What to do if you owe Council Tax

Faye

Financial Guidance

Around 80,000 UK households owe council tax, largely due to COVID-19. Debt repayments may have taken a break during lockdown, but what do you do when you have to start paying it back?

COVID-19 and debt

Being in debt isn’t always a problem. For example, getting a mortgage or a loan to finance a car is a part of life, and doesn’t cause any issues as long as you can pay it back. However, sometimes circumstances change, which means you can no longer pay back what you owe.

Despite the schemes and aid from the government, the coronavirus pandemic has caused financial difficulties in many families. This includes a reduced wage, redundancy, or loss of business, which affectively has created a lot of debt. Thankfully, banks announced that people struggling to pay back loans or mortgages throughout the pandemic could take payment holidays until they can continue with their repayments. This hopefully eased some of the strain, but what happens when this repayment break ends?

What’s changed?

In April, the government even banned bailiffs from knocking on your door to collect your debts or enforcing evictions. However, this ban will soon be lifted. From 23rd August, bailiffs are back in business. Although payment freezes will still be in place, and you currently still have up to the 31st October to apply, depending on your debt, it might be the right time to start thinking about your repayments.

Although the government has said it expects councils to be ‘sympathetic’, with £700 million being owed in council tax, some councils may be at risk of going bankrupt themselves. So, unfortunately, may be left with no choice but to request repayments.

What to do if the bailiffs come

If you’re struggling to pay your council tax, the most important thing to do is to not stay silent. Missed council tax payments can have big consequences. The council could take you to court or send bailiffs round, so ignoring the issue will only make your situation worse. Contacting the council or a debt advice service to let them know you’re struggling is the first step. They can help you organise a repayment plan that you can afford.

However, if you’re in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland (Scotland has Sheriff Officers instead of bailiffs, and they don’t have as many powers), and bailiffs do turn up at your home, what do you do? You should never have unexpected bailiffs arrive at your door. The council will have to apply for the power to send a bailiff through the court, and then send a notice of enforcement letter to give you at least seven working days notice. Therefore, you will be made aware of it to give you time to resolve the situation before they arrive.

When the bailiffs arrive, in most instances, you do not have to let them in. At this point, they are not legally allowed to use force to enter your home. So, if you’re not going to be in, make sure your doors and windows are locked. They will also have to provide proof of who they are and a warrant or a document called a ‘writ’ from a court.

If you let them in, and you can’t afford to pay what you owe straight away, they will make a controlled goods agreement by listing the things in your home that they could sell to pay off your debts and could ask you to sign the list. They will then leave to come back later, in which they are then legally allowed to use force to enter and take the items if you resist. This is why it is often better to try and organise repayments over the phone before letting them in.

If a bailiff has broken the rules then you can report them to your local council, or if you’re being physically threatened, call the police. Here are a few things they’re not allowed to do:

Try to enter your home before the 23rd August Visit between 9 pm and 6 am Force their way in on their first visit or use a locksmith to gain entry

What support is available?

When you find out that a bailiff is coming to your home, you can call Citizens Advice for guidance on what to do next.

If you’re struggling with managing your debt and it is having an effect on your mental health, many organisations can help and support you, including Step Change. For more information, take a look at our supporting our customers with debt page.

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