Dealing with your priority debts

Deductions from benefits

It is never too late to start negotiating with the council. Send them your budget summary and make an offer of payment that you have worked out you can afford using our guidelines in these steps. If you receive benefits and have a liability order, you can ask the DWP to take a standard amount each week from your Income Support, Pension Credit, income-related or contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based  or contribution-based Jobseeker's Allowance or Universal Credit to pay for your council tax arrears. If they agree to do this, the council should not take any further action while the money is being taken direct from your benefit. The council can also ask for deductions to be taken from your benefits once they have been to court for a liability order.

Charging orders

If the debt is for £1000 or more, the council can apply to the county court for a legal charge on the home on which you owe the council tax. The council can only do this if you own the property. This means the debt is 'secured' on your home like a mortgage, and so may put your home at risk. If the council threatens this, contact us for advice.

Bankruptcy

The council can try to make you bankrupt if the debt is £5,000 or more. This is more likely if you owe council tax bills for lots of different years as they can add these together. You may be able to complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman if the council has not considered other options. You will need to complain to your local council first. If the council threatens to make you bankrupt, contact us for advice.

Imprisonment

Extra advice:

preparing for the court hearing

The court should not send you to prison if you cannot afford to pay. They should only do so if they think you have 'deliberately refused' or 'neglected' to pay when you could have done so. If you have to go to court, you should get legal advice first. Contact a local advice agency, a law centre, or a solicitor. Most magistrates' courts have a duty solicitor scheme that may be able to help you. You may qualify under the Legal Help scheme for a solicitor to help you at the hearing, depending on your income. Contact us for advice.

In exceptional circumstances, the court may order the council tax debt you owe to be 'written off' so you do not have to pay the debt back. But normally they will order you to pay an amount each month until you have paid the debt. If you do not pay this amount regularly, you will have to go to court again and may be sent to prison for up to three months. If you find you can't pay what the court has ordered, keep paying what you can afford and apply to the court to reduce the amount you have to pay. Contact us for advice.

If the council has tried to use bailiffs and you have still not paid your council tax in full, they may apply to the magistrates' court for an order for you to be sent to prison. The court is unlikely to send you to prison if you have not paid because you don't have enough money. There must be a hearing in the court to look at why you have not paid and whether you have the money to pay. You must go to the hearing and show the court your personal budget to explain why you have not been able to pay.

Complaining

You may be able to complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman if the council have not behaved properly or not followed the proper procedures. You will need to complain to your local council first.