Dealing with Council Tax arrears

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

If you’ve missed a Council Tax payment, you’re in 'arrears' - this means you owe money to your council.

Don’t wait for them to contact you. You should contact your council straight away and tell them about your situation. Find your local council on  

Public water and sewerage charges are included on your Council Tax bill, so even if you don’t pay Council Tax you might still owe money to your council.

If you ignore Council Tax arrears, your council will:

  • issue a summary warrant

  • add a 10% charge on to your bill.

You’ll also have to pay sheriff officer fees as well as your debt. This can add several hundred pounds to your bill.

Arrears for Council Tax and public water and sewerage charges are a 'priority debt'. This means you need to pay them before other debts like an overdraft on a bank account.

If you can’t pay your Council Tax bill

Ask your council if they’ll let you pay the debt in smaller amounts.

You’ll probably be asked to commit to paying a regular amount each month. If you're not sure how much you can afford, you can use a budgeting tool or talk to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau.

When you miss a Council Tax payment

You’ll get a reminder from the council about 2 weeks after you miss a payment.

If you don’t pay Council Tax, check the letter to see what you’re being asked to pay. The council can issue a summary warrant for water and sewerage arrears in the same way as for Council Tax arrears.

If you pay within 7 days, you don’t need to do anything else. The debt will be clear and you’ll be able to continue paying your Council Tax bill in instalments.

If you don’t pay within 7 days of the reminder

Councils can send up to 2 reminders. If you don’t pay within 7 days of the final reminder, you’ll lose the right to pay your Council Tax bill in instalments. Your local council will send you a letter telling you to pay all your Council Tax, public water and sewerage charges for the year within 7 days.

If you don’t pay your Council Tax bill for the year

Your council will send you a demand for payment. This is called a 'summary warrant'.

The summary warrant will tell you how and when to pay. You'll also be charged a 10% administration fee on top of the arrears you owe.

If you can’t afford to pay your Council Tax bill all at once, contact the sheriff officers and ask if you can pay it in instalments. You’ll find their contact details on your copy of the summary warrant.

If you can’t agree a payment with the sheriff officers

The local council might try to take what you owe from your benefits - if you get any of the following:

  • Income Support

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance

  • Pension Credit

  • Employment and Support Allowance

  • Universal Credit

If deductions are not taken from your benefits, the sheriff officer will send you a 'charge for payment' letter. This asks you to pay the arrears within a particular time. The sheriff officer's fees will be added to what you owe.

If you can't pay straight away, you can ask your local sheriff court for more time to pay. If the sheriff agrees, they will give you a 'time to pay order'. It's a good idea to talk to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau about this.

If you don’t pay after a charge for payment letter

If you don’t pay by the date on your charge for payment letter, the local council will ask sheriff officers to take the money you owe:

  • from your earnings - they’ll contact your employer to do this

  • from your bank accounts - they can do this even if your money is in a joint account

  • by taking belongings from your home

You can read more information about what to do if sheriff officers are on your doorstep.

Check if you owe the Council Tax arrears

If you're not sure if you're responsible for the council tax arrears or you think the time limit has passed,  you can check if you have to pay the debt.