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

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. 

household bills iconHelp with the financial impact of coronavirus


A number of measures are being rolled out to help people who are struggling financially because of coronavirus. These include payment holidays for credit cards and mortgages, changes to overdraft charges, help for renters and the extension of the moratorium period for debts in Scotland.

Read our guides:

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.

You'll also find information about how payments to your priority debts may have changed during the current coronavirus crisis. 

Are you struggling to pay bills and stay on top of debts?

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Priority bills for people living in England or Wales

Type of debt Consequences of non-payment Special measures in place due to coronavirus
Mortgage or secured loan Repossession

Payment holidays of up to three months – contact your lender as they may also have other measures in place in addition to payment holidays

Find out more.

Rent Eviction

Government protection in place to prevent evictions. Landlords must give three months’ notice before eviction can proceed. Court hearings are suspended.

Find out more.
Council Tax A visit from bailiffs, money taken from wage, money taken from benefits, debt secured against home, bankruptcy, imprisonment* Individual councils will have different ways to deal with council tax payments and arrears, however there is a further council tax reduction for those whose bill is already reduced. Please contact your local council before missing a payment.
Child Maintenance Money taken from wage, money taken from benefits, visit from bailiffs, imprisonment

No special measures. Contact the person to whom you send the money to change the arrangement if you’re able to. The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is not currently chasing missed payments.

Find out more.
Magistrates Court Fines A visit from bailiffs, money taken from wage, money taken from benefits, imprisonment

No special measures. If you’ve been asked to attend a court hearing you must still attend but contact the court first.

Find out more.
Tax, VAT or National Insurance A visit from bailiffs, money taken from wage, bankruptcy, County Court judgment (CCJ)

HMRC have put in place several measures to help depending on your situation.

Find out more.
County Court judgment A visit from bailiffs, a charging order, money taken from wage No special measures in place for missing payments but bailiff visits have been suspended. Find out more.
TV licence A fine

TV Licensing has agreed that any missed payments can be repaid once the situation returns to normal.

Find out more.
Gas or electricity Disconnection, money taken from benefits

Action to disconnect supplies has been suspended and most energy suppliers will have some measures in place to reduce your bill or pause payments.

Find out more.
Hire purchase or logbook loan Repossession, County Court judgment (CCJ)

Credit providers are giving up to three months’ payment break.

Find out more.
Telephone Disconnection, County Court judgment (CCJ) Most providers have special measures in place to help you stay connected. Each provider will have different measures available, so contact them as soon as possible.

* Imprisonment for non-payment of Council Tax doesn't apply to Wales

Priority bills for people living in Scotland

Even with special measures in place, we recommend you deal with these debts as priorities, because the consequences of non-payment can be serious.

 
Type of debt Consequences of non-payment Special measures in place due to coronavirus
Mortgage or secured loan Repossession  Payment holidays of up to three months – contact your lender as they may also have other measures in place in addition to payment holidays


 

Rent
Eviction  Government protection in place to prevent evictions. Landlords must give three months’ notice before eviction can proceed, and Court hearings have been suspended.
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  Individual councils will have different ways to deal with council tax payments and arrears, however there is a further council tax reduction for those whose bill is already reduced. Please contact your local council before missing a payment.
Child Maintenance arrears Goods taken from your home, money taken from wage, money taken from benefits, imprisonment, money taken from bank account Contact the person to whom you send the money to change the arrangement if you’re able to. The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is not currently chasing missed payments.
Criminal fine Vehicle clamped or removed, money taken from wage, money taken from bank account, money taken from benefits, imprisonment  No special measures. 
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  HMRC have put in place several measures to help, depending on your situation. Find out more.
Decree Goods taken from your home, debts secured against your home, money taken from your wage, money taken from bank account  No special measures in place for missing payments but most visits from sheriff officers have been suspended
TV licence
A criminal fine  TV Licensing has agreed that any missed payments can be repaid once the situation returns to normal.


 

Gas or electricity
Disconnection, decree, money taken from your benefits  Action to disconnect supplies has been suspended and most energy suppliers will have some measures in place to reduce your bill or pause payments.


 

Hire purchase or logbook loan
Repossession of the goods, decree

Credit providers are giving up to three months’ payment break.

 

Find out more.


 

Telephone Disconnection of the goods, decree  Most providers have special measures in place to help you stay connected. Each provider will have different measures available, so contact them as soon as possible.

 

Priority bills for people living in Northern Ireland

Even with special measures in place, we recommend you deal with these debts as priorities, because the consequences of non-payment can be serious.

 

Type of debt Consequences of non-payment Special measures in place due to coronavirus
Mortgage or secured loan
Repossession  Payment holidays up to three months – contact your lender, they may also have other methods in place in addition to payment holidays
Rent
Eviction from your home  Government protection in place to prevent evictions. Landlords must give three months’ notice before eviction can proceed. Court hearings have been suspended.
Rates Goods taken from your home, money taken from your wage, money taken from bank account, debt secured against your home, Bankruptcy  Individual councils will have different ways to deal with council tax payments and arrears, however there is a further council tax reduction for those whose bill is already reduced. Please contact Land and Property Services before missing a payment.
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,  Contact the person to whom you send the money to change the arrangement if you’re able to. The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is not currently chasing missed payments.
Criminal fine Vehicle clamped or removed, money taken from wage, money taken from bank account, money taken from benefit, Imprisonment  Courts are only hearing urgent cases. If you have an upcoming hearing you should contact the court.
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  HMRC have put in place several measures to assist depending on your situation. https://www.gov.uk/difficulties-paying-hmrc
Money judgment Goods taken from your home), debt secured against your home, money taken from your wage, money taken from your bank account  No special measures in place for missing payments but the Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO) is not currently chasing missed payments.
TV licence
 A fine

TV Licensing has agreed that any missed payments can be repaid once the situation returns to normal.

https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/coronavirus
Gas or electricity
Disconnection, Money judgment, money taken from your benefits  Action to disconnect supplies has been suspended and most energy suppliers will have some measures in place to reduce your bill or pause payments.

 

https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19
Water Money taken from your benefits  
Hire purchase or logbook loan
Repossession of the goods, Money judgment  Credit providers are giving up to three months’ payment holiday.

 

https://www.fca.org.uk/news/press-releases/fca-confirms-support-motor-finance-and-high-cost-credit-customers
Telephone Disconnection of the goods, Money judgment  Most providers have special measures in place to help you stay connected. Each provider will have different measures available, so contact them as soon as possible.

 

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. 

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 by calling us or using our confidential debt advice tool.