What happens if you do not pay your Council Tax

Find out information about why you may have received a reminder notice, summons or letter from an enforcement agency. 

How you can discuss your circumstances with us to help you get out of debt.

What does Council Tax pay for?

Council Tax pays for the services provided by the council in the East Riding. Without this funding we would not be able to provide essential services or help those in need. Your Council Tax bill includes elements we collect to fund the work of the police, fire and rescue services as well as your town or parish council and we collect this on their behalf.

The authority to charge Council Tax comes from the Local Government Finance Act 1992. This statute, created by a democratically elected Parliament of the United Kingdom has received the assent of the Crown and subsequent statutory regulations set out a local authority’s rights to demand Council Tax to fund services and who is liable to pay.

Why am I liable to pay?

You do not have the choice of whether you are liable for Council Tax, as liability is determined in accordance with the statutory law.

Your liability for Council Tax is not dependent on and does not require your consent or the existence of a contractual relationship with the council.

If you have any concerns over the charging of Council Tax, please seek proper legal advice from a solicitor or through an independent advice provider such as Citizens Advice, rather than relying on internet sources before withholding payment.

What is the legislation covering Council Tax?

The legislation covering Council Tax is freely available from the Government Legislation website, including:

How do I correctly challenge (appeal) my Council Tax bill?

If you feel you should not be liable for Council Tax, or if you think that your property should be exempt, the amount charged is incorrect, that any Council Tax support is calculated incorrectly, you have the right of appeal. That right and the process is set out in legislation.

Any appeal should initially be made to:

Email: council.tax@eastriding.gov.uk

You must explain what you are appealing against and give reasons why. We will consider your appeal and confirm our decision on your appeal. If you remain dissatisfied with our decision, you have a further right of appeal to an independent valuation tribunal within two months of being notified of our decision (or two months from your initial appeal, if no decision is made within that time).

Making an appeal does not allow you to withhold payment or part payment of Council Tax. If your appeal is successful any overpayment will be refunded.

You have the right to challenge your Council Tax banding directly to the Valuation Office Agency (an executive agency of Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs) and you can do this at:

GOV.UK - Challenge council tax band (external website)

Does there need to be a signed contract for you to charge Council Tax?

Council Tax liability is created by statute, and a contract is not required.

We sometimes receive correspondence from residents referring to the Companies Act, Contracts Act, Bill of Exchange Act or other acts stating that Council Tax is a contract and requires signatures, indicating an agreement between parties and this is incorrect and is not relevant. There does not need to be a contract or agreement to be in place because Council Tax liability does not arise from a contractual relationship or agreement between the parties. Council Tax is a tax in respect of dwellings.

I am a Freeman of the Land. Am I liable for Council Tax?

Yes. Claiming to be a Freeman of the Land does not make you exempt from paying Council Tax.

The council often receives letters and emails from members of the public who use Freeman of the Land and other similar type views to argue that citizens are only bound by statutes when they have consented to be bound by them. This is wrong. Contract law and alleged rights under common law are not the same as statute law relating to the administration and collection of Council Tax.

As a council tax payer you do not have a choice as to whether you are liable for Council Tax and calling yourself a ‘freeman’ or using freeman arguments will not exempt you from paying council tax.

Changing your name will also not affect your Council Tax liability. For example, John Smith changing his name to John of the family Smith (or some other similar name) would not affect John Smith’s historic Council Tax liability nor will it excuse John of the family Smith from any ongoing Council Tax liability. This is because John Smith and John of the family Smith are the same person.

Liability for Council Tax is determined by the Local Government Finance Act 1992 which received royal assent on 6 March 1992. The Act and the statutory regulations, which arise from that Act, set out a local authority’s right to demand Council Tax to fund services. The Act and regulations also set out who is liable to pay and how Council Tax can be collected.

Liability for Council Tax does not therefore depend on, nor does it require, your consent, or the existence of any contractual relationship between you and the council. Any such assertion to the contrary is wrong. There is no legal basis upon which to make that type of argument.

The council will commence recovery action if you withhold Council Tax. In extreme cases this could lead to a prison sentence or to the forced sale of your home.

If you have any concerns over the charging of Council Tax, please seek proper legal advice, rather than relying on internet sources or forum statements which may be incorrect or misleading.

