Council tax court action in England and Wales
If your local authority starts court action, you’ll get a summons in the post. This will give you a date and time for a court hearing. An extra charge will be added to your bill at this point.
- If you get a letter about council tax court action, call us for advice
- At the hearing, a magistrate will issue a liability order
What is a liability order?
This order gives the local authority permission to take further action to collect the unpaid council tax. You can attend the hearing and tell the magistrate if a mistake has been made, or if your council tax has been paid in full before the hearing date. You should keep in touch with the local authority before the hearing and ask them to agree to you paying the arrears in instalments.
Once a liability order has been issued, your local authority has several options to collect the unpaid council tax.
The most common ways to collect unpaid council tax are by:
- Using bailiffs or 'enforcement agents'
- Taking payments straight from your wages using an attachment of earnings. This will be a fixed percentage of your take-home pay
- Taking payments from your benefits. A maximum of £3.70 a week can be taken from income support, income based jobseekers allowance, income related employment and support allowance or pension credit. A maximum of 5% of your standard allowance can be deducted from universal credit
They also have the following options, but these are rare and are only used as a last resort if there are no other ways to collect the debt:
- Securing the debt to your home using a charging order if you owe more than £1,000
- Make you bankrupt if you owe more than £5,000 in England and Wales or if you owe them more than £750 in Northern Ireland
- Send you to prison for up to three months (only if you live in England). This is extremely rare, and only used where someone deliberately refuses to pay their council tax. The local authority can’t send you to prison if any of the other methods above can be used instead
Read our guides to court action in England and Wales
Council tax court action in Scotland
If your local authority starts court action, they’ll apply to the sheriff court for a summary warrant, which is part of the diligence process. A fee of 10% of the outstanding council tax will also be added to your bill.
If you get a letter about council tax court action, call us for advice straight away.
You’ll then be sent a charge for payment letter asking you to pay the amount due within 14 days.
The charge for payment comes with a form you can fill in to ask for a time to pay order. You must complete this form straight away and send it the sheriff’s office with an offer of payment. It’s important your offer of payment is realistic, so call us or complete our online debt advice tool to work out how much you can afford.
If the local authority accepts your offer of payment, no more action will be taken, if you make the payments you’ve agreed to.
If you don’t apply for a time to pay order, or if you don’t make the payments you’ve agreed, your local authority has several options to collect the unpaid council tax.
The most common ways are:
- Take payments straight from your wages using an earnings arrestment
- Take money straight from your bank account using a bank arrestment
They also have the following options, but these are only used as a last resort if there are no other ways to collect the arrears:
- Sheriff officers can take goods from outside or inside your home
- They could make you bankrupt, through sequestration or MAP bankruptcy, if you meet the criteria
Read our guides to court action in Scotland
Can I complain if I think my council tax bill is wrong?
If you have any problems with council tax, contact your local authority first. You can make a complaint if you think you've been treated unfairly or your bill is wrong.
You must give your local authority 12 weeks to reply to your complaint. If you're not happy with their reply, you can contact one of the following independent organisations.
They can give you more help and investigate your complaint.