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i The advice on this page applies to anyone with personal debts taken out in the UK.

Priority debts and bills. Find out which debts to pay first

Some bills are classed as priorities because the consequences of not paying them are greater than the consequences of not paying others. Priorities, the ones that you should pay first, include fines and Council Tax, as well as your rent or mortgage, including arrears.

If you’ve fallen behind with important payments, we can help you with free and confidential debt advice.

What are priority debts and bills?

Priority payments are the ones that could leave you homeless, without essential services, or where the creditor has extra powers to enforce the debt.

For example, if you don’t pay your rent, your mortgage, or any debt that is secured against your home, you’re at risk of losing it. If you fail to make payments, the creditor (the organisation you owe money to) can apply for a court order to instruct bailiffs or Sheriff officers (in Scotland) to take further action to collect the debt. This could mean visits to your home from bailiffs and Sheriff officers and money being taken directly from wages or benefits.

Find out more about what bailiffs and Sheriff officers can do .

There are some debts that can be collected without a court order, such as money owed to His Majesty’s Revenue Customs and Excise. A court order can be raised for any type of unpaid debt; if this happens you should always treat it as a priority.

In some cases, the creditor can apply to make you bankrupt. In England and Wales, the debt must be more than £5,000, in Scotland, more than £3,000.

In extreme and rare cases, you can be sent to prison for failing to pay some debts. In Scotland and Wales, this only applies to criminal fines and maintenance. In England, you can, in theory, be sent to prison for Council Tax arrears.

The lists below highlight what your priority bills are, and what can happen if you don’t pay them. The consequences can vary depending on whether you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. You must always pay these first before your other debts.

Which bills to pay first

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I’m worried about falling behind with priority payments, what can I do?

While the consequences of not paying priority debts can be scary, in many cases you can get some time to deal with them.

We recommend that you:

  • Take a look at your budget to understand what your spending looks like on a monthly basis
  • Contact the creditor and explain that you’re struggling to keep up with payments
  • Share your budget with your creditor to show them what you can afford to pay. Use our guide to making a budget

If you’ve had advice on how to deal with your debts, tell your creditor so they understand you’re dealing with your financial problems.

Temporary measures were introduced to help people whose finances were affected by Covid have largely been phased out. However, some creditors are continuing to offer some flexibility, due to the ongoing financial impact of the pandemic and the rising cost of living.

Priority bills for people living in England or Wales

Child Maintenance

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Money can be taken from your bank account and/or from your benefits
  • Bailiffs can visit you
  • You’re at risk of imprisonment

Council Tax

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Money can be taken from your bank account and/or from your benefits
  • Bailiffs can visit you
  • The debt can be secured against your home
  • The local authority can apply for your bankruptcy
  • You’re at risk of imprisonment (England only, this doesn’t apply to Wales)

County Court judgment

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Bailiffs can visit you
  • The creditor can apply for a charging order which will secure the debt against your home
  • Money can be taken directly from your wages
  • Money can be taken from your bank account

Gas or electricity

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your supply can be disconnected
  • The supplier can force you to pay through a pre-payment meter
  • Money can be taken from your benefits
     

Hire purchase or logbook loan

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • The items you bought can be repossessed
  • The creditor can apply for a County Court judgment

Magistrates Court Fines

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Bailiffs can visit you
  • Money can be taken from your bank account and/or from your benefits
  • You’re at risk of imprisonment

Mortgage

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your property can be repossessed by the lender

Phone

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your service can be disconnected
  • The provider can apply for a County Court judgment

Rent

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • You can be evicted

Secured loan

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • The property you secured the loan against can be repossessed

Tax, VAT or National Insurance

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Money can be taken from your wages
  • Bailiffs can visit you
  • The HMRC (His Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) can apply for your bankruptcy
  • The HMRC can apply for a County Court judgment

TV licence

  • You can be fined
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Priority bills for people living in Scotland

Child Maintenance arrears

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Goods can be taken from your home
  • Money can be taken from your wages and/or your benefits
  • You’re at risk of imprisonment

Council Tax

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Money can be taken from your bank account, your wages and/or your benefits
  • Goods can be taken from outside your home
  • The local authority can apply for your bankruptcy
  • You won’t be able to sell your home without the creditor’s permission
  • The local authority can get an order which means you’ll be unable to sell your home without their permission

Criminal fine

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your vehicle may be clamped or taken away
  • Money can be taken from your bank account, your wages and/or your benefits
  • You’re at risk of imprisonment

Decree

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Goods can be taken from outside your home
  • The creditor can get an order which means you won’t be able to sell your home without their permission
  • Money can be taken from your wages and/or your benefits

Gas or electricity

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your supply can be disconnected
  • Your supplier can apply for a Decree
  • Money can be taken from your benefits

Mortgage or secured loan

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your property can be repossessed by the lender

Phone

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your service can be disconnected
  • The creditor can apply for a Decree

Rent

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • You can be evicted

Tax, VAT or National Insurance

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Goods can be taken from your home
  • Money can be taken from your bank account
  • Your PAYE tax code can be adjusted to a higher tax code
  • The HMRC (His Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) can apply for your bankruptcy

TV licence

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • You can be fined

Priority bills for people living in Northern Ireland

Child Maintenance arrears

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Goods can be taken from your home
  • Money can be taken from your bank account, wages and/or benefits
  • The debt can be secured against your home
  • You’re at risk of imprisonment

Criminal fine

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your vehicle clamped or taken away
  • Money can be taken from your bank account or benefits
  • You’re at risk of imprisonment

Gas or electricity

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your supply can be disconnected
  • The creditor can apply for a Money judgment
  • Money can be taken from your benefits

Hire purchase or logbook loan

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • The items you bought can be repossessed
  • The creditor can apply for a Money judgment

Money judgment

  • Goods can be taken from your home
  • The debt can be secured against your home
  • Money can be taken from your wage and/or your bank account

Mortgage or secured loan

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your property can be repossessed by the lender

Phone

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Your service can be disconnected
  • The provider can apply for a Money judgment

Rates

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Goods can be taken from your home
  • Money taken from your wages and/or your bank account
  • The debt can be secured against your home
  • The local authority can apply for your bankruptcy

Rent

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • You could be evicted from your home

Tax, VAT or National Insurance

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • Goods can be taken from your home
  • Money can be taken from your bank account
  • Your PAYE tax code can be adjusted to a higher tax rate
  • HMRC can apply for your bankruptcy

TV licence

If you don’t pay what you owe:

  • You can be fined

Water

  • If you don’t pay what you owe:
  • Money can be taken from your benefits

What if I can’t afford to deal with my priorities because I have unsecured debts to pay off?

Unsecured debts include credit cards, personal loans and other credit. These are debts that aren’t linked to an asset, such as your home, which could be taken to repay unpaid debts if the debt was secured.

If you have a large amount of unsecured debt, this could make it more difficult to free up money to pay your priority bills. It’s very important that you get free and confidential debt advice as soon as possible. We’ll look at your budget and work out how to manage your essential living expenses.

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Worried about money?

We're here to help. Use our free online debt advice tool.

Get help now

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