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What Happens If You Don't Pay Your Council Tax?

It is your responsibility to pay your council tax bill on time. If you do not, you may lose your right to pay by instalments.

The easiest way to pay your council tax is to set up a Direct Debit. If you have not set up a Direct Debit you can pay online using your debit or credit card, or through our automated telephone line. 

If you do not pay your council tax on time we will write to you and can take the following action. 


If you do not pay the full amount on the final notice, you’ll be sent a court summons and additional costs will be added to your account immediately. 

The summons will tell you when your case will be listed at court. 

If you wish to attend court, there are two valid defences: 

  • We have not billed you correctly
  • You’ve already paid the amount on the summons 


It is not a valid defence if you: 

  • Cannot afford to pay
  • Have applied for council tax benefits
  • Have appealed to the Valuation Office against your council tax band
  • Have appealed against our decision to hold you liable 

To avoid your case going to court, you must pay in full (including any costs incurred as a result of non-payment). 

If you do not have a valid defence to attend court and are unable to pay in full, you can make a payment arrangement with us before the court hearing.  

Your case will still be listed at the court hearing where the magistrates will be asked to grant a liability order against you to secure the debt and award additional costs. You do not need to attend court. 

The payment arrangement will include the summons costs and liability order costs. As long as you keep up with your payment arrangement, we will not take any further recovery action against you. 

Liability Order

After the court hearing, once the liability order has been granted, if you have not made a payment arrangement the council is no longer obliged to send any further notification before taking recovery action.

The liability order gives us the power to recover your outstanding council tax in these ways: 

  • Taking money directly from your benefits (attachment of benefit order)
  • Taking money directly from your wage (attachment of earnings order)
  • Asking enforcement agents (formerly known as bailiffs) to collect the amount 
  • Placing a charging order on your property if you own it
  • Making you bankrupt/insolvent
  • Starting proceedings to send you to prison
Attachment of Benefits

We can ask the Department for Works and Pensions to deduct the outstanding balance on your account from your Job Seeker's Allowance, Income Support, Employment Support Allowance, Pension Credit Guaranteed Credit or Universal Credit.

If you receive Universal Credit the amount deducted will depend on how much benefit you receive, other benefits are taken at a fixed rate until the debt is clear. 

Attachment of Earnings

If you are employed, we can send an attachment of earnings to your employer asking them to take money from your wage to pay your outstanding council tax bill. The amount taken will be a percentage of your take home pay. Your employer will pay a percentage straight to us until your debt is cleared. They can also take an administration fee of £1 for each deduction if they choose to.

Enforcement Agents

If we pass your case to our enforcement agents (formerly known as bailiffs), a £75 compliance fee will be added to your account immediately. 

You should contact the enforcement agency straight away to discuss repayment to avoid further fees being added to your account.

If you do not, an enforcement agent will visit you and an additional £235 enforcement fee will be added to your account, in addition to the £75 fees already incurred. You can make a payment arrangement with the enforcement agent at any stage, but you may need to sign a controlled goods agreement. 

If you do not keep up your payments, they can remove goods from your home. 

If you do make payments to us after your case has been passed to the enforcement agency, your case will remain open with them and they’ll proceed as normal for the remaining balance, including their fees. 

Once your case has been passed to the enforcement agent, it will remain with them until the full debt is cleared. 


If other recovery methods have been unsuccessful and you owe £5000 or more in unpaid council tax or business rates we may decide to take bankruptcy/insolvency action against you.

If we decide to take this action, it will severely impact your ability to get credit and you may lose your home and possessions to pay your council tax debt.

Charging Orders

If you own your property and your debt is £1,000 or more we may decide to apply for a charging order to be placed on the property. 

That means we could force you to sell so that we can recover the outstanding balance on your account. Alternatively, if you decide to sell your property, your debt will be cleared from the proceeds of sale. 

Committal Proceedings

If we have exhausted all our methods of recovery, we can ask the court to issue you a summons to attend a committal hearing. 

At the hearing, we will tell the magistrates that a liability order has been granted against you and provide a history of your debt. 

You will get a chance to explain why you have failed to pay your council tax and the magistrates will then decide whether you've deliberately refused to pay. This is known as ‘wilful refusal’ or ‘culpable neglect’. 

You will be asked questions about your income and expenditure. This is called a ‘means enquiry’. It helps the court come to a conclusion as to whether you are able to pay and, if so, what is affordable for you to pay. 

If they decide that you’ve been financially able to pay your council tax, but failed to do so, you may be found in ‘culpable neglect’. 

The court will decide whether you should go to prison for not paying your council tax, you may be sent to prison for up to 90 days. 

Last updated 29 April 2021
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