What happens if you fall behind with your payments
Contact us immediately if you have problems in making payment - call 01590 646111
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Missing a payment or paying late
If you miss a Council Tax instalment we send you a reminder notice giving seven days to bring your payments up to date. If you don't pay the amount shown on the reminder to bring your payments up to date by the date shown, you lose the right to pay by instalments and the WHOLE AMOUNT for the rest of the year becomes due. If you pay the amount on the reminder notice, but then later fall behind for a second time, we send you a second reminder (same conditions as for the first reminder). If you miss a payment for a THIRD time in the financial year, we send you Notice that the full amount outstanding for the rest of the year is immediately payable.
Summons to Magistrates' Court
If the whole amount has become due (as mentioned above) and you do not then pay it in full , we apply to the Magistrates' Court for a Liability Order. This process starts with you being summoned to appear in Court on a set date. As soon as the summons has been issued, you incur legal costs (currently £40). At the Court hearing, we ask the Magistrates to make the Liability Order and award further costs (currently £30, making a total of £70). You have the right to attend the court and offer evidence as to why the liability order should not be made. There are very few valid defences. For example, being unable to pay or disagreeing with your council tax band are NOT valid defences against a liability order being made. We must point out that if you have had a summons, then only payment in full of the amount shown on the summons (including the costs) will prevent us asking the Court to make the liability order. Making a part payment of the amount shown on the summons or making an arrangement for settlement with us will nor stop the application for a liability order once the summons has been issued.
If you want to attend the hearing, you need to fill in and return to us the form that accompanies the summons. This is so that we know you will be attending and what your reasons are. If you attend without returning the form to us, you may be delayed at the Court for a long time and may even have to come back again on another day.
When you receive the summons, if you decide not to attend the court and cannot pay the amount in full before the hearing date, you should call us on the number shown on the summons. We will do our best to help you with a reasonable payment arrangement, or to see if you may be eligible for a rebate on your bill if your income is low. But we cannot do that unless you contact us. If you prefer, speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Citizens' Advice website
After the Court Hearing
Once the Magistrates have made the Liability Order, this permits us to demand certain information from you about your employment and earnings to help decide how to recover the debt. You are legally required to give the information and it may help you pay the bill.
We also ask for details of your income and expenditure. By looking at these details we are often able to help you to arrange a mutually acceptable payment plan.
The income and expenditure form is available at Income and Expenditure Form. (Once the form is displayed, press print on your browser, then press the back button on your browser to return to this page).
After the Liability Order is made, we have the following options to enforce payment:-
Attachment of Earnings Order
If you or your partner are working, we can order your employer to recover the amount direct from your wages or salary and pay it straight to us. The amount will be a set proportion of your pay after certain other deductions (such as income tax and national insurance). With each deduction, the employer may also deduct a further £1 towards his costs.
Deductions from Income Support and certain other State benefits
If you are receiving income support or income based job seeker's allowance, the council may apply for a deduction from that benefit.
The council employ bailiffs to enforce payment of council tax. If we pass your case to our bailiffs, the fees involved can be considerable and you will be held liable for them.
If you are unable to pay the outstanding debt in full the bailiff has three options:
- he can make a walking possession agreement with you. Your goods will not be removed so long as you meet the payment arrangements agreed with the bailiff
- he can take close possession of your goods by staying on the premises until payment is made or the goods are removed for sale
- he can remove the goods to sell at auction.
If you own any land or property (including your home), we can apply to the Court for a charging order if you owe council tax of more than £1,000. The Order is registered with the Land Registry (like a mortgage) so that when the property is sold, we are paid the amount owing (plus interest) out of the proceeds of sale. We may also apply for an Order for Sale of the property, which would force a sale to take place.
If we have been unable to enforce payment by any other method, bankruptcy is another option available to us for a debt of at least £750. Fees and costs for bankruptcy action are very considerable and will far outweigh the amount of a council tax debt. We will only consider bankruptcy as an option where it is clear that the person has assets (usually the home) of sufficient value to clear the debt and the substantial legal costs involved.
Commitment to prison
We may apply to the Magistrates' court for a Warrant to commit a debtor to prison for up to three months, for failure to pay the council tax. We will only take this step when other efforts have failed or are not appropriate.
Before issuing a Warrant of commitment the Court must hold a 'means enquiry' with the debtor present. A warrant will be issued if the court is satisfied that the failure to pay is the result of wilful refusal or culpable neglect.
The court may decide to fix a term of imprisonment and postpone the Warrant on certain conditions, normally relating to the payment of the debt over a period of time. The court also has the power to cancel all or part of the debt where no Warrant is issued or term of imprisonment fixed.
HMCS (Her Majesty's Courts Service)
You may find the AE Handbook 2007 [2Mb] useful but please be warned that the guide is 123 pages and could take some time to download on a slow connection.