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