Council Tax Enforcement - Questions and Answers
What happens if I don't pay or can't pay my Council Tax?
If you are experiencing financial difficulties and cannot afford to pay your Council Tax, you should contact the Enforcement Section immediately.
If you do not contact us, and do not make payment, action will be taken to recover any money outstanding. This will involve the issue of a Magistrates' Court summons, and could result in enforcement agent (formerly known as bailiff) action, insolvency or even committal to prison.
Procedure up to 5 April 2014
The Council may decide to send a bailiff to your home if you owe Council Tax.
Charges will be added to the debt owed every time the bailiff calls at your property. This can result in your debt increasing to substantially more than what was originally owed.
On the first visit the bailiff may either:
List and seize possession of your goods, or
Obtain walking possession agreement allowing possession to take place at some later date, or
Agree a payment arrangement which would clear the outstanding debt within a reasonable time.
Once a case has been passed to the bailiff you must make full payment of the debt including bailiff costs, or make a suitable payment arrangement with the bailiff, and provide details of your income and outgoings if asked to do so, otherwise your goods may be removed. If you make the payments as agreed, you will not have to pay any more charges than those initially incurred.
If you are out when the bailiffs call, they will leave details for you to contact them. Additional costs will be incurred for these visits. You should contact the bailiff immediately, otherwise more fees will be added to the amount you already owe.
Walking possession is an agreement that you must sign. This will then allow you to keep the goods the bailiff has listed on the Walking Possession Agreement providing you keep to the agreed payment arrangement.
If you fail to keep to the arrangement the bailiff will call again to take possession of (remove) the goods listed on the agreement. On this occasion the bailiff has the right to force entry to the property and charge further costs.
The bailiff may accept payment in full from you or make a payment arrangement to clear the balance outstanding within a specific time.
If the bailiff calls and you are not at home, he will leave a contact letter and charge you for the visit. You should either pay your bill in full, or contact the Enforcement Section, who will rearrange a further visit. You will also be able to discuss a payment arrangement with the Enforcement Section.
If the bailiff has put his name and telephone number on the letter, you should contact him direct.
Each time a bailiff makes a visit costs will be added to your account.
What goods can the bailiff remove?
By law the bailiff may not remove:
Any tools, books, vehicles, and other items of equipment you need for your work or business;
Any clothing, bedding, furniture, household equipment and food you need for your basic domestic needs or those of your family, but the bailiff may take anything else you own.
If you are renting something or buying it on hire purchase you should provide proof to the bailiff and he will not list the items.
The bailiff should only list enough items that, when sold at auction, cover the amount of the debt and charges. However, your belongings will not be worth as much as when you first bought them, which means the bailiff may take more than you would expect.
Procedure from 6 April 2014
From 6 April 2014 the law changes and Enforcement Agents (formerly bailiffs) are more accountable. The legislation that introduces these changes has also set the fees that Enforcement Agents must charge.
From 6 April 2014 the council can instruct an Enforcement Agent to collect outstanding Council Tax debt from you if a liability order has been issued in your name.
We will do this if you have not made, or not maintained an agreed repayment plan, or if you have not completed and returned the personal information form sent to you.
The Enforcement Agent will contact you to arrange payment in full or by instalments. You must answer his letters, e mails or calls and arrange payment.
If your debt is passed to an Enforcement Agent you will incur a fixed Compliance Fee of £75 for each liability order outstanding and they will issue an Enforcement Notice to you.
Any payments or offers of repayment should then be made to the Enforcement Agent and not the Council.
If you do not arrange to pay the Enforcement Agent, or arrange to make payment and then do not pay as agreed, they will visit you. If they visit there is a fixed Enforcement Fee of £235 plus 7.5% of any balance owed over £1500.00.
The Enforcement Agent will normally ask you for payment in full. However if you are unable to do this they may make a repayment arrangement with you.
Controlled Goods Agreement
The Enforcement Agent may enter into a Controlled Goods Agreement where the agent makes a list of your possessions that is equal in value to your debt. If your possessions are subject to a Controlled Goods Agreement, you cannot dispose of or sell them without the Enforcement Agents permission.
