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Dealing with Council Tax arrears

This advice applies to Scotland

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.

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 are likely to take you to court quickly to get all the money at once. You’ll have to pay court costs and possibly sheriff fees as well as your debt. This can add hundreds of 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 our budgeting tool or talk to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice.

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 take you to court for water and sewerage arrears in the same way they can take you to court 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

If you don’t pay within 7 days of the 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 usually ask the sheriff court to send you a demand for payment. This is called a ‘summary warrant’.

You’ll get a copy of the summary warrant telling you how and when to pay. The court will add 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 authority 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 you don’t get benefits, the court will send you a ‘charge for payment’ letter. This asks you to pay the arrears within a particular time. The court will add the sheriff officer’s fees to what you owe.

If you still need more time to pay, ask the court for a ‘time to pay order’. It’s a good idea to talk to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice 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 authority 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.

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