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Durham County Council

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What happens if you don't pay your council tax?


Council tax is used to pay for essential services across the county so we take prompt action to recover unpaid taxes.

If you're having problems paying instalments on time, speak to us as soon as you can. You may qualify for financial hardship relief or our Council Tax Reduction Scheme.

What action we take if you don't pay

Initial action

Reminder/Final notice

A reminder notice can be issued at any time after a payment becomes due. A maximum of two reminders will be issued in a financial year. If you fall into arrears a third time, you'll lose your right to pay by instalments and the full amount for the period will become due.

NEW: If your payment is late, and we have your mobile telephone number, we will now send you a text seven days before a paper reminder is issued asking you to pay all the outstanding payments up to that date.

Legal Proceedings

If you don't pay the outstanding amount, or make satisfactory arrangements with us to pay, we will apply to the Magistrates' Court to issue a Liability Order. This is a demand issued against you for the full amount of council tax you owe plus any costs incurred in the process.

If you receive a Liability Order, please don't ignore it. If you don't pay the council tax you owe we may then take further action.

Further action

We will decide the most appropriate next step to take to recover the money you owe.

Enforcement Agents (Bailiffs)

We may instruct Enforcement Agents to recover the money you owe. This will incur additional costs payable by you depending upon the amount owed and the action taken. If the Enforcement Agent cannot agree a repayment plan with you, they have the power to take control of your possessions and sell them at auction. 

Deductions from your earnings or benefits

We can ask your employer to take money from your salary and pay it directly to us. This is a legal order and your employer must comply or they can be prosecuted. The amount taken will depend on how much you earn. Your employer will continue to take payments until you have paid the full amount owed.

If you receive certain benefits, we can ask the Department of Work and Pensions take money from these and pay us directly.

Charging order

If a Liability Order has been granted against you we may apply to the County Court for a Charging Order. This is made against the property you own where you are liable for council tax. You will be invited to a hearing along with all concerned parties where you could contest the application being made final.

If applied, a Charging Order is registered against the title of the property concerned and effectively 'mortgages' the property with the debt. Various charges apply in making applications for orders and these along with interest charges over time also form part of the order.

Bankruptcy

If you owe more than £5,000 in council tax and a Liability Orders have been granted against you, we can start bankruptcy proceedings against you. You will be sent a statutory demand to pay the full amount within 21 days. If you do not pay, a bankruptcy petition will be submitted to the court. If granted, this means:

  • your home could be sold to pay your debts
  • your bank accounts may be frozen
  • the official receiver will investigate your affairs
  • your ability to get credit will be severely affected
  • if you are declared bankrupt, the official receiver may take control of your spending for a considerable period of time

Prison

If you do not pay the Enforcement Agent we may apply to the Magistrates' Court for a committal hearing which is the first step to you possibly going to prison for up to 90 days. If you receive a committal summons you should contact us and seek legal advice. If you pay the full amount you do not need to go to court. If you do not pay the full amount you must attend on the day of your summons. If you do not, the court may issue a warrant for your arrest.