If you do not sign the Controlled Goods Agreement the Enforcement Agent can take your goods whilst they are at the property.
Sale and Removal of Goods
If you do not pay as agreed and you have signed a Controlled Goods Agreement, the Enforcement Agent may enter your property, by force if necessary, to take the goods listed. If goods have to be removed and sold there are additional costs of £110 plus 7.5% of any balance due above £1500.00
. There may also be extra costs to pay for locksmiths, auctioneers fees etc relating to the sale of the goods. If the Enforcement Agent believes that there are insufficient goods to clear the debt, we will then consider other recovery options such as bankruptcy, a charging order against your property, or applying for your committal to prison.
I have received a bankruptcy demand.
If you owe debts amounting to over £750 to the Council and have failed to agree a payment plan we may start proceedings to make you bankrupt, or in the case of a Company, to force compulsory liquidation.
First we will send a statutory demand. If you do not pay in full within 21 days of the date of the demand the Council will present a petition for bankruptcy/liquidation in the County Court.
The Official Receiver is appointed to administer the insolvency, investigate financial affairs, freeze bank accounts and oversee the sale of assets. If you are a sole trader this could include the sale of your home and any other property you own & your business will cease to trade. As an undischarged bankrupt you will not be allowed to be a Director of a Limited Company.
The costs involved with this action are significant. You will no longer have control over your assets, you may be subject to a number of restrictions and the bankruptcy will stay on your credit file for at least 6 years, making it very difficult to obtain credit in the future.
Any documents you receive should not be ignored, as it will lead to a bankruptcy/liquidation petition and considerable costs. Your assets are at immediate risk if this happens.
To avoid bankruptcy you should contact the Enforcement Section.
Comprehensive advice of all matters of bankruptcy and liquidation can be obtained direct from the Insolvency Service, from the link to their website below
If the Council Tax that you owe is subject to a Liability Order and amounts to over £1,000 then the Council may apply to the County Court for a Charging Order to be placed on any land or property that you own.
Additional costs will be incurred should the Council apply for a Charging Order. The sums that you owe will also be subject to ongoing interest and later deducted from the proceeds of any future sale/re-mortgage and passed to the Council to discharge your debts.
Once a Charging Order is applied the Council may also take proceedings in the Courts to force the sale of the land/property.
If you have been sent notice of the Council's application for a Charging Order you should pay the total sum due immediately, or contact the Enforcement Section.
Committal to Prison.
We will try to recover the outstanding debt by any of the means available to us but if we do not do so, we may decide to summons you to the Magistrates Court for a second time. This time we will ask the Magistrates to commit you to prison for non-payment.
Magistrates will conduct an enquiry into your means at the time the debt became due. You will be required to tell the Court of your income and how that income was spent. If the Courts find you guilty of wilful refusal to pay or culpable neglect then they may commit you to prison for up to 90 days.
If you do not appear at the Magistrates Court for this hearing we will obtain a warrant for your arrest which will incur substantial costs.
Warrant of Arrest.
If you have previously been summonsed to Court to answer the Council's application for your committal to prison for non-payment and you fail to attend, the Magistrates may issue a Warrant for your arrest.
An authorised officer will be instructed to execute this Warrant of Arrest and will bail you to attend Court on a given date.
If you fail to attend the hearing in accordance with your notice of bail then a further Warrant may be issued. This Warrant will not have bail conditions attached and if arrested you will be taken to Court cells where you will be detained until the Court can hear your case.
If Warrants are issued you will incur additional costs, and if you fail to attend a hearing following bail then you may also be fined by the Court.
How you can help.
You can help by paying your Council Tax account when it is due. If you are unable to pay due to your current circumstances you should contact the Enforcement Section.
In the interests of confidentiality and data protection you should quote your Council Tax account number.
Other useful websites
Welfare Rights Services (www.welfarerights.net)
Citizens Advice Bureau (www.citizensadvice.org.uk)