The following advice is supplied at my request by ERYC. I fully support the advice.
Council tax might be seen as ‘just another household bill’ however, payment of it is a legal requirement just like road tax or a television licence and it can lead to serious problems if it isn’t paid on time.
Bills are sent out in March just before the start of each new council tax year in April. The law says the tax is either due to be paid in full on 1 April or by the payment of instalments, which are printed on the bottom of the bill.
There are usually 10 monthly instalments, however, householders can ask pay over 12 months or by fortnightly or weekly instalments if this fits better with the way they manage their household finances. This is not done automatically, but asking the council to change to a different payment plan only takes a few minutes and can be done using the ‘contact us’ link on the council’s website.
It is best to contact the council tax section straight away if making payments proves difficult at any time. The council will do their best to make a suitable alternative payment arrangement or could organise a visit from someone to give money and benefit advice but bear in mind payment can’t be postponed.
Should an instalment be missed for any reason, the council will send out a reminder notice giving 7 days to make the payment that’s not been received on time. If any further payment is missed, for a second time later in the year, a second reminder notice will be sent which again allows 7 days to bring payments up to date.
Council tax regulations do not allow councils to send any more than two reminder notices during each year so, if a third payment is missed, a ‘Final Notice’ is issued. Once a Final Notice has been issued, the right to pay by instalments is withdrawn and the full amount of whatever tax is left to pay for the year becomes due immediately.
If payments are not brought up to date after any of these notices have been issued then, after a further 7 days, the council may take legal action to recover whatever amount of tax is left to pay for the year. Extra costs are also added to the amount already outstanding and these costs cover the additional council expenditure caused by having to collect tax from householders who have not paid in the way they were required to do.
The council will ask the Magistrates courts for authority to take further action to collect what hasn’t been paid. The Magistrates will make a court order for the amount outstanding, known as a ‘liability order’, which then gives the council authority to make deductions from wages or certain types of state benefits. If there is no other way to recover the outstanding amount, the council can also pass the case over to an enforcement agent (formerly known as a bailiff) to collect it. The enforcement agent is allowed to add their own costs for carrying out this work. These costs are in addition to the council costs already added to what is owed, and can be significantly higher, and can total more than the amount that was originally outstanding.
If the amount due still isn’t paid and the enforcement agent can’t recover enough goods to cover the amount, the council can take the case back to court. In the continuing absence of any arrangement to pay, the courts can ultimately impose a prison sentence of up to three months.
The council will always do their best to help its residents, so it is always best to talk to them before the council tax they owe, and the additional costs that can be imposed, lead to extreme difficulties.
For further information please see ERYC Council Tax.