Council tax arrears on the rise: Tell us your story

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This week we launched our latest report on Council tax debt (PDF), which shows a worrying rising trend in the number of people getting in touch with us because they’re in Council tax arrears.

Back in 2010, 13,353 people who contacted us were in arrears to their council; by 2014 this number had risen to 63,016 – a staggering 372% increase.

The consequences of falling into Council tax arrears can be serious. Although councils can’t add charges and interest to Council tax arrears, they have a lot of power to make people pay.

What we found out

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We’ve found councils will often take aggressive action to recover Council tax debts, and not just as a last resort. 62% of people we spoke to had been threatened with court action, while 51% had been threatened with bailiffs (or sheriffs as they’re known in Scotland). Unbelievably, only 13% were encouraged to get debt advice.

The impact this has on individuals and families is immense, adding to stress and anxiety, negatively impacting on health, and putting strain on family life. With people facing charges of £310 for a bailiff/sheriff issuing a letter and visiting their property, what started off as relatively small debts can soon spiral out of control.

That’s why we’re saying enough is enough.

We want action

We believe this is not an effective way to recover debt and the government needs to take action.

  • Councils should have to show evidence that they tried to put an affordable payment plan in place
  • The government should ensure consistent incentives and messages to councils to reinforce the importance of affordable payment solutions
  • There should be new individual protection against councils enforcing unaffordable debts for people who have sought help

Your experience

The statistics from our report paint a picture of what’s happening across the UK, but we’d like to hear your experiences. Have you ever fallen into arrears with Council tax? Did your council offer to put in place an affordable payment plan or suggest you get debt advice? Were you threatened with court action? Did it impact on your family life, work or health? Let us know in the comments.

All figures based on a survey of 1,087 StepChange Debt Charity clients (February 2015)

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  • Ricky

    I fell into arrears with my council tax when I was struggling with debt around six years ago. The council passed the debt onto a collection agent, and I must say that the bailiff that came to my house was one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met! He recommended I get help from a debt advice charity, and persuaded the council to give me some time to get things sorted. I’m sure the council could have given me more time to pay, but I wasn’t opening my post anyway, so in hindsight I think it was a good job they passed my debt to the bailiffs, as that was the kick up the backside I needed to get my debts sorted out.

  • I fell in to huge arrears with my CT and the letters that my local council sent me made me lose sleep! This all happened Feb 2015 and due to the financial year ending in April I had to pay the total remaining within two months – impossible!! They sent me a court summons straight away (I didn’t have to go to court). I had to fill out an income and expenditures form which didn’t include all our actually debts- only what they deemed as ‘priority debts’. I am a full time mother and part time student but my partner works 70hrs+ a week to support us. I offered £100 a month (which I couldn’t actually afford) but they said we had more than enough income spare(??!!), therefore rejected my offer and demanded I pay £200 per month!! He is on a 0hrs contracts so hours could drop in a heart beat meaning we could have less and less money. I have had to sell a few bits and pieces around the house just to meet these payments… Extremely unfair way to tackle this issue 🙁

  • KENNYBOY

    As a former Bailiff for Equita how we earnt a wage was to force people into paying by using bullying tactics especially clamping cars or gaining entry into homes and listing goods to be removed, This is how we got trained and made to work as we had to meet a monthly quota of collecting full payments, the office had a daily routine of making false visits on to cases and therefore putting on false charges, a small debt of say £100 would end up approx £350 this was routine. If clients had more than 1 debt as long as 1 was paid in full that was the only time an arrangement to pay the outstanding was made, even then we had our charges on the debt and made them pay approx £100 per month to clear, the only time it got sent back to the council was if a complaint was made other wise the council left us alone to collect in any manner possible.

  • karl

    I moved in with my partner 11 years ago and since then the council have refused multiple times to change name to mine or put in joint name. This causes problems paying as they want I.d sometimes or want proof that I’m allowed to pay it, but they take my rent money every month. Because my partner receives the letters I don’t see them straight away and due to falling behind £60 they put a court Injunction on my partner which I had to pay extra to get rid of on top of paying the full amount I was given a week to make a decision, they did offer me chance of installments but again I had to pay another fixed amount to extend the injuction. Not being able to pay as my pay is monthly I took out a payday loan, and then another to help with that and in the end I was in serious debt because the council couldnt Wait 1 week to pay £60.