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i This applies to England, Wales and Scotland only.

Council tax arrears

Dealing with council tax arrears

Your council tax bill is a 'priority debt'. There can be serious consequences if you do not pay. Get in touch with your local authority if you are struggling with council tax. Ask them to agree to a payment plan.

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Households in Northern Ireland pay "rates" rather than council tax.

Read our guide to dealing with rates arrears.

Local authorities have legal powers to collect council tax.

  • They often act quickly if payments are missed
  • They can send bailiffs (or sheriff officers in Scotland) to your property

What if I cannot pay my council tax?


You need to:

1. Do a monthly budget

  • See if there are any ways to make savings to help you pay your council tax arrears
  • We can do this with you, or you can use our guide to making a budget

2. Ask the council to agree to a payment arrangement

  • This is based on what you can afford
  • Pay what you agree

3. Check if you can pay less each year

4. Tell the council if you had help with debt

  • This lets them know you are dealing with your money worries.

Can council tax arrears be written off?

Councils do have the power to do this. It is called 'discretionary relief'.

They may do this if:

  • Your home cannot be lived in, due to fire or flood damage
  • You do not have any money left after your usual living costs
  • You have serious ill health, including mental health conditions

To apply for your council tax to be written off, you need to:

  • Write to the council
  • Ask for "discretionary relief"
  • Quote Section 13A Local Government Finance Act 1992
  • Share your budget to prove you cannot afford to pay

Councils must consider all applications. They cannot dismiss them out of hand.

If the council turns you down:

There are also some debt solutions that write off council tax. These include:

You may be able to add council tax arrears to an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA) proposal.

  • This would write them off as part of your IVA
  • Your IVA application must be approved by the people you owe
  • You local council may not agree to write off these debts

DROs and IVAs are only available in England and Wales.

What happens when I miss a council tax payment?

You are sent a reminder letter 14 days after missing payment.

If you pay within seven days of the reminder letter:

  • You can keep paying your council tax in instalments

If you do not pay within seven days of the reminder letter:

  • Your local authority can ask you to pay the whole council tax for the rest of the year
  • You have another seven days to pay the whole amount
  • You are sent a final notice to pay

If you do not pay within seven days of the final notice:

  • You are at risk of being taken to court
  • The council can issue a court summons for the full balance owed
  • You have to pay additional court costs
  • You need to pay the full amount by the court deadline to avoid going to court

The court process differs depending whether you live in England, Wales or Scotland.

Read about what happens if you do not pay your council tax

What is a council tax liability order?

Local councils can ask for a liability order to be issued. This lets them:

  • Involve court-appointed debt collectors
  • Take further legal action

Liability orders are issued across the UK, with different rules for different legal systems.

Find out more about liability orders.

What if my council will not help me?

Raise a complaint with the ombudsman services if you are not treated fairly.

Help with council tax debt

Use our online debt advice tool to get help at a time that suits you.