What happens if you don't pay your council tax

If you are having difficulty paying your bill, don't wait until you get a reminder, contact us straight away and we'll see what we can do for you.

These notes are provided for guidance only. They are not intended to be a comprehensive or definitive interpretation of the law.

Recovery process

1. Demand notice

Your council tax is usually payable in ten monthly instalments, starting in April and finishing in January.

If you pay by direct debit, you can ask us to collect the instalments on the 1st, the 10th or the 20th of the month.

For all other methods of payment, the instalments must be paid by the 1st of the month. Your bill will show the amounts and dates of your instalments.

If you are having problems paying, don't wait until you get a reminder, contact our Billing and Collection team straight away using the contact details on this page.

2. Reminder notice

If you do not pay your instalments on time, we will send you a reminder.

You will have seven days to pay the late instalment.

If you do not pay, you will lose the right to pay by instalments. This means you will have to pay the whole amount for the year within a further seven days.

Contact our Recovery team straight away to see if they can help you, using the contact details on this page.

3. Second reminder notice

If you bring your account up-to-date after a reminder and fall behind again for a second time in the same year, we will send you a second reminder.

You will have seven days to pay the late instalment.

If you do not pay, you will lose your right to pay by instalments. This means you will have to pay the whole amount for the year within a further seven days.

Contact our Recovery team straight away to see if they can help you, using the contact details on this page.

4. Final notice

If you bring your account up-to-date after two reminders and fall behind for a third time in the same year, you will be sent a final notice.

You will have seven days to pay the whole amount for the year. Otherwise, we may start legal proceedings to recover the balance.

Contact our Recovery team straight away to see if they can help you, using the contact details on this page.

5. Court summons

If you fail to pay after a reminder or final notice, and you have not been in touch with us to agree a revised payment arrangement, we will send you a court summons.

The summons will tell you the date and time of the hearing at North Hampshire Magistrates' Court in Basingstoke and the amount that we are seeking to recover. This will be both the outstanding amount of council tax for the year plus our costs, currently £80.

You can attend the court and give reasons why the court should not grant the liability order. However, you are not obliged to, as the court is able to decide the matter in your absence.

Even at this stage, we may be able to help you, so please contact our Recovery team immediately using the contact details on this page.

We will ask you questions about your financial circumstances and try to work out a realistic and fair payment schedule with you. We may still apply to the court for a liability order but if you pay the agreed amounts when they are due, we will not take any further action.

You should also contact us if you think you are not liable to pay the council tax, or disagree with the amount of the summons.

6. Liability order

If you fail to pay the amount shown on the summons before the court hearing, we will make an application to the magistrates for a liability order for the outstanding amount of council tax for the year, plus additional costs of £80.

The fact that you may be waiting for the outcome of an appeal or for assessment of a benefit claim, is not a valid defence against the issue of a liability order.

The court will grant a liability order against you if it is satisfied that the amount shown on the summons has become payable and you have not paid it.

7. After we obtain the liability order

The liability order gives us the right to request information from you about your employment details and your income. We will write to you after the court has granted the liability order to inform you how much you must pay and what information you must give us. The letter will also invite you to make a realistic offer of how you propose to settle the debt.

If are unable to pay in full, you must supply the information requested within 14 days. If you fail to supply the information requested or supply false information, you will be committing a criminal offence, for which you could be fined up to £500.

We will assess the information you supply and decide what is the most appropriate course of action to recover the outstanding debt.

If we do not receive an acceptable offer of payment or we are unable to agree an instalment arrangement, the enforcement remedies available to us are:

Attachment of earnings order

We can order your employers to deduct amounts directly from your wages or salary and pay them direct to us. The amounts will be a set percentage of your net earnings. See the pdf icon deductions table [56kb] for further information.

Deductions from Income Support / Job Seekers Allowance / Employment and Support Allowance

If you receive any of these benefits, we can ask the Department of Work and Pensions to deduct amounts directly from your entitlement.

Enforcement action

We can instruct an enforcement agent (formerly known as a bailiff) to collect the debt and/or remove your goods to sell at auction to recover the outstanding amount.

On 6 April, the government introduced important changes to the regulations governing the enforcement industry. These regulations are known as the Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014. One of the most significant changes is a new fee structure that the Ministry of Justice has set.

Because of the significant increases in pdf icon enforcement fees [184kb], we strongly recommend you to contact our Recovery team if you have difficulties paying your council tax.

If you are unable to pay the outstanding debt in full, the enforcement agent must follow three distinct stages:

  • Compliance stage - £75 fee - covers all activities from receipt of the instruction up to, but not including, the enforcement stage
  • Enforcement stage - £235 (plus 7.5 per cent of debt amount over £1,500) - covers all activities from first attendance to the property up to, but not including, the sale or disposal stage
  • Sale or disposal stage - £110 (plus 7.5 per cent of debt amount over £1,500) - covers all activities from first attendance to transport goods to the place of sale or starting to prepare for the sale until completion of the sale or disposal

Transitional arrangements are in place for accounts where enforcement action was started before 6 April 2014.

Bankruptcy

We might start bankruptcy proceedings against you under the provisions of the Insolvency Act 1986.

Charging order

We might apply for a charging order against your property (if you own one).

Prison

If we are not able to collect the amount due from you using one or more of the methods above, we may apply to the magistrates for a warrant committing you to prison.

We will send you a summons to attend a hearing at the magistrates' court. If you do not turn up for the hearing, we will ask the magistrates to issue a warrant for your arrest.

In addition to the debt outstanding, you will become liable for the costs associated with our application.

At the hearing, the magistrates will carry out an inquiry into your means and conduct. If they conclude that your failure to pay was because of wilful refusal or culpable neglect, they may sentence you to prison for up to three months, without remission.

Find out if you are entitled to council tax support

If you are unemployed or on a low income and you have not already applied for Council Tax Support, you may be entitled to a reduction in the sum that you have to pay.

Please contact our benefits team for further information. You can do this using the contact details on this page.

Until we award you council tax support,  you should still pay the amount due, to prevent arrears building up on this priority debt.

If you are struggling to pay your council tax

If you are worried about not being able to pay, please contact us as soon as possible. We may be able to spread your instalments over 12 months rather than ten.

Getting advice on your finances

If you are struggling with your finances, there are a number of agencies that can help you. See our Debt advice page for details.

Fair collection and debt recovery policy

Our pdf icon Fair collection and debt recovery policy [508kb] sets out what our businesses and customers can expect from us, and what we expect from them, when we collect council tax and other debts that are owed to us. 

Our aim it be consistent in our approach and to tackle problems as early as possible.

To support us in maintaining good practice in this, we have signed a protocol with the local Citizens Advice and this is included as an appendix to the policy. The protocol provides guidance on ways to strengthen relations between councils and debt advice agencies.

 
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