Arrears and debt recovery
Your Council Tax bill tells you how much Council Tax you have to pay for the year and the dates you have to pay it.
If you’re on a low income or are entitled to a benefit paid by the Department for Work and Pensions or the Pension Service you may be entitled to Council Tax Support, or you may be able to get a Council Tax discount or exemption.
If you are having difficulty or think you may have difficulty paying your Council Tax, please contact us for advice as soon as possible.
If you haven’t spoken to us about a problem paying your bill, and you miss an instalment, we will ask you for payment. We do not know whether you have made a payment until it actually arrives on your account.
When you don’t pay an instalment of Council Tax by the date it is due, we will send you a reminder, asking for payment within seven days. If you still don’t pay, a summons will be issued, which will add costs to your account.
If you pay the amount you owe but you fall behind with your instalments again we will send a second reminder. This gives you seven days to bring your instalments up to date. If you still don’t pay, a summons will be issued, which will add costs to your account.
We can only send a maximum of two reminder notices in any one financial year, so if you pay late a third time you will be sent a final notice for the full amount of Council Tax due for the rest of the year, and you will lose your right to pay in instalments.
Text messaging service
We are now using text messages (SMS) to remind residents that their Council Tax is due.Permalink
The final notice gives you seven days to pay the full amount of Council Tax for the rest of the year. The final notice will tell you how much this will be.
If the Council Tax is not paid after the reminders or final notice have been sent, we will make a complaint to the magistrates court, and a summons will be issued, which will add costs to your account.
If you have difficulty paying your Council Tax at any time, please contact us straight away. We are here to help, but once a summons has been issued the options are limited, and payment arrangements will include costs.Permalink
Summons and liability order
If you don’t pay your Council Tax after you have been reminded by a reminder notice or final notice, we make a complaint to the magistrates court, and a summons is issued.
What you should do if you receive a summons
Please pay the amount of Council Tax that you owe in full, including costs as shown on the summons. If you do this your case will not be heard and the council will not apply for a liability order.
If you are unable to make payment in full and wish to make a special payment arrangement, please fill in the online special payment arrangement form. We will still apply for a liability order, but as long as you keep to the arrangement you have made, no further action will be taken.
What is a summons?
A summons is a court document telling you the date and time that the magistrates will consider whether they should issue a liability order against you, and where the hearing will take place.
It will also tell you the total amount of Council Tax that you owe, the period of time it refers to, and the costs you will have to pay.
What is a liability order?
A liability order is a demand for you to pay the full amount you owe, plus costs of £110.
It gives the council greater powers to collect the money you owe using a range of actions which include:
- asking your employer to take regular deductions from your salary
- taking money directly from your Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance
- asking Enforcement Agents to visit your home and either collect the amount you owe, or if this is not possible, remove items belonging to you and sell them
- putting a charging order on your property, which means we could force its sale to pay your Council Tax arrears, or the arrears will be paid out of the amount you get for any future sale
- applying to make you bankrupt
- applying to the magistrates court for your committal to prison.
The liability order allows us to do any of these, but only one at a time. We will ask you for information about your personal and financial situation before we consider these options.
Do I need to go to the court hearing?
You don’t need to go to the court hearing unless you have a legal defence against the issue of a liability order. The magistrates will hear the case whether you attend or not. We are able to deal with any other concerns or queries you may have with you directly. You don’t need to attend, however you may do so if you wish.
If you are thinking about going to court, please contact us first to see if we can help you.
The magistrates can only listen to a valid defence against the issue of a liability order. Some common defences are:
- the property is not entered in the appropriate valuation list
- the Council Tax has not been properly set
- the Council Tax has not been billed in accordance with the legislation
- the amount demanded has been paid in full (including summons costs)
- more than six years have passed since the balance became due
- bankruptcy proceedings have been started
- you are not the person who is liable to pay the Council Tax that you have been summonsed for
It is not a valid defence against the issue of a liability order and you should not attend court if:
- you can’t afford to pay the amount owed in full
- you would like time to pay or have difficulty paying
- you want to make a payment arrangement
- you have applied for Council Tax Support and have not heard anything
- your Council Tax Support is incorrect
- you are appealing against a decision for Council Tax Support entitlement
- you have appealed to the council or the Valuation Office Agency about the amount of your Council Tax or your property band.
Where and when are the hearings held?
All Council Tax liability order hearings are held at Canterbury Magistrates Court. Please see your summons for the date of the hearing.
Having difficulty paying your Council Tax?
If you are having difficulty paying your Council Tax at any time, please contact us for advice as soon as possible.
Contact us if you receive a summons, before the hearing date if you can. We can discuss the best way to collect what is owed, and try to set up a payment arrangement that is best for you.
If you don’t get in touch with us we will have to decide what to do without discussing with you. We would prefer to help you to pay in a way that suits both of us, and not have to make decisions without knowing your full and individual circumstances.Permalink
Attachment of earnings and benefits
Once a liability order has been issued by the magistrates, we have the authority to collect unpaid Council Tax by serving an order on your employer or the Department for Work and Pensions. This means that they have to send some of the money they usually pay you to the council.
Attachment of earnings
Your employer will take a percentage of your net earnings and send it to the council. The tables show these percentages, which are set by the government and are not negotiable.