What is the legislation covering Council Tax?

The legislation that covers Council Tax is freely available from the government website:

Legislation.gov.uk - The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 (external website)

and includes:

  • Local Government Finance Act 1992
  • Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 Council Tax (Demand Notices) (England) Regulations 2011.

Does an Act of Parliament exist and does it apply to me?

The council often gets asks by members of the public to prove that Acts of Parliament exist and that they apply to them. Acts of Parliaments are the law. The council does not have to prove an Act exists nor does it have to prove that the obligations in the Act apply to you. If you have questions regarding Acts of Parliament or how laws apply to you, these should be directed to a legal professional, and not to the council.

What about the Magna Carta?

Very occasionally the council is contacted by people who are convinced that they can use a piece of archaic law or an interpretation of an archaic law as a means to excuse them from paying Council Tax. There are many misleading articles and templates on the internet regarding the legality of Council Tax. Anyone drawing on these for advice should exercise caution and the council would always recommend that proper legal advice is sought before using them or relying on them as a defence against payment of Council Tax based on contract, consent or a view of the common law.

If the council doesn’t reply to my assertion the council is deemed to accept what I have said?

While we will always do our best to answer relevant enquiries about Council Tax, the council does not have to rebut your assertion. Just because the council may choose not to respond does not mean that it accepts what you say. The council always reserves the right to refuse to respond to any lengthy, spurious or incoherent enquiries that focus on hypothetical arguments which have no basis in law, and which use our resources at the expense of other taxpayers. Silence can never be interpreted as acceptance it simply means that the council has not responded.

I am struggling with debt and this is affecting my ability to pay my Council Tax, what help and support is available?

Please ensure you contact us and make us aware of your financial situation so we can put mechanisms in place and provide further help and support to ensure that your indebtedness can be managed and unnecessary recovery action doesn’t take place.

Your Money team

The Your Money team are able to help with debt advice and ensuring income maximisation You can email the team at yourmoney@eastriding.gov.uk to make an appointment. Find out further information about the Your Money team.

In cases where there is a large degree of indebtedness and/or multiple debts more than what is owed to the council, cases are referred to specialist debt advice providers. We hope the help of specialist debt advice leads to lasting and positive outcomes.


MoneyHelper provide free, impartial, and trusted money advice. They have created a simple, flexible 10-week plan to build your money confidence. MoneyHelper's Couch to Financial Fitness covers managing your budget, staying on top of bills and payments, how to cut your costs and building up savings. MoneyHelper joins up money and pensions guidance to make it quicker and easier to find the right help. MoneyHelper brings together the support and services of three government-backed financial guidance providers:

  • the Money Advice Service
  • the Pensions Advisory Service
  • Pension Wise.

There are further guides available to help with everyday money education.

MoneyHelper's Couch to Financial Fitness (external website)

You can self-refer to MoneyHelper’s Money Advisor Network. Their network allows you to access free, confidential and independent debt advice straight away. Find further information and a self-referral to the Money Advice Network (external website).

Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice provide comprehensive information on help with debt. They also have specialist debt advisors who can provide free, specialist debt advice. Find out more and their local contact information below:

Hull and East Riding Citizens Advice (external website)

Step Change

Step Change also provide free, expert debt advice which will be tailored to your situation. Find more information on their debt advice here:

Step Change - Debt advice (external website)

I'm having difficulties making payments, who can help me?

There are a number of things we can do to support you with your Council Tax bill. Please contact our helpful team, so that we can understand your circumstance and see how we can help you make your payments manageable. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the date you pay to tie in with when you get paid.

Email us on recovery@eastriding.gov.uk

Change your payments

If you cannot afford to pay your Council Tax bill monthly, you could pay weekly, every two weeks or spread your monthly payments over the full year.

Email us on recovery@eastriding.gov.uk

Check if you can receive a reduction

If you are on a low income you may be able to claim a Council Tax reduction. This is a means-tested reduction on your Council Tax bill. How much support you will receive will depend on your income and circumstances. Working-age residents can receive a maximum of 75 per cent support towards their Council Tax bill, pension age residents can receive a maximum of 100 per cent support towards their Council Tax bill. Alternatively, you may make an application for a discretionary discount to reduce your Council Tax. As there are no set conditions for awarding this reduction, we will individually consider any applications.

