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Dealing with council tax arrears

If you do not pay your council tax bill, you'll be in a type of debt called council tax arrears.

If you cannot pay your council tax arrears, get money and debt advice as soon as possible.

An adviser can help you make a repayment plan and negotiate with the council.

Prioritise paying your council tax

You should prioritise paying council tax, 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, such as credit cards or pay-day loans.

If you’re in rent or mortgage arrears, you should prioritise this debt too. This is because you could lose your home if you do not pay the debt back.

Check our advice on:

What happens if you miss a payment

If you miss a monthly payment, you’ll receive a letter called a first reminder which will tell you:

  • how much you need to pay

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

Pay the amount stated if you can, or ask the council to agree to an affordable repayment plan.

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

  • 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 your council tax arrears

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.

Contact the council tax team as soon as possible. It's best to call, use a live chat service on your council's website if they have one, or send an email.

Find contact details for your council tax team on

Keep a note of who you speak to and what you agree. If you call them, ask them to send you confirmation of what is agreed in an email or a letter.

Follow up your offer of a payment plan in writing. Use our letter template for paying council tax arrears.

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 get a letter from sheriff officers

Get money and debt advice as soon as possible if sheriff officers contact you about council tax arrears. This means the council has gone to court to get you to pay the debt.

Contact the sheriff officers who sent the letter immediately. You’ll need to pay the debt to the sheriff officers instead of the council. You may also need to pay a fine.

Make 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.

If you do not pay, they can 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: 3 June 2024

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England