If you are struggling to pay your council tax, it is important to contact your council as soon as possible. You will then be able to negotiate a payment plan with them. This article aims to help you with your council tax arrears and offer advice on how to pay these.
What are Arrears?
Arrears happen when you fail to meet your contractual repayments on loans, credit cards, mortgages, rent, rates and other finance. If you are in serious arrears don’t ignore them. You should get some good debt advice and get your finances back on track. Ignoring arrears will mean you are incurring additional fees and your debts will be growing.
Do I need to pay my council tax?
The following are exemptions from council tax:
- The property is empty
- Only one adult lives there
- You are disabled
- You are a student or student nurse
Unemployed people can make a claim for council tax benefit, subject to the usual rules. But unless you applied for the benefit you cannot claim exemption from paying council tax just because they are unemployed. You are legally liable for the bill.
Who is liable for council tax?
Council tax is based on the property and not the individuals living at the property. A council tax bill should be in your name if you are the sole owner and have been living in the property.
If the council tax is in the wrong name, you may contact the council for a new council tax bill. Whether you will receive a retrospective bill will depend on whether you have had a reduction due to it being in someone’s else’s name. Otherwise, you will not be entitled to it.
If you are in a situation where the previous property owner puts your name down for council tax. Then you will not be liable for the debt until you become the owner of that property.
This is because you are not liable for Council Tax bills for a property that you have no previous link to. Remember you are simply buying it from someone else.
If you feel that the council tax debt is wrong, then you must contact the council. You must provide them with proof of the completion of the sale.
Then you will be able to illustrate exactly when you owned the property. This will show you if you are liable for the council tax at that address. The bill will then be calculated to the correct amount which should be the portion of the bill that covers from the date of purchase to the end of the council tax year.
Please note if you are a student, you are not liable to pay council tax.
Who is liable for joint council tax bills?
If you have a joint bill with your partner or housemate, this means that both of you are jointly and separately liable for it. The council can ask you for the full payment in the absence of your partner/housemate.
If you do not want to pay your partner’s half of the bill you should negotiate directly with the council. You could ask for longer to repay the outstanding bill and come to an arrangement where you can make monthly or weekly instalments.
The council also have the discretion to reduce arrears in cases of hardship. You should also enquire whether you come into this category.
Am I liable for my ex-partner’s council tax debt?
You are not responsible for other people’s council tax debts from the property that they used to live in. Therefore you do not have to pay for someone else’s debts.
If anyone turns up at your home asking for someone who does not live there then you can let them know that the person does not live at that address, you do not have to let them in. Enforcement agents are not allowed to take your things to pay off someone else’s debts.
If you have already returned letters and identified that the person does not live at your house then you can return the most recent letter and make a complaint if they continue to send more letters.
I can’t pay my council tax arrears, what will happen?
If you have Council Tax arrears there are various options available to the council to recover the debt. They could choose to seek a liability order and ask that bailiffs attend or they might choose an attachment of earnings order. The council can use court processes to recover debts and these will require the court to agree, to grant the order.
Changing your name will not stop the debt from being owed or the council’s ability to use a recovery process. If you need help coming to an arrangement to pay this and any other debts that you may have, contact a free debt adviser and they will be able to look at your options.
We suggest that as soon as you receive the bill, get in contact with your council and make arrangements to pay by instalments. If you explain the situation and make a reasonable monthly offer then you should find them agreeable to your suggestion.
Is council tax included in a debt management plan?
Council Tax is a Priority and is not included as part of the Debt Management Plan (DMP). If you are using a DMP to deal with non-priority debts, you will also need to pay Council Tax and any other arrears as a priority. Council Tax debt will not always be part of a DMP. This will depend on whether the council (or enforcement company) is willing to negotiate an affordable payment plan that you can maintain.
You could seek to set up an arrangement yourself or approach a free debt counselling charity for assistance.
I declared bankrupt recently, do I need to pay council tax arrears?
Any council tax arrears that you have (assuming that they are not from the current financial year) will be written off in your bankruptcy. If you have arrears from the current financial year you will still be liable to pay these. Therefore you should continue to pay your council tax for as long as you live in the property.
However, if you have a liability order covering the repayment of the full current year’s council tax then this must be included in your bankruptcy. Then you will not be liable to pay council tax for the remainder of the current financial year.
Does the council have the power to recover council tax from 20 years ago?
The council does have the power to recover council tax from 20 years ago. But only if they obtained a Liability Order within the first 6 years of the debt accruing.