For more information, please see our Council Tax discretionary reduction policy:

Council Tax discretionary reduction policy (pdf 619kb)

Make an appointment to talk to us

If you are struggling with your finances, you can make a telephone appointment with the Your Money team. They may be able to help you create a more suitable payment plan for your Council Tax and make sure you are claiming the benefits you are entitled to.

Email yourmoney@eastriding.gov.uk to make an appointment.

Free impartial debt advice

There are also a number of independent organisations who can provide useful advice and information for people who are experiencing financial problems.

Take a look at organisations that can offer financial and debt advice

What happens if I don't pay my Council Tax bill?

Council Tax is due on 1 of April each year, but payments are spread over the year to make it easier to pay. When you receive your bill it will tell you the date you are due to pay whether weekly, fortnightly or monthly.

This is the legal process we follow if you don't pay your Council Tax, including reminders and court proceedings.


If you are behind with your Council Tax payments we will post a reminder to you. If you arrange to pay the outstanding amount and keep up-to-date with your payments, we won’t take any further action. If you ignore the reminder, we will apply to court for a summons.

Please get in touch with us if you are having difficulty paying.

Court Summons

If you receive a court summons, this means that we have applied to the magistrates’ court for the legal power to take further action against you to recover unpaid Council Tax. At the hearing we will ask the court to grant us a Liability order. This will allow us to recover your Council Tax debt in a variety of ways.

What we can do after a court hearing

If you don’t pay in full, a Liability order gives us the power to:

  • request information from you about your finances
  • directly deduct money from your wages or benefits
  • use enforcement agents to collect the debt
  • apply to make you bankrupt
  • place a charging order on your property so that when the property is sold you will have to pay that debt off first before any of the proceeds are given to you
  • ask the court to send you to prison.

Liability order issued

Once a liability order has been issued, there are various options we can use to recover money that is owed.

Attachment of earnings and attachment of benefits orders

An “attachment” means that an order will be sent to your employer or to the Department for Work and Pensions to have money taken directly from your pay or benefits. We will not cancel these attachments once they are set up unless you can prove they are causing you severe financial difficulties.

If you are experiencing severe financial difficulties, you complete a form to confirm your income and outgoings. You must include: bank statements, bills and mortgage statements if you have a mortgage.

You need to demonstrate that after you have paid your essential bills, the attachment(s) will mean that you do not have enough money left to live on. If we agree that the attachment(s) would cause you to have severe financial difficulties, then we will make alternative arrangements.

Enforcement agents

We can send enforcement agents (formerly known as bailiffs) to your home to seize property to raise money towards paying your council tax debt and our recovery costs. We will only use them if you ignore all our attempts to contact you and there is no other way of collecting the money that is owed. At least 14 days before we send your council tax debt to an enforcement agency, we will send you a letter asking you to contact us or pay the bill in full.

Once your case is sent to the enforcement agents you will have to pay an initial fee of £75 per liability order. A further charge of at least £235 will be charged to you if the agent has to visit.

Fees charged by the enforcement agents are set by the government and are not negotiable.

Stage Charge
Enforcement agent is instructed by us to collect the money you owe. This is charged prior to any visit by the enforcement agent.
Debt remains unpaid and enforcement agent visits you.
This charge covers all visits that are made to you. It is not made each time an enforcement agent visits.
£235, plus 7.5% of any outstanding debts more than £1,500
Enforcement agent needs to sell your goods to recover debt. £110, plus 7.5% of any outstanding debts more than £1,500

In most cases we will not become involved in payment negotiations and you must contact the enforcement agents directly. At this stage, you have no right to insist on a payment arrangement but an enforcement agency may agree to one in exceptional circumstances.

The agents we employ hold a court certificate and are trained to behave in a professional manner. They must always carry their identity card when working.

Charging orders

If you owe at least £1,000 for council tax and own your own home, we can ask the court for a charging order. Having a charging order on your property means that when it is sold you will need to pay your council tax debt and any legal costs before any of the proceeds from the sale are given to you.


If you owe council tax of £5,000 or more, we may decide to take bankruptcy action against you. If we do, we will write to you first with details of your debt and explain how bankruptcy will affect you.

