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Council Tax arrears

You usually pay your Council Tax bill in instalments over 10 months. If you're having difficulty making a payment, contact your local council immediately and explain the situation - the longer you ignore a debt problem, the worse the situation becomes.

What to do if you can't make a Council Tax payment

If you can't make a Council Tax payment, make a list of everyone you owe money to (your creditors) and prioritise your debts so that you know which debts you need to pay off first. Next draw up a personal budget so you can work out what you can afford to pay each creditor.

  • Find out more about dealing with debt problems
  • Find out which debts to pay off first

You can then contact your local council and offer to make regular payments you can afford. When you reach an agreement it's important to honour it, so only agree to payments you can manage. You should also find out whether you qualify for help, such as Council Tax Benefit.

  • Find out about Council Tax Benefit

What if you still don't pay?

If you are unable to come to a payment arrangement with the council or if you make arrangements to pay but dont, 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. If this causes you financial hardship, you can ask your council if they're willing to accept smaller payments.

Your council may be able to apply for deductions if you are receiving Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support or Pension Credit.


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 bailiffs 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. Its important to do this straight away, because if the bailiffs make a visit their costs could be added to your bill.

Court hearing

If your council has tried using bailiffs but your Council Tax still isnt paid in full, they may apply to the Magistates 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.

Where to get advice

Many organisations, such as the ones listed here, are independent and don't charge for guidance. Always get free, independent advice before using a commercial service.

National Debtline offers free, confidential and independent advice on how to deal with debt problems for people in England, Scotland and Wales. You can call their helpline or download free fact sheets from their website.

Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS)

The CCCS offers a helpline, providing free, independent and impartial advice to people with debt problems.

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)

Your local CAB will provide free information and advice on legal, money and other problems. You can find the address of your local CAB in the phone book or on their website.

More useful links

  • Your local council and Council Tax (home and community section)
  • Extended Payment of Council Tax Benefit
  • On a low income
  • Legal Aid
  • Local councils

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