What to do if you are struggling to pay your council tax
According to the Consumer Credit Counselling Service there is a rise in the number of people getting into arrears with their Council Tax. In 2011 the number of people falling into arrears increased by 27% on the previous year despite Council Tax freezes countrywide. With the economic outlook worsening, 2012 could see these figures rise even further.
So, if you find yourself in arrears now, or worried about the future, what action can you take.
Contact the your council as soon as possible
If you fall behind with your Council Tax payments the first thing you should do is contact your council. Discuss with them your personal situation and if possible agree a revised payment plan. Councils require full payment of council tax by the end of the tax year but in extreme circumstances may agree repayment over a longer period. Remember if you are paying your council tax monthly then you will only make payments for 10 months, so use these two months (January & February) to help catch up any arrears.
When you negotiate a repayment plan make sure you only agree to repayments you can afford as defaulting on an arrangement may cause you major problems.
Make sure you are claiming all discounts and exemptions you are entitled to
Your Council Tax bill can be reduced in one or more of the following ways:
- the reduction for disabilities scheme - if your disability means you need more living space
- Council Tax Benefit - for people on low incomes
Reduction for disabilities scheme
Having a disability does not automatically entitle you to a reduction
The requirements for a reduction are the property must be the main residence of one disabled person. It must also have at least one of:
- an additional bathroom or kitchen required to meet the needs of the disabled person
- a room (other than a bathroom, kitchen or toilet) required to meet the needs of the disabled person, and used predominately by them
- extra space inside the property to allow for use of a wheelchair - wheelchairs for outside use only are excluded
The room or the wheelchair must be of major importance to the disabled persons well-being due to the extent of their disability. The disabled person can be an adult or child and does not have to be responsible for paying the Council Tax bill.
If your home is eligible, your bill will be reduced to that of a property in the next Council Tax band down. Even if your property is in Band A (lowest) you will still receive a reduction equivalent to reduction in Band B, C or D.
People who are severely mentally impaired
To be eligible for a reduction the person will need a doctor's certificate stating that they are severely mentally impaired and entitled to one of the following benefits:
- Disability Living Allowance care component at the middle or highest rate
- Attendance Allowance
- Constant Attendance Allowance
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- Employment and Support Allowance
- Incapacity Benefit
- Income Support including a disability premium (this includes anyone whose partner has a disability premium for them included in their income-based Jobseeker's Allowance)
- the disability element of Working Tax Credit
They may qualify for a Council Tax reduction if, both the following apply, the person:
- is over State Pension age
- would have been entitled to one of the above benefits if they were under State Pension age
People in a hospital or care homes
Council Tax is not payable on properties left unoccupied by people who have moved to receive personal care and it's now their main residence. For instance if they've moved to a hospital, care home or elsewhere.
Council Tax Benefit
You may get Council Tax Benefit if you pay Council Tax and your income and capital (savings and investments) are below a certain level. You may apply whether you rent or own your home, or live rent-free. You could qualify if you are out of work, or in work and earning a wage.
Second Adult Rebate
You may get Second Adult Rebate if the person you share your home with is:
- not your partner or civil partner
- aged 18 or over
- not paying you rent
- not paying Council Tax themselves
- on a low income
You may be able to get Second Adult Rebate even if you don't receive Council Tax Benefit. If you're either:
- not entitled to Council Tax Benefit
- only entitled to benefit which would cover 25 per cent or less of your Council Tax
A full Council Tax bill is based on at least two adults living in a home. Certain groups of people don't pay Council Tax. So, if you live with any of them, they won’t be counted as an adult for Council Tax purposes.
These people include:
- children under 18
- people on apprentice schemes
- 18 and 19-year-olds who are in full-time education
- full-time college and university students
- young people under 25 who receive funding from the Skills Funding Agency or Young People’s Learning Agency
- student nurses
- foreign language assistants registered with the British Council
- people who have a severe mental disability
- live-in carers who look after someone who isn't their partner, spouse or child (up to 18 years)
To find out if you should get a Council Tax discount, count the number of adults who live in your home as their main home. Don't count anyone who is in one of the above groups.
If you are left with no one who counts as an adult, your Council Tax bill will be halved.
If one adult lives in your home, your Council Tax bill will be reduced by 25 per cent.
For houses that contain full-time students only, the bill will be reduced by 100 per cent
Second home discount
You may pay less Council Tax if you own or rent a property that isn’t the home where you usually live.
Some councils give furnished second homes or holiday homes a discount of between 10 and 50 per cent.
Exemptions and second homes
There are limits on how long empty homes won't be charged Council Tax:
- unfurnished homes where no one lives are exempt for up to six months
- homes undergoing major repair work or structural changes (eg rebuilding walls and floors) are exempt for up to 12 months
- homes where the owner has died are exempt for up to six months after probate is granted (your legal right to sell the home)
After this time, the property may qualify for an empty homes discount.
Some homes are exempt for as long as they remain empty. They include homes:
- of someone in prison (except for not paying a fine or Council Tax)
- of someone who has moved into a care home or hospital
- that have been repossessed
- that cannot be lived in by law
- that are kept empty because they have been compulsory purchased and so will be demolished
What will happen if I fail to keep up a repayment plan?
If you fail to agree or fail to maintain a repayment agreement your council can apply to the Magistrates Court for a 'Liability Order' (a demand for you to pay the full amount you owe, plus costs). If you receive a Liability Order you should still contact your council to try and agree a repayment plan that you can adhere to.
What will happen if I ignore a Liability Order?
If the Magistrate Court makes a Liability Order against you then your council can take enforcement action against you to recover the debt using one of the following methods:
Deduction from wages
Your council can order your employer to deduct a regular amount from your wages toward your unpaid Council Tax. If this causes you financial hardship, you can ask your council if they're willing to accept smaller payments.
Deduction from benefits
Your council may be able to apply for deductions if you are receiving Jobseekers’ Allowance, Income Support or Pension Credit.
Your council can send bailiffs to your home to seize property to sell. The money raised goes towards paying your debt, plus costs. The billing authority must send a letter two weeks before the bailiff’s first visit stating how much money you owe under the Liability Order.
You can contact the Council and the bailiffs and offer to come to an agreement on payments. It’s important to do this straight away, because if the bailiffs make a visit their costs could be added to your bill.
If your council has tried using bailiffs but your Council Tax still isn’t paid in full, they may apply to the Magistate’s Court for a warrant committing you to prison. The council will only take this step when other efforts have failed.
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 postpone the period of imprisonment 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 can I get advice?
Advice can be obtained from the following:
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