Council Tax Debt


Council tax debt should always be considered as a priority debt.

That’s because local authorities have rights that private companies don’t when it comes to collecting unpaid debts.

In short, if you fall into council tax arrears you could face serious consequences if you don’t seek professional debt advice.

Why is council tax a priority debt?

Yes. Council tax is a priority debt because the council has powers to make you pay. It should be paid before non-priority debts such as credit card debt or unsecured loans.

What is council tax?

Council tax is a fee that you pay to your local council every year.

A year’s council tax is typically taken over the course of the year, in either 10 or 12 payments depending on your payment arrangement.

The amount of council tax you pay will depend on the tax band of your property. The bands rage from A-H with the cost dictated to by where your property falls on that scale. Put simply, the more expensive your house is, the higher the tax band.

The money paid helps your local authority pay for services such as education, leisure and transport.


Do I need to pay council tax?

Most people in the UK over the age of 18 are required to pay council tax.

A full council tax bill is based on at least two adults living in a home. Spouses or couples who live together are jointly responsible for paying the bill.

However, it’s important to be aware that there are some exceptions to the rule. Some people are not counted, or ‘disregarded’ when working our how many people live in a property which could lead to a council tax reduction.

You’re disregarded if you are:

  • under the age of 18
  • on specific apprenticeship schemes
  • 18 or 19 and in full-time education
  • a full-time college or university student
  • under the age of 25 and receive funding from the Education and Skills Funding Agency
  • a student nurse
  • a live-in carer for someone who is nor your partner, spouse of child under 18
  • a diplomat
  • live with severe mental impairment
  • a foreign language assistant registered with the British Council

If you’re disregarded you can apply for a council tax discount or exemption.

You’ll get 50% off your bill if everyone living in your household is disregarded or you’ll get a 25% discount if you live on your own or everyone else in your home is disregarded.

You should speak with your local council if you’re unsure if you’re entitled to a discount or if you’re unsure who’s responsible for paying.

Sometimes, a property may be considered to be exempt from council tax. This can happen if:

  • the property is empty due to a death
  • the property is owned by a charity
  • all residents are under 18
  • all residents are students
  • it’s a self-contained flat where a dependent lives
  • the property is empty as the occupier or owner is being cared for elsewhere
  • any residents have severe mental health conditions

Can I apply for a council tax reduction?

If you aren’t considered to be exempt from council tax payments you may be able to apply for a council tax reduction.

This is normally available if you live with someone who is exempt, if you live alone, are known to have a serious debt issue, are on a low income or claim benefits.

You may qualify for a council tax reduction if you receive any of the following benefits:

  • Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Universal Credit

To find out if you can receive a discounted council tax bill, you should check the Government website here.

How do I make a council tax payment?

Council tax payments are generally spread over 10 months. You normally receive a two-month break in February and march before your new bill comes in for the following year.

Your council tax bill tells you:

  • how much you owe for the year
  • how that amount has been worked out
  • the dates you have to pay

People usually pay their council tax bills by Direct Debit or standing order but the you can also pay your council tax over the phone, by bank transfer or cheque.

If you’re worried about paying your council tax over or are struggling to pay 10 months, you should speak with your local authority as soon as possible. You may be able to set out a payment plan that will allow you spread your payments over 12 months instead of 10 to help you better manage your m monthly budget.

It’s vital you do everything in your power to avoid falling into council tax arrears. If you owe council tax, your local authority can take action to reclaim any debt you owe. This can include using enforcement agents to recover unpaid council tax or taking further legal action.

What if I can't stay on top of my council tax payments?

Most people choose to make their council tax payment every month, so it’s important to make sure you take your council tax bill into consideration when planning your monthly budget.

If you’re living with money worries or already have outstanding debt it might be tempting to skip a council tax payment here and there in order to get by.

Many people think that the council will be understanding if they owe money but the reality is your local council has additional rights to collect council tax.

If you owe the council money, you will receive a reminder that gives seven days to pay the debt.

If you don’t act quickly to repay the council tax debt you’ll be ask to make the payment within a further seven days. If you still fail to pay your council tax then the council may start taking legal action against you.

Your local authority has the power to collect arrears from your wages or benefits. They may also instruct bailiff action in which your possessions will be seized to recover council tax arrears.

if you fall into council tax arrears you could face serious consequences if you don’t seek professional debt advice.

Can you go to jail for council tax debt?

While this may seem extreme it’s important to be aware that in the worst cases of council tax debt you could face a prison sentence.

If you continue to ignore council tax arrears you could go to prison for up to three months if a court decides you don’t have a good reason not to pay your council tax and you refuse to pay it.

What is a council tax liability order?

If you continue to fall behind with your council tax payments the council may apply to the magistrates court to make a liability order.

A liability order is a court order that states you are in council tax debt arrears and have not paid what you owe. The council will also add on any court costs they have had to pay.

You’ll receive a court summons to appear at the magistrates court. You don’t have to attend but it is an opportunity for you to explain the circumstances around why you’re unable to pay your council tax debt.

If you jointly owe council tax debt then the liability order will be made against you and your partner, spouse or whoever you share the council tax payment with.

That’s why you must act quickly if you’re having trouble staying on top of your monthly payments and why council tax is considered to be a priority debt.

You should contact your local authority as soon as possible if you’re struggling to pay your council tax. Doing this can prevent further action and the council pay be able to agree to a new payment arrangement rather than applying for a liability order.

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How can I avoid council tax debt?

Sometimes falling into council tax debt can be easier than you think. Something as simple as misplaced post can or moving home can lead to council tax arrears. There’s also the managing expense that you face every month. Council tax should also be considered to be a priority bill, so it’s important to do everything possible to avoid falling behind on payments and into debt.

Set a budget

One of the easiest ways to stay on top of council tax bills is to make sure you incorporate it into your monthly budget. This can be particularly important if you live on a low income.

When paying your council tax you’ll make the same payment every month so be sure to set it aside to make sure you always have money to pay.

Know who needs to pay council tax

You should also make sure you know who needs to pay council tax in your property. Avoiding council tax arrears might be easier if you ensure they’ve paid all the money they owe towards the bill each month so you’re not left short.

Talk to your local council

If you’re worried about being able to cover the cost of your council tax you should speak with your local authority as soon as possible.

Support may be made available to help you repay the money you owe, including repaying over 12 months instead of the typical 10.


Where can I find council tax debt advice?

People living with money worries can find paying council tax particularly challenging,

If you’re struggling to pay what you owe, it’s important to seek debt advice as soon as possible.

Council tax arrears are considered to be a priority debt do failing to take action can come with serious consequences.

If you’re unable to stay on top of your council tax payment plan this financial year, speak to Your Debt Expert. Our experienced advisors offer confidential advice not only about council tax arrears but all unsecured debts as well as provide details about the solutions available to help you regain control.

Our team can help you find a way to take control of your finances whilst you continue to pay what you owe with a tailored payment plan.

They can start to work through your debt problems as soon as you contact us, and are trained to give you the best advice for your situation. Contact us today on 0800 082 8086.

Where can I get more advice on Council Tax Debt and other debt solutions?

To discuss your options and get the support you need to deal with your debt today, contact us now on 0800 082 8086 or click the button below to get started.