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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 government debts, such as Council Tax, as well as your rent or mortgage, including arrears.

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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 or your mortgage you could lose your home.

If you fall behind with some payments, bailiffs or Sheriff officers can visit you and take goods from your home. There are some debts that can be collected by money being taken directly from your wages or benefits.

Some creditors can apply to make you bankrupt. In extreme cases, you can be sent to prison for failing to pay some debts.

The tables 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 introduced to help people whose finances were affected by Covid are largely being phased out. However, some creditors are continuing to offer some flexibility, due to the ongoing financial impact of the pandemic.

Dealing with priority debts

Find out more about how to deal with different types of priority debt in the tables below. You can click through to read the guides for more information. For example:

  • Mortgages: 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
  • Gas and electricity bills: See if you can get a better deal on your gas, electric or fuel costs
  • Council tax: Speak to your local council to find out if your property is in the correct council tax band and check if you’re entitled to any reductions

Priority bills for people living in England or Wales

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

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

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Priority bills for people living in Scotland

Type of debt Consequences of non-payment
Child Maintenance arrears Goods taken from your home, money taken from wage, money taken from benefits, imprisonment, money taken from bank account
Council Tax
Goods taken from your home, money taken from your wages, money taken from bank account, bankruptcy, debts secured against your home
Criminal fine Vehicle clamped or removed, money taken from wage, money taken from bank account, money taken from benefits, imprisonment
Decree Goods taken from your home, debts secured against your home, money taken from your wage, money taken from bank account
Gas or electricity
Disconnection, decree, money taken from your benefits
Mortgage or secured loan Repossession
Rent
Eviction
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
Telephone Disconnection of the goods, decree
TV licence
A criminal fine

Priority bills for people living in Northern Ireland

Type of debt Consequences of non-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,
Criminal fine Vehicle clamped or removed, money taken from wage, money taken from bank account, money taken from benefit, Imprisonment
Gas or electricity Disconnection, Money judgment, money taken from your benefits
Hire purchase or logbook loan Repossession of the goods, Money judgment
Money judgment Goods taken from your home), debt secured against your home, money taken from your wage, money taken from your bank account
Mortgage or secured loan Repossession
Rates Goods taken from your home, money taken from your wage, money taken from bank account, debt secured against your home, Bankruptcy
Rent Eviction from your home
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
Telephone Disconnection of the goods, Money judgment
TV licence  A fine
Water Money 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.

Although your unsecured debt may be worrying, and you’re likely to get a lot of scary letters about making payments, this type of debt is called ‘non-priority’.

The consequences of not making payments to these debts each month are much less severe than not paying your priorities each month. For example, bailiffs won’t visit you because you have an unsecured debt.

man reading bills

Are you falling behind with important payments?

Take two minutes to find the right support for your situation.

Get help now

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