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What debts to pay first

There are so many things you need to pay out each month that it can become difficult to know what you need to pay first. How do you tell a priority bill from a non-priority debt? What makes a mortgage payment more important than a credit card payment?

Some bills are classed as priorities because the consequences of not paying them are greater than the consequences of not paying others. For example, if you don’t pay your rent or your mortgage you could lose your home. You must always pay these before your other debts. 

The table below highlights 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. 

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Priority bills for people living in England or Wales

Type of debt Consequences of non-payment
Mortgage or secured loan Repossession
Rent Eviction
Council Tax A visit from bailiffs, money taken from wage, money taken from benefits, debt secured against home, bankruptcy or imprisonment
Child Maintenance Money taken from wage, money taken from benefits, visit from bailiffs, imprisonment
Magistrates Court Fines A visit from bailiffs, money taken from wage, money taken from benefits, imprisonment
Tax, VAT or National Insurance A visit from bailiffs, money taken from wage, bankruptcy, County Court judgment (CCJ)
County Court judgment A visit from bailiffs, a charging order, money taken from wage
TV licence A fine
Gas or electricity Disconnection, money taken from benefits
Water Money taken from your benefits, County Court judgment (CCJ)
Hire purchase or logbook loan Repossession, County Court judgment (CCJ)
Telephone Disconnection, County Court judgment (CCJ)

Priority bills for people living in Scotland

Type of debt Consequences of non-payment
Mortgage or secured loan Repossession
Rent Eviction
Council Tax Goods taken from your home, money taken from your wages at source, money taken from bank account, bankruptcy, debts secured against your home
Child Maintenance arrears Goods taken from your home, money taken from wage, money taken from benefits, imprisonment, money taken from bank account
Criminal fine Vehicle clamped or removed, money taken from wage, money taken from bank account, money taken from benefits, imprisonment
Tax, VAT or National Insurance Goods taken from your home, money taken from your bank account, PAYE tax code adjusted to recover debt through higher tax, bankruptcy
Decree Goods taken from your home, debts secured against your home, money taken from your wage, money taken from bank account
TV licence A criminal fine
Gas or electricity Disconnection, decree, money taken from your benefits
Water money taken from your benefits
Hire purchase or logbook loan Repossession of the goods, decree
Telephone Disconnection of the goods, decree

Priority bills for people living in Northern Ireland

Type of debt Consequences of non-payment
Mortgage or secured loan Repossession
Rent Eviction from your home
Rates Goods taken from your home, money taken from your wage, money taken from bank account, debt secured against your home, Bankruptcy
Child Maintenance arrears Goods taken from your home, money taken from your wage, money taken from your benefits, imprisonment, debt secured against your home, money taken from your bank account,
Criminal fine Vehicle clamped or removed, money taken from wage, money taken from bank account, money taken from benefit, Imprisonment
Tax, VAT or National Insurance Goods taken from your home, Money taken from your bank account, PAYE tax code adjusted to recover debt through higher tax, bankruptcy
Money judgment Goods taken from your home), debt secured against your home, money taken from your wage, money taken from your bank account
Gas or electricity Disconnection, Money judgment, money taken from your benefits
Water Money taken from your benefits
Hire purchase or logbook loan Repossession of the goods, Money judgment
Telephone Disconnection of the goods, Money judgment

I’m falling behind on my priority bills. What can I do?

Of everything you pay out, it’s important that you pay your priorities in full each month. It’s also important that you make an arrangement to clear any priority arrears as soon as possible.

Due to the consequences of not paying priority bills in full, it can be quite difficult to reduce these down. It may be possible to put lower payments in place if you’re facing financial difficulty, however:

  • Talk to your mortgage provider to see if they can offer you a lower payment on your mortgage. You may also be able to switch to an interest-only mortgage for a short period of time
  • Use an OFGEM-approved utility price comparison tool, to see if you can get a better deal on your gas, electric or fuel costs
  • Speak to your local council to find out if your property is in the correct council tax band

We’d also recommend you take a look at your budget to understand what your spending looks like on a monthly basis. We can help you with this, either via our Helpline or our anonymous advice tool Debt Remedy.

I can’t keep on top of my priority bills because I have too much debt

If you have unsecured debt that’s making it more difficult to pay your priority bills, then it’s really important that you get free and confidential debt advice as soon as possible.

Your unsecured debt is classed as ‘non-priority’ because the consequences of not paying these each month are much less severe than not paying your priorities each month. We can take a look at these debts and give free, practical debt advice and solutions on how best to pay these debts while staying on top of your most important living expenses.