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 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.

If you have received a summons and want to talk to us about it, use this form to request a call back or email.

Council Tax and Business Rates - administration and collection

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

I am struggling to pay my Council Tax. What help is available?

If you are struggling to pay your Council Tax, for whatever reason, we have various payment options and support services that can help.

Help with payments - more information

What is the process involved in Council Tax liability orders at the Magistrates Court?

  • The Local Authority provides the court the information of who they want to bring before the court on a set date; usually in the form of a list, which is signed by the Justices’ Clerk and the summonses issued. The signature may be in electronic, stamped or in wet form dependent upon the court local practise

  • Summonses can be sent directly by the court or the local authority, again, depending on local practise. If the local council is to serve, the authorised list is used to send documents to individuals relating to the liability order made against them. Documents sent by the local council do not require a court seal or a court signatory

  • On the court date a representative from the local authority will confirm on oath certain requirements e.g. resolution of the council, the names and the amounts etc. The magistrates will ask questions of the representative

  • If any respondents in person attend court, the evidence will be heard and then if the respondent has anything to add then this is heard in court

  • Any non appearances notified to the court are addressed and dealt with as the court deems fit

  • Any non attendees who have not responded will have their case dealt with by the court in their absence

  • The local authority may ask for some cases to be withdrawn or adjourned, following which the court will deal with the remaining matters

  • Once granted, the local authority passes the liability orders to the court to be signed by the Justices' Clerk. This may be the actual liability orders themselves, or this may simply be a list of all names heard in court with the orders noted against them

  • Either way, this authorises the local authority to send notification to the defaulter. One copy will be kept by the court and one copy given to the local authority for service on the defaulter.

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

You do not need to go to court in order for the council to obtain a Liability Order. To stop the council applying for a Liability Order against you, you must pay the total amount shown on your summons plus the court costs of £77.50 before the date of the hearing.

You may decide to attend court 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. Please do this at least 7 days before the court hearing date.

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.

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.

If you want to change the payment plan that was set out on your summons, as you feel it may cause you financial problems, please email recovery@eastriding.gov.uk with a completed Council Tax arrangement options form which was sent with your summons.

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

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.

How to appeal a Council Tax bill - more information

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.

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

I've received an Attachment of Earnings Order 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.

Visit our Guide for employers page to find out everything you'll need to understand about Council Tax Attachment of Earnings Orders:

Attachment of Earnings Orders: Guide for employers

My employer has received an Attachment of Earnings Order for me. What does this mean?

Information for Council Tax debtors

If an Attachment of Earnings Order has being served on your employer to deduct outstanding council tax from your earnings in accordance with a Magistrates Court liability order. It will be because you have failed to make or maintain a suitable alternative payment arrangement for the balance for which the Liability Order was granted.

The Order will not be withdrawn unless payment of the full balance is made by other means and only once funds have been received and cleared. If you do not want deductions from your earnings to be made in future years, you should pay your instalments when they are due.

The wording of the Council Tax Attachment of Earnings Order (CTAEO) is prescribed by law to ensure consistency of presentation and it therefore appears quite formal. It is printed on the back of this letter and, as a legal document, places certain obligations on the employer and you (the debtor).

Under regulation 40 of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 (reproduced below) you are legally obliged to notify the council, within fourteen days, about any changes in your employment. If you do not, and it is subsequently discovered that there have been changes that you have not notified, you can be subject to a fine in addition to the costs you have already incurred.

Regulation 40 of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992

Attachment of earnings orders: duties of debtor

40 (1) While an attachment of earnings order is in force, the debtor in respect of whom the order has been made shall notify in writing the authority which made it of each occasion when he leaves an employment or becomes employed or re-employed, and (in a case where he becomes so employed or re-employed) shall include in the notification a statement of:

a. his earnings and (so far as he is able) expected earnings from the employment concerned, b. the deductions and (so far as he is able) expected deductions from such earnings:
(i) in respect of income tax;
(ii) in respect of primary Class 1 contributions under Part I of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992;
(iii) for the purposes of such a superannuation scheme as is mentioned in the definition of “net earnings” in regulation 32(1), c. the name and address of the employer, and d. his work or identity number in the employment (if any).

40 (2) A notification under paragraph (1) must be given within 14 days of the day on which the debtor leaves or commences (or recommences) the employment (as the case may be), or (if later) the day on which he is informed by the authority that the order has been made.

How much will be deducted?

Please see the Deduction tables on the Council Tax Attachment of Earnings Orders (CTAEO): Guidance for employers page.

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.

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.
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