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Your council tax bill is a 'priority debt', as there can be serious consequences if you don’t pay. If you’re struggling to pay your council tax, you should get in touch with your local authority and ask them to agree to a payment plan.
We recommend getting free and impartial debt help as soon as possible if you can’t pay your council tax or other household payments.
In Northern Ireland households pay rates rather than council tax
If you’re in Northern Ireland, read our guide to dealing with rates arrears.
Local authorities have legal powers to collect council tax and they often act quickly if payments are missed.
This could result in bailiffs (or sheriff officers in Scotland) visiting your property if you don’t pay what you owe. This is why council tax arrears are treated as a priority debt.
In Scotland, council tax covers sewage and water charges. These must be paid, even if you're eligible for a council tax reduction.
When you fall behind with your council tax you’re at risk of the local authority making you pay the full amount for the year in one payment. To avoid this, you should act quickly to get on top of payments and pay back any arrears.
If you’ve had debt advice, tell the council, so they understand you’re dealing with your money worries
Councils have the power to write off council tax bills and arrears through Section 13A (1)(c) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992.
This "discretionary relief" through Section 13A is meant to be used if your home is uninhabitable due to fire or flood damage, but it can also be used if you’re in severe hardship, or if you're suffering from severe physical or mental health conditions.
Being in severe hardship means you don’t have any money left over to pay your council tax after paying your usual household bills.
Each local authority has their own policy for using Section 13A.
Councils can reduce the balance of council tax arrears, including writing them off entirely, and allow people to have reductions and discounts on their council tax bills.
To apply for your council tax to be written off through Section 13A, you should:
Councils must consider all applications for discretionary relief, and can't dismiss them out of hand.
If the council refuses to consider your application, you should make a complaint. This can be escalated to the Valuation Tribunal.
There are also some debt solutions that write off council tax. Council tax arrears will be written off by bankruptcy or a debt relief order (DRO).
If you go ahead with an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA), it may be possible for you to include your council tax arrears in your IVA proposal, and therefore have them written off in due course.
Your IVA application must be approved by your creditors, and it’s not guaranteed your local council would agree to these debts being written off. Please note: DROs and IVAs are only available in England and Wales.
You’ll be sent a reminder letter 14 days after missing a payment.
If you make the payment within seven days of the reminder letter
If you don’t make the payment within seven days of the reminder letter
If you don’t pay within seven days of the final notice
The court process differs depending whether you live in England, Wales or Scotland.
Read about what happens if you don’t pay your council tax
Local councils can ask for a liability order to be issued so that court-appointed debt collectors can be instructed and further legal action can be taken to recover the money you owe.
Liability orders can be issued across the UK, with different rules due to the different legal systems.
Find out more about liability orders.
If you don’t think your council has treated you fairly you can raise a complaint with the ombudsman services.
If you've missed council tax payments or you're struggling to pay arrears, take two minutes to
answer a few simple questions, so we can understand the best way to help you. Or call us for free to talk to one of our expert advisors.
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