Council Tax Debt Help & Advice


The vast majority of people in the UK will pay council tax, and have their money put towards local services like schools, parks, and libraries. While it’s a common debt, it’s still a debt, and failure to pay can lead to series consequences.

In this guide we’ll explore council tax in detail: what it is, who has to pay it, and where you can find debt advice if you’re having a hard time paying your council tax.



What is council tax?

Council tax debt is one of the most common types of debt in Scotland.

It is a charge that is levied on most residential properties which is paid to the local authority. The yearly charge is paid in monthly installments and is considered to be a priority bill as there can be serious consequences for falling behind on payments.

The council won’t hesitate to take action against those who don’t pay. Your local authority has the right to apply to collect unpaid council tax from your wages or salary and in some cases, you can be imprisoned for non-payment.

It can be one of the highest household monthly outgoings which is why it is important that it is factored into a budget each month.

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Do I have to pay council tax and what if I can’t afford to?

You’re usually required to pay council tax if you’re over 18 and own or rent a home in the UK, with only very few exceptions:

You’re under 18

Only adults pay are responsible for paying council tax in the UK, which in this case is defined as being over 18. You won’t be asked to make a council tax payment until your 18th birthday.

You’re a full-time student

In order to support people in full-time education, you won’t be expected to pay council tax if you’re in school, college, or university full-time and you’re 18 or 19. If you’re a full-time student who is over that age threshold, you will still receive council tax bills, but you can also apply for a council tax reduction.

How can I lower my council tax bill?

Challenge your council tax band

Council tax is charged based on the valuation, or ‘band’ of your house in 1991. Properties in bracket A are the cheapest with bracket H being the most expensive. If you believe your property is in the wrong band you could potentially reduce payments by asking your home to be reassessed.

However, this could also potentially run the risk of your property being deemed to be more valuable and result in being placed in a higher band, incurring higher costs. You should check how your property is values on the Valuation Office Agency website.

Find out if your property qualifies for a council tax exemption

As stated, some properties may me temporarily exempt from council tax. Reasons include: a property being empty due to ill health, all residents are full-time students, it’s owned by a charity, all residents are under the age of 18, all residents have severe mental impairments, the property is now empty as the occupier is being cared for elsewhere.

Can I get a council tax discount?

Some people may be entitled to council tax discounts which can reduce the cost each month. People able to make the most of this discount include those living alone or those who claim benefits or are on a low income.

Scots who live with someone who is exempt from council tax (for example students) can also make use of a discount as well as those living with severe financial hardship.

To find out more about council tax payment, and whether you qualify for a discount, you can visit the Government website here.

How are council tax payments taken?

Council tax payments are typically spread over a 10-month period, with Scots receiving an annual bill in March highlighting costs to be repaid for the year.

Your council tax bill will usually give you the details of what you owe and why, including:

  • How much your council tax debts for the year amount to
  • How the local authority has calculated that amount
  • The dates you have to settle your council tax arrears by

How much your council tax bill is depends on the area you live in, and your council tax band. You can come to a payment arrangement that allows you to pay by phone, bank transfer, cheque, or by setting up a Direct Debt or standing order.

What happens if I don’t pay my council tax?

If you are unable to pay your council tax bill, speak to your local authority. Explaining your circumstances and the reasons why you can’t pay may be difficult but will often lead to an arrangement with the council to spread the cost of what you owe over an extended period.

Liability Order

Should you fail to continue to make council tax repayments and find yourself living with council tax arrears you will likely be asked to pay the entire amount owed in one lump-sum.

If you fail to make this payment the council has the right to collect unpaid tax from your wages or benefits and could instruct Sheriff Officers to visit your home to recover what is owed. The council also has the right to call for court action in a bid to reclaim unpaid council tax debt, making it vital that you keep on top of payments.

How do I manage my council tax arrears?

Thousands of people across Scotland are living with council tax debt, each with their own reason for falling behind in payments. However, the most important thing is making sure you have a way to repay what you owe should you find yourself in this situation.

Set a budget

There’s no denying that council tax payments are one of the biggest household expenses you’ll be expected to pay. Understandably, covering large bills isn’t always easy – particularly for those on a low income or benefits – but regardless of your situation it’s vital that you make sure you budget for your council tax each month. Set aside your payment each month to make sure you don’t fall behind.

Set up a repayment plan with your local council

No one wants to admit they’re struggling with their finances but that is often the reason people find their debts spiraling out of control. That’s why it’s so important not to be afraid of speaking about your finances – especially if you could fall or have fallen behind on council tax payments.

You can request to repay what you can realistically afford and spread the cost over 12 months rather than the usual 10, or pay in either weekly or monthly payments.

Where can I get debt advice and more information on council tax debt?

With so many other expenses, it can be difficult to keep up to date with council tax, especially when you’re not always sure exactly what you’re paying for.

Council tax is an important debt, however, and non-payment could see you facing serious consequences, including debt collection procedures.

For help managing payments to your local authority, talk to Carrington Dean today. Our expert advisers can give you all the information you need on priority debts, and help you create an affordable payment plan. For free debt help and advice, the phone number is 0800 043 1320.