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Council tax arrears

If you do not keep up-to-date with your council tax payments, you will find yourself with arrears. Find out more about the steps the council can take to try to get unpaid council tax and what you can do if you are having difficulty paying.

Council tax arrears - first reminder

The normal method for paying council tax is in monthly instalments. If you miss a payment, the council should send you a reminder giving you seven days to pay the outstanding amount. The reminder should state:

  • the outstanding amount to be paid
  • that if you do not pay the outstanding amount within seven days, you will lose your right to pay in instalments and become liable to pay the outstanding amount for the whole financial year.

If you pay the outstanding amount but miss a payment later in the year, your next reminder should state that if you miss a third payment in the same financial year, you will automatically lose your right to pay in instalments without a reminder being sent out.

Council tax arrears - final notice

If you have already received a reminder, but have not paid the missing instalment, you will have lost your right to pay by instalments. You will receive a final notice that will state that you have 14 days to pay the whole amount outstanding for the remainder of the financial year. Some councils will still accept payments in instalments but you will have to arrange this with them personally.

Council tax arrears - summary warrant

If you do not pay the amount due in a lump sum, the council can apply to the sheriff court for a summary warrant. A summary warrant is a certificate from the sheriff court stating the amount of council tax you owe. The council also have to obtain from court a charge for payment before they can recover the money owed from you.

You do not have to be told that the council are applying for a summary warrant and you will not be given the opportunity to negotiate with the court before it is granted. The summary warrant will be granted automatically and you will only know about it when you receive a copy of it in the post.

Receiving a summary warrant for council tax arrears

Summary warrants are sent out by the sheriff officers. If you have received a summary warrant, it should state the amount due and who to contact to arrange to pay this. You now have to make payments to the sheriff officers rather than the council. The amount due will have increased as there is an automatic penalty of 10% if a summary warrant has been granted against you.

At this stage you should contact the sheriff officers and come to a repayment arrangement. Make sure you come to an arrangement that you will be able to stick to. It is better to pay a little on a regular basis over a longer period of time than to try to pay too much, leave yourself short and miss payments.

When you're trying to agree how much your payments should be, you may be asked to provide details of any money you have coming in and any money you have going out.

Council tax arrears and welfare benefits

If you get income support, jobseeker's allowance or pension credit, you can ask for payments to be made directly from your benefit to your council tax arrears. You will need to provide your national insurance number.

You cannot ask for payments to be made directly from any other benefits.

What information will the sheriff officers ask for?

If you do not come to a repayment arrangement with the sheriff officers, they can ask you to provide any of the following information:

  • the name and address of your employer
  • your national insurance number
  • your bank account details
  • the name and address of anyone else who is liable to pay your council tax with you.

You should provide this within 14 days or you may receive a fine.

What will happen if I don't pay my council tax arrears?

Once a summary warrant has been issued, and you do not make arrangements to pay your council tax arrears, the council will obtain a charge for payment. Once the charge for payment has expired, normally after 14 days, sheriff officers have powers to get the money from you by:

  • arresting your earnings
  • freezing your bank accounts
  • taking money from your bank accounts
  • removing belongings from your home and selling them

Once a charge for payment has been issued you can apply for time to pay which will allow you to make a repayment plan. It will also prevent Sheriff officers taking the action listed above. You can find out more about paying off council tax arrears and how the sheriff officers can enforce the debt at the National Debtline website.

I think my council tax bill is wrong

If you disagree with the amount of your council tax bill, or if you believe you have paid an instalment but the council says you haven't, you can ask the council to look at your account again. However, you must pay the instalments due on the bill you have received until the matter is resolved or the council can take recovery action against you.

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The important points

  • Normally council tax is divided into 10 or 12 equal monthly instalments.
  • If you miss an instalment and don't pay that instalment within 7 days you will lose your right to have the payment spread throughout the year.
  • If you miss 3 instalments within that financial period you automatically lose your right to pay in instalments and will need to pay the remaining amount in full.
  • The final stage is that you will be sent a summary warrant by sheriff officers and 14 days after this if you haven't paid they have powers to get the money from you, for example by freezing your bank account or removing items from your home to sell them.

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