Dealing with Council Tax arrears
If you’ve missed a council tax payment, you’re in 'arrears' - this means you owe money to your council.
You should contact your council straight away. Don’t wait for them to contact you.
Ask to speak to someone in the council tax office and tell them about your situation. They should be able to tell you how to get help - for example, they might help you find a free debt adviser. You can check how to contact your council on GOV.UK.
You might be able to pay less council tax or not pay it at all depending on your situation - check if you can pay less council tax.
Council Tax arrears is a 'priority debt'. This means you need to pay it before debts like credit cards.
If you have more than one debt, you should read our advice about getting help with debt. Or you can talk to an adviser.
If you can’t pay your council tax
Contact your council and explain your situation. Don’t just stop paying.
Ask them if they’ll let you pay your council tax in smaller amounts.
If these payments mean you won’t be able to afford essential costs such as your rent or mortgage, tell the council.
If you're on a low income, you might be able to get a reduction on your council tax bill. You can read more about getting help with your Council Tax.
If you miss a council tax payment
You’ll get a reminder from the council about 2 weeks after you miss a payment.
If you pay within 7 days, you don’t need to do anything else. The debt will be cleared and you’ll be able to continue paying your council tax in instalments.
Check the letter you get from the council to make sure you pay your Council Tax arrears into the right bank account. It might be different to the one you normally pay your Council Tax instalments into.
If you don’t pay within 7 days of the reminder
If you don’t pay within 7 days of the reminder (or if it’s the third time you’ve been late with council tax payments this year), the council will send you a ‘final notice’.
The final notice will tell you to pay all of your council tax for the rest of the year within 7 days.
If you don’t pay within 7 days of the final notice
Your council will usually apply to the courts for permission to collect the debt from you - this is known as a ‘liability order’.
Your council should look at all other options before applying for a liability order. For example, they should talk to you about an affordable repayment plan or give you time to apply for Council Tax Reduction if you’re eligible.
Don’t ignore these notices. You might be able to get extra time by applying for the Breathing Space scheme.
If you’re eligible, you could get 60 days of breathing space where your creditors can’t:
take action to make you pay
add interest and charges to your debt
If your council is already taking deductions from Universal Credit, these will continue even if you have breathing space. To see if breathing space is right for you, talk to an adviser.
If you’re not sure if you have to pay the council tax debt, you can check if you have to pay the debt.
If you don’t pay off your council tax debt
The council will apply for a liability order to recover the debt. This means they might be able to take action to get the money you owe. This is called ‘enforcement action’.
Usually the council will want you to pay the debt within the current tax year.
The council might:
send a bailiff to take items from your home - check what to do if bailiffs visit your home
take a fixed percentage from your pay - this is called an ‘attachment of earnings’
take money from your benefit payments, such as Universal Credit - check what to do if your Universal Credit is reduced to pay your debt
secure the debt against your home if you own it, called a Charging Order - check what to do if a creditor applies for a Charging Order against your home
apply to have you declared bankrupt if you owe more than £5,000 - check how bankruptcy might affect you
If you’re vulnerable, talk to your council to see what other options there are. You can be vulnerable in lots of different situations, for example if you’re disabled, seriously ill, have mental health problems or are a single parent.
If you still don’t pay your council tax debt
You could go to prison for up to 3 months. This is only if the court decides that you’re deliberately not paying your council tax and bailiffs haven’t been able to recover the debt.
If the council takes money from your wages
After the council gets a liability order from the court, they can take money directly from your wages each time you get paid. This is called an ‘attachment of earnings order’. They’ll send you a notice in the post - it will tell you how much they’ll take.
If you have an attachment of earnings order for other debts
Attachment of earnings orders work differently for other types of debt. Check what to do if you have an attachment of earnings order for other debts.
Before the council sends you an attachment of earnings order, they should try to arrange a 'payment plan' with you. This is a way for you to pay what you owe - for example a certain amount each month. You can make a complaint If your council sends you an attachment of earnings order when either:
they haven’t given you the chance to make a payment plan
you have a payment plan and you’re following it
You can complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman on their website. The ombudsman is independent and will examine the case from both sides to reach a decision they think is fair.
Your employer will know about your attachment of earnings order. If your job might be affected by the order, talk to an adviser.
Changing the amount you pay back
If you don’t have enough money to live on because of the money being taken from your wages, you should contact your council. Tell them what you can afford and ask if you can agree a payment plan. They might reduce the amount you’re paying or cancel the order.
Talk to an adviser as soon as possible if you have other debts or you can’t agree on an amount you can afford.
If you change or leave your job
If you leave your job, the council won’t get any money from the attachment of earnings order but it isn’t cancelled. You’ll start making payments again when you get a new job.
You must tell the council in writing within 14 days when you leave or change your job. If you get a new job, you must also tell them:
your new employer’s details
how much you’ll earn at your new job
If you don’t tell the council in time, it’s a criminal offence - you might get a fine.
If you’re out of work for a long time, you could ask the council to cancel the order.