Council Tax is a tax on domestic properties that generally has to be paid by anyone over 18 who rents or owns a home. You do not have to pay council tax if you are in full-time education, a live-in carer or suffer from a severe mental impairment.
What happens if you miss council tax payments?
Council tax is generally paid over 10 monthly instalments to your local council. If a payment is missed at any point you will receive a reminder by post that you have seven days to pay what you owe.
If you do not make your payment within seven days you may be liable to pay your remaining council tax for the rest of the financial year in one instalment.
If you make the payment within seven days, but miss a payment later on in the year you will receive a letter informing you that should you miss a third payment you may be liable to pay your remaining council tax for the rest of the financial year in one instalment.
If you lose your right to pay your council tax in instalments you will receive a final notice informing that you have 7 days to pay all of your outstanding council tax for the rest of the financial year. Some councils may negotiate with debtors on a case-by-case level, but this is not guaranteed.
If you fail to pay your council tax in a lump sum, you will be issued a summons from the Magistrates’ Court. The summons will tell you and where you will need to be, and you will be given at least 14 days notice of your court date. You will be charged between £40 and £130 to cover the costs of the summons, although this varies council to council.
The only way to avoid the court summons is to pay your outstanding debt in full, including the court fee. As soon as you pay off your debts in full, no further enforcement action will be taken. At this point, you may still be able to negotiate a payment plan with your council, but it is likely a ‘Liability Order’ will still be granted by the Magistrates’ Court to secure your debt.
You may still be able to organise an affordable repayment plan with your council at any point in these proceedings. Councils ultimately just want to reclaim what is owed, so any attempt made by you to repay your debts will act in your favour. If you are unsure of how to approach the council to set up an affordable repayment plan, get in touch with an independent Debt Advisory service.
If you attend your court date you will be able to defend yourself and explain why you have not been able to pay your debts. If you have a legitimate reason for not paying your debts, the court will treat you more favourably. However, you will still be expected to pay in most circumstances.
Local councils took out approximately 3.5 million Liability Orders last year alone to enforce collection of council tax and non-domestic rate arrears. Once a Liability Order has been taken out against you the local council is entitled to use enforcement action to recover your debt.
Liability Orders have no Statute of Limitations. This means the council can pursue you for your debts at any time, even if the Liability Order is decades old. If you get contacted by due to a Liability Order that is over 6 years old, you might be in a better position to dispute it. Make sure you get in touch with a Debt Advisory service as soon as possible.
What enforcement action can the council take?
Once the council has been granted a Liability Order from the magistrates’ court, they have extensive powers to repossess your outstanding debts. The council can make regular deductions from your wages or benefits in some circumstances. It is important to ensure that any deductions from your income are affordable to you and that you can still cover your basic cost of living.
If you feel like wage deductions are preventing you from paying essential costs like utility or food bills, please get in touch.
In some cases, councils can ask the court to force you into bankruptcy.
One of the most aggressive forms of enforcement available to the council is sending in the bailiffs. With the right permissions from the court, bailiffs are allowed to remove certain items from your property in order to sell them to recoup your debts. For more bailiff specific advice, please read here.
According to new rules and restrictions that apply to bailiffs, they now have to give you seven days notice before visiting your home. This will give you time to prepare, soothe your anxiety and give you time to contact a Debt Advisory service. There is still the potential of setting up an affordable payment plan at this point.
If bailiffs are sent to your property their fees will be added onto your existing debt. You will be charged £235 upon the bailiff’s first visit to your property. An extra 7.5% for debts over £1,500 can be included. They can also charge you an extra £110 once they begin to seize items from your home to be put up for sale.
If the value of the goods seized does not cover your debts, or you refuse to pay, you can be sent to prison for up to 3 months.