Council tax court action in England & Wales
If your local authority starts court action, you’ll get a summons in the post which will give you a date and time for a court hearing. An extra charge will be added at this point.
If you get a letter about council tax court action, call us for advice.
At the hearing, a magistrate will issue a liability order. This order gives the local authority permission to take further action to collect the unpaid council tax.
You can attend the hearing and tell the magistrate if a mistake has been made, or if your council tax has been paid in full before the hearing date. You should keep in touch with the local authority before the hearing and ask them to agree to you paying the arrears in instalments.
Once a liability order has been issued, your local authority has several options to collect the unpaid council tax. The most common ways are:
- Using bailiffs or 'enforcement agents'
- Taking payments straight from your wages using an attachment of earnings. This will be a fixed percentage of your take-home pay.
- Taking payments from your benefits. £3.70 a week can be taken from income support, income based jobseekers allowance, income related employment and support allowance or pension credit.
They also have the following options, but these are rare and are only used as a last resort if there are no other ways to collect the debt:
- Securing the debt to your home using a charging order if you owe more than £1,000
- Make you bankrupt if you owe more than £5,000 in England or if you owe them more than £750 in Northern Ireland.
- Send you to prison for up to three months. This is extremely rare, and only used where someone is deliberately refusing to pay their council tax. The local authority can’t send you to prison if any of the other methods above could be used instead.
Council tax court action in Scotland
If your local authority starts court action, they’ll apply to the sheriff court for a summary warrant, which is part of the diligence process. A fee of 10% of the outstanding council tax will also be added.
If you get a letter about council tax court action, call our Helpline (Freephone, including mobile) for advice.
You’ll then be sent a charge for payment letter asking you to pay the amount due within 14 days.
The charge for payment comes with a form you can fill in and return asking for a time to pay order. You must complete this form straight away and send it the sheriff’s office with an offer of payment. It’s important your offer of payment is realistic, so call us or complete our online Debt Remedy tool to work out how much you can afford.
If the local authority accepts your offer of payment, no more action will be taken as long as you make the payments you’ve agreed.
If you don’t apply for a time to pay order, or if you don’t make the payments you’ve agreed, your local authority has several options to collect the unpaid council tax. The most common ways are:
- Take payments straight from your wages using an earnings arrestment
- Take money straight from your bank account using a bank arrestment
They also have the following options, but these should only used as a last resort if there are no other ways to collect the arrears:
- Sheriff officers taking goods from outside or inside your home
- If you owe more than £3,000, sequestration (Scottish bankruptcy) could be an option
Can I complain if I think my council tax bill is wrong?
If you have any problems with council tax, contact your local authority first. You can make a complaint if you think you've been treated unfairly or your bill is wrong.
You must give your local authority 12 weeks to reply to your complaint. If you're not happy with their reply, you can contact one of the following independent organisations who can give you more help and investigate your complaint.