Council tax debt can be an overwhelming burden for many people in the UK, with thousands of households falling into arrears each year.
It is a significant problem that can have serious consequences if left unchecked, such as bailiffs arriving at your door or having to pay legal costs.
In this article we’ll look at some tips to help you manage council tax debt and stay on top of payments.
We’ll also discuss what action you may need to take if you do find yourself struggling with council tax debts and how best to proceed in those circumstances.
What is council tax debt?
Council tax debt is one of the most common types of debt across the UK. The amount you are required to pay is based on the ‘band’ of your property.
Ranging from A to H the more expensive your home is, the more council tax you need to pay.
A payment made to the local authority council tax is a priority payment. This means that the council has the power to collect council tax debt and use enforcement action should you fall behind on payments.
Councils have additional legal powers, which allows them to call upon the use of bailiffs in England, Wales ,and Northern Ireland, or sheriff officers in Scotland, to reclaim what’s owed.
Do you make council tax payments every month?
Yes, council tax payments in the UK are typically made on a monthly basis. The usual practice is to spread the payment over ten instalments, starting from April and ending in January of the following year.
These monthly instalments also include payments for February and March, which means the whole year’s council tax is divided into equal portions to be paid consistently throughout the year.
This system aims to make budgeting for council tax more manageable for residents.
Who has to pay council tax?
Most people across the UK are required to pay council tax, however, there are some exceptions to this as well as discounts available to people that you should be aware of.
In some instances, properties can be exempt from council tax if:
- All residents are full-time students
- A charity owns the property
- All residents are under 18
- The property is empty following a death
- It’s a self-contained flat where a dependent lives
- One or more residents are living with severe mental impairment
- The property is empty as the occupier is being cared for elsewhere
If the above exceptions don’t apply to you then you may still qualify for a discount if you live with someone who is exempt from paying council tax, lives alone, is in financial hardship, or claims benefits.
What if I’m in the wrong council tax band?
You can challenge the band valuation of your property if you feel that your council tax bill is unfair.
If you believe your property is in the wrong band you can request to have your home reassessed which could reduce payments.
However, you should be aware that this also runs the risk of increasing your council tax payment if it is deemed your home is more valuable than previously thought.
To challenge your level of council tax, contact your council. You can find a directory of local councils here.
How do you pay your council tax?
There are two methods available to pay your council tax in the UK:
Paying your council tax online
Most local authorities offer online payment services through their websites. You can make council tax payments securely using a debit or credit card.
This method is convenient and allows you to manage your payments from the comfort of your own home.
Pay council tax bills in cash
If you prefer to pay in cash, you can use designated payment services such as PayPoint, Payzone, or Quickcards.
These services are available at various locations, including convenience stores and post offices.
You will receive a barcode or payment card from your local council, which you can present at these locations to make your cash payment.
Am I eligible for a council tax reduction?
There are several council tax reduction schemes available in the UK that can help eligible individuals and households manage their council tax payments.
Below are three common scenarios where you may be eligible for a council tax reduction:
Council tax reduction for students
If you’re a full-time student living in a property with other students, you may be exempt from paying council tax altogether.
However, each local authority has its own specific criteria, so it’s important to check with your council to confirm the rules and requirements for student council tax exemption.
Council tax disability reduction
If you or someone in your household has a disability, you may be eligible for a council tax reduction.
The reduction is based on specific criteria and can vary depending on the local authority.
You may need to provide evidence of the disability, such as a doctor’s note or disability benefits documentation, to support your application.
Council tax for people on low income
If you are on a low income or receiving certain benefits, you may qualify for council tax support or a reduction.
The amount of support you receive will depend on your income, circumstances, and the local authority’s criteria.
It’s advisable to contact your local council or visit their website.
What if I ignore my council tax arrears?
Ignoring your council tax arrears can lead to a series of escalating actions by the local authority to recover unpaid council tax.
Here is a potential sequence of steps that may occur.
Council tax payment reminder letter
If you fall behind on your council tax payments, you will likely receive a payment reminder letter from the local authority.
This letter serves as a formal notification of the arrears and urges you to make immediate payment or contact the council to discuss repayment options.
If you fail to respond to the payment reminder letter or make suitable arrangements, the local authority may issue a final notice.
This notice will state the outstanding amount and set a deadline by which the payment must be made. It is a critical stage where immediate action is required to avoid further consequences.
If you still do not address the arrears, the local authority may proceed with enforcement action.
This can involve measures such as sending bailiffs to your property to collect the outstanding amount, seizing assets, or taking legal action against you.
Council tax liability order
In some cases, the local authority may seek a council tax liability order from the court. This order formalises the debt and grants the council additional powers to recover the arrears. It can result in further enforcement actions and may also impact your credit rating.
Ignoring your council tax arrears can lead to increased debt, additional fees, and potentially serious consequences for your financial well-being.
It is strongly advised to address the arrears promptly, communicate with the local authority, and seek assistance to resolve the situation before it escalates further.
How can I deal with council tax debt?
If you’re struggling with council tax arrears, the most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone.
Thousands of people across the county are in a similar situation to you and taking steps to repay what they owe.
Get in touch with your local council
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to dealing with any kind of debt. It can be tempting to stick your head in the sand when you begin to struggle financially, however, it’s vital to be open and honest with yourself and the council when it comes to council tax repayments.
By telling them about your situation you are likely to find a solution that stops court or enforcement action.
Set a budget for priority debt like council tax
Setting a budget is one of the easiest ways to manage council tax. As one of the biggest monthly household payments made each month it’s important that you account for it in a budget to ensure that you can cover its cost whilst still having enough cash for remaining bills and utilities.
Check if you’re eligible for council tax support
Investigate whether you’re eligible for any council tax discounts or exemptions. For example, if you live alone, you may be entitled to a single-person discount.
If you have a disability or are on a low income, you might qualify for council tax reductions or support.
Research the available options and contact your local authority to inquire about any applicable schemes that could alleviate your council tax burden.
Seek professional debt advice
Getting professional debt advice can be helpful when dealing with council tax debt. Debt advisors can provide expert guidance tailored to your specific situation, helping you understand your rights, explore repayment options, and negotiate with the local authority on your behalf.
A debt management company can also assist in assessing your overall financial situation and provide strategies for managing your debt effectively.
Where can I get help dealing with council tax debt?
Confronting debt issues is difficult. It’s never easy to talk about financial problems, especially if you’re not sure how to solve them.
Thankfully, there are debt management strategies available to guide you towards a debt-free life. At Talk About Debt, we equip you with insights you need to handle unmanageable debts, exploring all the avenues available to you.
For debt advice and practical debt solutions, get in touch with one of our friendly advisors today.