Council Tax – What and when you have to pay?

Council tax is taxation payable to your local authority which is based on the value of the property you live in and the geographical location of the property. The values of the property are banded into eight categories in England, A through to H, with band A being properties valued under £40,000, and band D apply to properties with a value over £320,000. 

Council Tax – What and when you have to pay?

The money raised is used for such services as refuse collection, schools, street lighting, the police force, fire services, etc., as an additional fund to those provided by the central government and that generated by business rates.

Council tax is an annual charge, that is paid either by the owner of a property or the principal leaseholder, a tenant in residence, a resident licensee, the owner of the property if it is vacant, and, surprisingly, a squatter. There are, however, several exceptions where the occupant(s) of a property does not have to pay any council tax, including:

  • If the property is occupied on a multiple-occupancy basis (HMO) whereby the owner/landlord will be responsible
  • You are an asylum seeker
  • You are occupying the property on a temporary ‘emergency’ basis, such as having urgent repairs done to a property you are renting, such as after a fire or flood
  • If the property is a refuge, care home or hospital.

Reductions in the rate of council tax you pay can and will be made based on whether you live there alone and are an adult (a 25% discount applies), or if you and all other occupants in the property are full-time students, in which case you will obtain a 50% reduction in the rate of council tax that has to be paid.

You will not be classed as an adult if you fall into any of the following categories:

  • You are under 18 years of age
  • You are on a recognised apprentice scheme
  • You are an 18 and 19-year-old in full-time education
  • You are a full-time college or university student
  • You are under 25 years of age and get funding from the Skills Funding Agency or Young People’s Learning Agency
  • You are a student nurse
  • You are a foreign language assistant registered with the British Council
  • You have a severe mental impairment
  • You are a live-in carer who look after someone who is not their partner, spouse, or child under 18
  • You are a political diplomat

Consequences of not paying council tax that is legally due

Paying council tax is not an option if you are legally obliged to do so. However, it is recognised that for many households, the sum due is substantial and would cause financial hardship if it was required to be paid in full at the beginning of each financial year. 

Consequently, you are allowed to pay your council tax in ten equal monthly instalments or, in cases of severe financial hardship, over twelve months of equal instalments.

If you fail to pay your council tax on time, you will be sent a reminder, and you will be given seven days in which to bring your payment schedule up to date. If you miss the seven-day deadline, you will automatically become responsible for paying the full outstanding amount for that financial year. So, if you fall in arrears after paying five of your ten monthly payments and fail to meet the payment deadline for your sixth payment, you will become liable for the immediate payment of the remaining five monthly instalments.

Council tax is seen as a ‘priority bill’, and failure to pay it will likely see you end up in court. Non-payment of a council tax debt will usually incur penalty payments, court order fees, and bailiffs’ charges. Failure to pay bailiffs will see goods to the value of the outstanding debt – which will now be appreciably more significant than the debts for unpaid council tax – removed from your property.

It has long been said that the ‘debtors’ prison’ no longer exists and that you cannot be jailed simply for owing money as it is not classed as a criminal offence. However, a “legal anomaly” was discovered within our laws enabling Magistrates to imprison someone who owes council, for a period of up to three months. Beyond this, and if you needed proof of people serving time for not paying their council tax, in the period 2016/2017, 99 out of a total 276 local councils invoked court action against 4,817 council tax debtors. Beyond that, the Bradford Metropolitan Council took 969 people to court for non-payment of council tax, 18 of whom were subsequently jailed.

Many people who have a court case looming over a council tax debt could have been avoided. What we have discovered to be the most common theme with such court cases is that these people have ignored all warnings and requests for payment, perhaps in the hope, they may, miraculously, disappear.

Concluding Actions

The easiest way to avoid any council tax debt going to court is to communicate with your local authority or, if you feel you do not have the confidence or communication skills needed, then contact one of our experienced tax solicitors. In many, many cases, the arrival of bailiffs can be avoided, and demands for full payment of any outstanding instalments can be renegotiated. Why? Because your local authority genuinely does not want to see you jailed and will use that as a last resort, generally because there has been no productive two-way communication.

If you are in debt to your local authority and are struggling, get in touch with a tax solicitor before it is too late. They have all the experience to help you come to an agreement with your local authority before it is too late.


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