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Dealing with council tax arrears

If you're having difficulty paying your council tax bill, contact a money and debt adviser as soon as possible. They’ll help you draw up a budget and negotiate a repayment plan.

Prioritise paying your council tax

Council tax is a payment you should prioritise, because the council can take you to court if you do not pay it. That means you should pay off your council tax arrears before most other debts, like credit cards, pay-day loans or catalogues.

If you’re in rent or mortgage arrears, this debt should be prioritised too. This is because you could lose your home if you do not pay the debt back. We have guidance on dealing with rent arrears and dealing with mortgage arrears.

If you’ve received an eviction notice, get advice from Shelter Scotland.

How to deal with council tax arrears

Contact the council tax team as soon as possible. You can send a letter but it may be quicker to call, or use a live chat service on your council's website if they have one. Find your council's website on

If you do speak to someone on the phone, keep a note of who you spoke to and what you agreed. Ask them to send you a confirmation of what they said in an email or a letter.

Make sure to follow up your offer of a payment plan in writing. Use our letter template for paying council tax arrears to help you know what to say.

If you cannot pay, or the council refuses your offer of a repayment plan, get money and debt advice. Tell the council you're taking this step.

If you miss a payment

Once you’re in council tax arrears, your council will get in touch with you. You’ll normally receive letters that tell you what action they’ll take on your debt.

This can include cancelling your right to pay a monthly bill, asking for the year’s bill in advance, and taking you to court.

Pay the amount stated if you can, or ask the council to agree to an affordable repayment plan. If you're not sure how much you can afford, use a budgeting tool.

If you miss a monthly payment you’ll be given 7 days to pay. You’ll receive a letter called a first reminder which will tell you:

  • how much you need to pay

  • if you do not pay within 7 days, you’ll need to pay your year’s council tax bill in full

If you pay this debt in time but miss a second payment, the letter you receive will tell you:

  • how much you need to pay within 7 days

  • that if you miss a third payment in the same financial year you’ll lose your right to pay monthly

You will not have the right to a letter reminding you to pay from the third missed payment.

If you have lost your right to pay in instalments, you’ll get a final notice letter. You'll be given 14 days to pay your full yearly bill.

If you cannot pay the bill, get help from a money and debt adviser as soon as possible and tell the council you’re getting this help. An adviser can help you negotiate with the council.

Taking debt payments from your benefits

The council could take what you owe from your benefits if you get:

  • Universal Credit

  • Pension Credit

  • Income Support

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance

  • Employment and Support Allowance

They can only do this if they have gone to court to get an order called a summary warrant. You do not have to be told ahead of time that court action is taking place.

If you receive a letter from sheriff officers

Get money and debt advice straight away if you get a letter from sheriff officers.

An adviser can negotiate with them on your behalf.

Sheriff officers can act out any order from the court.

A letter asking you to pay your council tax arrears to sheriff officers means the council has gone to court for a summary warrant. The council does not have to tell you when they do this.

Contact the sheriff officers who sent the letter immediately. The letter will tell you who to contact. You’ll now have to pay the debt to the sheriff officers rather than the council. You'll also be expected to pay a 10% fine.

At this stage you should come to a repayment agreement with the sheriff officers. Make sure this arrangement is affordable to you.

If you get a charge for payment letter

If you do not come to an arrangement with the sheriff officers they'll send you a 'charge for payment' letter. This will give you 14 days to pay the full amount and their costs.

They’ll ask you for:

  • 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

If you do not pay they can then get the money from you by:

  • arresting your earnings

  • freezing your bank accounts

  • taking money from your bank accounts

  • in very rare cases selling your belongings

To prevent sheriff officers taking this action try to come to an affordable repayment plan, or ask a money and debt adviser to do this on your behalf.

Last updated: 4 October 2022

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England