The consequences of bankruptcy can be severe. The Insolvency Service has information and advice about being made bankrupt.

Committal to prison

We can apply to the court for you to appear before them if enforcement agents have not been able to collect your council tax debt and we have tried all other suitable actions to obtain payment. The court will ask you to explain why you should not be sent to prison for not paying your council tax.

Council tax bill recovery flowchart

Why have I got a reminder when I have a Direct Debit to pay?

If your Direct Debit is collected after the date your payment is due, this is known as a late payment and we will send you a reminder. To avoid this happening again, you can either change the date of your Direct Debit or the date of your payments.

Change my payment date

I made a payment, why have I got a reminder?

If you made a payment after the date your payment is due, this is known as a late payment and we will send you a reminder. To avoid this happening again, you can either change the date of your payment or the date of your payments.

Change my payment date

Can I request a hold on recovery action and additional fees?

Read about the new, statutory scheme called ‘Breathing Space’ which is designed to provide people with debt problems the right to legal protection from creditors for a limited period of time.

Do I have to attend the hearing at the Magistrates' court?

If you want to discuss an arrangement to pay the Council Tax you owe, you do not need to go to court.

You can contact us on (01482) 393939 or visit one of our customer service centres.

The magistrates cannot make a payment arrangement with you but we will you can speak to us before the telephone hearing to discuss a payment arrangement. It is recommended that you make every effort to contact us before attending court as it can be very busy at the court on the hearing date.

You may decide to attend court, which is currently a telephone hearing if you have a ‘valid defence’ to stop us applying for a liability order. The two main defences to do this are if:

  • we have not followed the procedures set down in law when trying to collect your Council Tax
  • you have paid all of the overdue Council Tax within the time limit given on the last reminder or final notice sent to you.

If you think that you have one of these defences, please telephone us urgently on (01482) 393939 or email recovery@eastriding.gov.uk so that we can look into it for you.

We may tell you that you do not need to attend the telephone court hearing. You can speak to the court about these valid defences or you can get a solicitor to speak for you. You will need to provide evidence to back up what you say. The court cannot take into account any other reasons why you have not paid, even if you have been unable to pay. They cannot change the law and they must apply it as it stands.

I've received an attachment of earnings for an employee, what does this mean?

An attachment of earnings order means you must deduct a set percentage from your employee’s wage to pay for their Council Tax. You can also deduct an extra £1 for each deduction to cover your admin costs.

The amount you must deduct is determined by percentages set by the government. This is detailed on the table enclosed with the order.

You should only apply two orders per employee at any one time. If you receive a third order, please contact us.

A second order does not replace the first order. You must make deductions for both orders at the same time until they are paid. Deduct the appropriate percentage for the earliest order first, then deduct the appropriate percentage for the second order, depending on how much wage is left after the first deduction.

Payments must be sent to us, using the address provided in the order, within 19 days of the end of the month when the employee was paid. It is a criminal offence not to do this and you can be fined up to £1,000.

If the employee named on the order does not work for you, or has left your employment, you must tell us within 14 days.

Please telephone us on (01482) 393939 if you have any queries or email recovery@eastriding.gov.uk.

I've received a form asking for my financial information, what do I need to do?

If you receive a financial information form from us, make sure you fill it in fully, including your work details, and send it back to us within 14 days. If you do not return it, only complete some of the details, or give false information, you can be fined up to £1,000 and get a criminal record.

If you need more time to gather all the information to fill it in, contact us as soon as possible to let us know by emailing recovery@eastriding.gov.uk.

If you do not return the form, we can use bailiffs to collect your debts or send you a summons for not returning the form. You would have to pay the enforcement agent fees or run the risk of getting a criminal record.

Can you take deductions from my benefits?

If you have unpaid Council Tax and a liability order has been issued by the Magistrates' court, we can ask the Department for Work and Pensions to send part of your Universal Credit, Jobseekers' Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credits directly to us.

The amount deducted can range from £15.00 and £29.40 per four week period or up to £29.70. Deductions are determined based on the type of benefit being claimed.

These deductions continue until the Council Tax you owe is paid in full, or until you stop receiving benefits. If you stop receiving benefits and the debt is still unpaid, you need to contact us to make an arrangement to pay straight away by or email to recovery@eastriding.gov.uk.

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