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Last year Citizens Advice helped 96000 people with Council Tax debts, making it our largest single debt issue. Missing an average council tax payment of £167 in the first month of the financial year can result in a debt of over £2065 in just 9 weeks.
What to do if you are struggling to pay
Don’t wait for them to contact you. You should contact your Council’s tax office straight away. If you ignore Council Tax arrears, it’s likely your council will take you to court quickly to get all the money at once. You’ll have to pay court costs and possibly bailiff fees on top of your debt, which can add hundreds of pounds to your bill.
Council Tax arrears is a ‘priority debt’: you need to pay it before debts like credit cards.
If you have more than one debt, you should read the ‘Help with debt’ guide on our national website citizensadvice.org.uk – or contact your nearest Citizens Advice.
If you can’t pay your Council Tax
Ask your council if they’ll let you pay your Council Tax in smaller amounts. You’ll probably be asked to commit to paying a regular amount each month. If you’re not sure how much you can afford, you can use our ‘Budgeting tool’ on our national website or talk to a specialist adviser at Citizens Advice.
If you’re on a low income, some council’s offer a reduction on your Council Tax bill. You can read more about getting help with your Council Tax in our national website.
When you miss a Council Tax payment
You’ll get a reminder from the council about 2 weeks after you miss a payment.
If you pay within 7 days, you don’t need to do anything else. The debt will be clear and you’ll be able to continue paying your Council Tax in instalments. Check the letter you get from the council to make sure you pay your Council Tax arrears into the right bank account.
If you don’t pay within 7 days of the reminder (or if it’s the third time you’ve been late with Council Tax payments this year), the council will send you a ‘final notice’.
The final notice will tell you to pay all of your Council Tax for the rest of the year within 7 days.
If you don’t pay within 7 days of the final notice
Your council will usually apply to the courts for a “liability order”: permission to collect the debt. They might then send a bailiff to your home or take money from your pay. The court can also take money from benefits payments like Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Pension Credit and Universal Credit.
If the court gives the council a liability order, you’ll have to pay the cost of the court fees. You might also have to pay bailiff fees. Bailiffs attempting to enforce Council Tax debts can only enter your property if you open your door and let them in, but they can seize vehicles parked outside. You can read more information about what to do if bailiffs are on your doorstep on our national website.
If you still don’t pay your Council Tax in extreme cases you could go to prison, but normally only if you’re deliberately refusing to pay your Council Tax.