If you are paid monthly:
|Net earnings||Deduction rate %|
|Over £300 but less than £550||3%|
|Over £550 but less than £740||5%|
|Over £740 but less than £900||7%|
|Over £900 but less than £1,420||12%|
|Over £1,420 but less than £2,020||17%|
|Over £2,020||17% of the first £2,020 and 50% of the remainder|
If you are paid weekly:
|Net earnings||Deduction rate %|
|Over £75 but less than £135||3%|
|Over £135 but less than £185||5%|
|Over £185 but less than £225||7%|
|Over £225 but less than £355||12%|
|Over £355 but under £505||17%|
|Over £505||17% of the first £505 and 50% of the remainder|
Your employer can also deduct an extra £1 each time towards the administrative costs of doing this.
The deductions continue until the amount on the liability order is paid.
If you change jobs, or stop working, you must tell the council within 14 days.
Attachment of benefits
We ask the Department for Work and Pensions to send part of your Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance directly to the council.
The amount deducted is £3.40 a week for Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance.
For Employment and Support Allowance the amount to be deducted will be:
- Contribution based Employment and Support Allowance (unless there would otherwise be an entitlement to income based Employment and Support Allowance) is one third of your Allowance.
- Income based Employment and Support Allowance is 5% of your allowance.
Deductions continue until the amount on the liability order is fully paid, or until your benefit stops for any reason.
It is not possible to make direct deductions from any other kind of benefit.Permalink
Will I go to prison if you can't collect the money owed in any other way?
If we have not been able to collect the money in any other way, the final option is to ask the magistrates court to issue a summons for you to attend a committal hearing. This means the council will ask the magistrates to consider sending you to prison for non payment of Council Tax.
At the hearing the magistrates will decide whether you have deliberately refused or neglected to pay or what other reasons there may have been for non-payment, and this will affect their decision.
The council representative will confirm to the court that a liability order has previously been granted for the sum in question, and that it has not been possible to collect the outstanding amount.
You will be asked why the money still has not been paid, and if you are going to offer any payments.
You will also be asked about your income and your outgoings. This is called a means enquiry. You will be expected to prepare this information in advance. A form will be sent to you to help you do this. It will help the court to decide whether you are able to pay, and if so, what you can afford.
The council’s representative and the magistrates may ask you some other questions, and you will have the chance to ask questions too.
The magistrates will then make their decision. They may leave the courtroom to do this. There are several decisions they can make:
If the magistrates consider that you have refused or neglected to pay they can:
- commit you to prison for a maximum of 90 days, or
- commit you to prison for a maximum of 90 days and suspend the sentence for you to pay an amount, set by the magistrates.
If the magistrates consider that you have not refused or neglected to pay, they can:
- dismiss the case, for you to make arrangements to pay, directly with the council (if an arrangement is made and then not kept to, committal proceedings can start again)
- in exceptional circumstances the magistrates may order that some or all of the arrears should not be paid. This is not a decision which is made very often but if this is decided the amount is written off.
If the magistrates need more information or evidence they may adjourn the case. The matter would then be postponed to another, future court date.
You must attend a committal hearing
If you do not attend we will ask the magistrates to issue a warrant for your arrest, normally with bail.
This means that a warrant officer will come and arrest you, but will bail you to attend court at a later date.
When you do appear, the process will be the same as explained above; however, you must expect to explain why you ignored the previous summons when you attend.
If you miss the hearing again we will ask the magistrates to remove the bail from the warrant and this means that you will be arrested and taken straight to court.
Any warrant issued will incur further costs.Permalink
Why are enforcement agents visiting my property?
If you haven’t been in touch by the time the magistrates issue a liability order, and an attachment of earnings or benefit is not possible, we will ask enforcement agents to collect the outstanding sum of money.
They will add the costs of doing this to the total they collect from you. The more action they have to take, the more the costs will be.
We will also instruct enforcement agents if other arrangements to collect the money fail, for example, you make an arrangement to pay but don’t keep to it.
Usually they will visit your home with a view to collecting cash or a cheque for the amount owed in the first instance. They may accept instalment payments, but don’t have to.
The alternative is that they remove items belonging to you and sell them at public auction to raise the money you owe both them and the council. This is known as taking control of goods and can be done:
- by any certificated Enforcement Agent (a person approved by the court)
- any day of the week between 6am and 9pm
- anywhere in England and Wales
An enforcement agent can’t force his or her way into a property unless they have previously been allowed access.
When enforcement agents are in a property they can take goods up to the resale value of the Council Tax owed.
They can only take goods belonging to the person named on the liability order, but it is up to that person to prove if any goods on the property don’t belong to them. This is not the enforcement agent’s responsibility.
Controlled goods agreement
After “taking control of goods” the enforcement agent will probably let them stay on the property, as long as you make a satisfactory payment arrangement and keep to it.
Removal of goods
The enforcement agent actually removes the goods from the property.
There are certain goods which they are not allowed to take. These include:
- fixtures and fittings
- tools, books, vehicles and other equipment that is necessary for your personal use in your work or business
- food, clothes, bedding, and any furniture or household equipment that is necessary to meet the basic needs of you and your family.
If enforcement agents can’t find enough goods to remove, or can’t gain access to a property they will tell the council. We then have no choice but to start committal action.
We only ask enforcement agents to act on our behalf if we have to. You may be able to prevent it happening. Contact us if you are summonsed. Ignoring a summons will make things more difficult later.
Once the enforcement agent has been instructed, you will have to deal with him or her direct. We will not be involved again unless the enforcement agents are unable to recover the whole debt, and then it is possible you will have to go back to court.
If you want to complain about the action taken by enforcement agents, please write directly to the enforcement agent company and they will investigate your complaint in accordance with their own complaints procedure. Please send a copy of your letter to us for monitoring purposes.
A leaflet detailing the Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies complaints procedure will be sent with their reply, and this will tell you what to do if you want your complaint reconsidered.Permalink