Trouble paying council tax

What if I have trouble paying the bill?

Contact the council's recovery office on 01773 841445.

As soon as you realise you have a problem paying your bill you should talk to the council; as you may be entitled to a reduction in your bill, for example, through council tax benefit. The council may also be able to help you by rescheduling your payments. But do not ignore the bill completely; if you do not pay it and fail to agree in writing any other arrangement with the council, they will take recovery action which could increase considerably the amount you have to pay.

What if I don't pay?

If you miss a council tax instalment you will get a reminder notice giving you seven days to bring your council tax payments up to date. If you do not do so within the time, or if after a second reminder you fall behind with your payments again, you will have to pay the outstanding balance of your council tax bill (i.e. the full amount for the rest of the year). If the balance is not paid, the council will probably start recovery action.

What action can the local authority take?

The council can apply to the magistrates' court for a liability order. You will be sent a summons telling you when the court will consider the application and the amount the council is seeking to recover. This will be both the outstanding amount of council tax plus the cost to the council of making the application. You have the right to attend the court and offer evidence as to why the order should not be made.

Even if you decide not to attend court, you should speak to the council or, if you prefer, your local Citizens Advice Bureau. The council will try to come to a reasonable arrangement with you for payment but they cannot do that unless you contact them. If you make an arrangement and stick to it, you will avoid any further recovery costs.

What powers does a liability order give the council?

If a liability order is granted by the court, the council can demand certain information from you about your employment and earnings to help them decide how to recover the debt. You are legally required to give the council this information and it may help you pay the bill. The main options for recovery are as follows, click on each heading to read more.

The council can order your employer to recover the amount direct from your wages or salary and pay it straight to the council. The amount will be a set proportion of your pay after certain other deductions (such as income tax and national insurance) - your employer may also deduct a further £1 towards their costs in making each deduction and sending it to the council. The rate of the deduction is set by regulations.

If you are receiving income support, the council may be able to apply for deductions from that benefit. Deductions are made at the rate of 5% of the personal allowance for a single claimant aged not less than 25.

The council can employ enforcement agents (previously known as bailiffs) to recover the debt – during this process the agents will try to take control of goods, ultimately they can remove and sell them. The charges involved are set out in legislation - they can be quite considerable and you will be held liable for them. It is advisable to avoid matters reaching this stage if you can.

Stage Fee Percentage Fee
Compliance £75  
Enforcement £235 7.5% on excess of debts over £1,500
Sale £110 7.5% on excess of debts over £1,500


The compliance fee will be payable the moment  a liability order  is referred to an enforcement agent and the enforcement fee will be due on their first visit. If you are contacted by an enforcement agent we strongly encourage you to contact them immediately, arrange payment and keep costs to a minimum.

We strongly recommend you contact us before the account is passed to an enforcement agent and enter into a repayment plan with us to prevent future recovery action under the new regulations.

We will not be able to enter into a repayment plan after an account is passed to an enforcement agent.

Other options for enforcement action include bankruptcy proceedings, and, for a debt of £1000 or more, a charging order whereby the authority may apply to a county court for a charge on the debtor's property.

What if I am still unable to pay? 

The council may apply to the magistrates' court for a warrant committing you to prison. The council will only take this step when other efforts have failed and when enforcement agents have already unsuccessfully tried to recover the debt.

Before issuing a warrant of commitment the court must hold a means enquiry with you present. A warrant will only be issued if the court is satisfied that the failure to pay is the result of wilful refusal or culpable neglect. The maximum period of imprisonment is three months. The court may decide to fix a term of imprisonment and postpone the warrant on certain conditions, normally relating to payment of the debt over a period of time. The court also has the power to remit all or part of the debt where no warrant is issued or term of imprisonment fixed. The costs of committal proceedings are considerable and you will be held liable for them.

Remember - it is never too late! If you are having problems paying your council tax please contact the council's recovery office on 01773 841445.

Need further help or information?

Contact the team directly on 01773 841440 or email