and March before your new bill being generated in April. You can choose to pay over 12 months to make your monthly payment smaller but you won’t receive your two-month break.
The best way to pay your Council Tax bill is by direct debit. This will avoid missed payment or arrears but there are other options too. You can pay annually in one lump sum or pay at your local council office over the counter on a weekly or monthly basis. Most local councils also offer an online payment option from their website.
What Happens If I Fall into Council Tax Arrears?
If you miss a Council Tax payment, your local authority will write to you requesting payment within seven days. If you do not pay within this time, your local authority will act quickly to recover the Council Tax arrears. They may begin legal action as soon as 14 days after a missed payment, and rather than the missed payment they will request that you repay the amount due for that Tax year in full.
If you fail to make payments after repeated requests, your local authority may apply to the magistrate for a Liability Order with legal fees added to your debt. You can go to court to explain to the magistrate why you have not paid your Council Tax debt.
The Council can also take steps to deduct payments directly from your wages or they may instruct bailiffs to seize assets/possessions to repay the money owed to them. In more serious circumstances, Council Tax debt can lead to a three-month prison sentence if courts decide that you have no acceptable reason for non-payment.
Can I Reduce My Council Tax Bill?
There are some circumstances in which Council Tax can be reduced:
If your home has been adapted to meet the needs of a disability of you or someone in your home you may be eligible for a reduction in your Council Tax payments.
If you are the only adult in a household you are eligible for a 25% discount on your Council Tax payments.
If you receive certain benefits, have a low household income and savings of less than £16,000, you may be eligible for a reduction in your Council Tax payments.
If you are a full-time student and either the only adult or are living with other students, then your property is exempt from Council Tax. If you are a full-time student living with one other adult, then you are disregarded and that person can claim a single adult discount on their Council Tax payments.
How Can I Keep on Top of My Council Tax Payments?
Often, getting into Council Tax arrears can be a simple mistake after moving house and forgetting to redirect mail or not registering your move with your local Council in time. If this happens to you, just get in touch with them immediately and ask for your new bill. Some local Councils will spread your arrears across your monthly payments if you discuss this with them in good time.
Always be sure to budget for your Council Tax bill each month. Getting into Council Tax arrears is easily avoidable if you ensure that you manage your finances correctly. You can read our debt help section about managing debt here.