General advice for getting out of debt is all well and good, but today we want to dedicate some time to a particular kind of debt that can cause real problems: council tax arrears. Council tax is what’s known as a priority debt – and that’s because the consequences for failing to pay are far more severe than with other kinds of debt, such as credit cards and utilities.
Aside from the financial ramifications, the local council will have legal options for enforcing the debt, including sending bailiffs round or taking you to court. If you do go to court, then the maximum penalty includes 3 months in prison.
In practice, this is extremely rare. But since it is a possibility, you need to do whatever it takes to get out of council tax arrears, even if that means prioritising your council tax debt over other debts.
What happens if you do miss a bill?
If you simply forget to pay your council tax on time, then it’s not too serious: you’ll get a reminder after approximately two weeks and then an extra 7 days to pay without any further consequences. After that, though, things get more serious.
- If you don’t pay within seven days of the reminder, or you’ve already received two previous reminders, then the council will issue a ‘final notice’.
- The final notice will ask you to pay your full council tax bill for the year within another seven days. This means that you will have lost your right to pay in instalments.
- If you still don’t pay, then the council will apply to the courts to collect the money via other means. This could include garnishing your wages, taking money directly from a benefit that you receive or sending bailiffs to seize your possessions.
Thankfully there are options, and help out there:
Speak to the council
In many cases, your creditor should be the first port of call for getting debt help, and this is also the case when it comes to council tax. If you can’t afford to pay the debt in full, but you do have the resources to make smaller payments then it may be possible to come to an arrangement.
You’ll still need to commit to paying a monthly amount, but along with your ongoing council tax payments, the debt can be gradually reduced, but at a more manageable amount.
This is a particularly good option for those struggling short-term, as you’ll be able to give the council reassurance that it is only a temporary measure. Ultimately, it costs to take someone to court, therefore it is in the councils best interest to engage with people in debt and work out a payment plan.
Contact a charity like Citizens Advice
At any point that you may be struggling with your council tax payments, we would suggest getting in touch with a debt charity for support and advice. They can help you to deal with the council, ensure that you’re prioritising the right payments, and let you know what your options are if you’re having financial difficulties.
For example did you know as a pensioner or as a single occupant of a property you can receive a reduction in your council tax bill. Though do note you have to apply for the reduction, it isn’t automaticly issued.
Your local council also has the power to issue a discretionary reduction in your council taxt payments or cancel the bill in full. Anyone can apply for this, although the council have many people applying and only use this power in exceptional cases.
The important thing to take away here is that, along with your housing costs, the council tax should be the first thing that you pay each month. That way, you’ll know that you have a roof over your head and no threat of imprisonment, even if you’re still working to pay down other bills.
If you find you are struggling with your mental health due to debt worries the charity MoneyAndMentalHealth.org have an advice page here.