MILLIONS of Brits fear they can’t afford to pay their Council Tax bill and it’s reaching “crisis” levels, experts have warned.
After Covid, more people need support with the household bill, which has the most serious consequences if left unpaid.
The Money Advice Trust issued that warning after its research found that seven million Brits fear falling behind on the bill.
Council Tax is considered a priority bill, as not paying it can result in court action or even imprisonment.
Local authorities also have the power to send bailiffs to your home – and a ban on bailiff visits during the pandemic has now ended.
Those with disabilities and long-term health conditions are three-times more likely to fall into arrears, said the charity which runs the National Debtline.
How to cut the cost of your debt
IF you’re in large amounts of debt it can be really worrying. Here are some tips from Citizens Advice on how you can take action.
Check your bank balance on a regular basis – knowing your spending patterns is the first step to managing your money
Work out your budget – by writing down your income and taking away your essential bills such as food and transport
If you have money left over, plan in advance what else you’ll spend or save. If you don’t, look at ways to cut your costs
Pay off more than the minimum – If you’ve got credit card debts aim to pay off more than the minimum amount on your credit card each month to bring down your bill quicker
Pay your most expensive credit card sooner – If you have more than one credit card and can’t pay them off in full each month, prioritise the most expensive card (the one with the highest interest rate)
Prioritise your debts – If you’ve got several debts and you can’t afford to pay them all it’s important to prioritise them
Your rent, mortgage, council tax and energy bills should be paid first because the consequences can be more serious if you don’t pay
Get advice – If you’re struggling to pay your debts month after month it’s important you get advice as soon as possible, before they build up even further
Groups like Citizens Advice and National Debtline can help you prioritise and negotiate with your creditors to offer you more affordable repayment plans
Between 2009 and 2019, calls to the helpline about getting behind on Council Tax grew to nearly a third of all calls.
The charity is now calling for more funding so that councils can cover support costs of 100% for those who are eligible.
Some households get help with Council Tax bills, but may still have to cover some of the cost.
A support fund added to this through the pandemic slashing bills by as much as £150 a year.
The charity’s boss Joanna Elson said this should continue because “the current system of council tax collection and support isn’t working for anyone”.
She said: “With seven million worried about affording their council tax bills in the next year and council tax arrears reaching crisis point, urgent action is required to help people struggling to pay.
“Without the permanent funding needed to provide 100% council tax support for those who need it, local authorities are taking the costly route of attempting to collect partial amounts from people who simply cannot afford to pay.”
She added that anyone struggling to pay their bill to seek free, confidential debt advice from a charity-run service like National Debtline as soon as possible.
There’s also further help available for those falling behind – here’s what you can get.
1. Apply for Council Tax support
You may be eligible for Council Tax support (sometimes called a Council Tax reduction) if you’re on a low income or on certain benefits.
You don’t need to be the property owner to apply for Council Tax Support, and it doesn’t matter if you’re working or unemployed.
The amount you could get your bill reduced by depends on your personal circumstances and this will depend on:
- Where you live
- Your circumstances (eg income, number of children, benefits, residency status)
- Your household income – this includes savings, pensions and your partner’s income
- If your children live with you
- If other adults live with you
You may also be able to get your council tax bill reduction backdated, but again, this depends on your personal circumstances and where you live.
As each council offers different support, you’ll need to contact your local authority for more information.
2. Other discounts and exemptions
There are a number of discounts and exemptions that you may be entitled to, if you’re struggling to pay your council tax.
For example, if you live on your own, or with someone who isn’t classed as an adult, you’ll qualify for 25% off your total annual bill.
You’ll also usually get a 50% discount if no-one living in your home, including you, counts as an adult.
Additionally, you won’t have to pay at all if everyone in your household is a full-time student.
Who doesn’t count as an adult?
- Children under 18
- Full-time students, most apprentices and trainees aged under 25
- Student nurses
- Foreign language assistants registered with the British Council
- People with a severe mental impairment, such as learning difficulties or autism
- Live-in carers who look after someone who isn’t their partner, spouse, or child under 18
Contact your local council to check what support you can claim.
3. Challenge your Council Tax
Another way to reduce your bills is to challenge your council tax band – but only if you think you’re wrongly in a higher band and paying more than you should be.
It’s worth noting that challenging your council tax is not a sure-fire way to reduce your bills.
You’ll also need to do your research first as it could result in you, and your neighbours, paying more if you’re bumped up to a higher band instead
The first step is to check what council tax band your neighbours are on, based on houses that are similar in size and value.
This information is available online and is free to check, so you don’t need to ask your neighbours in person.
Use the Gov.uk website to do this for houses in England, or the Scottish Assessors Association for properties in Scotland.
If you find you’re on a higher council tax band compared to your neighbours, you may be able to successful make a challenge.
But before you do, another crucial check is to see how much your property was worth in 1991, as this is when council tax was launched by the government.
MoneySavingExpert has a free calculator tool to help you do this.
If you want to go ahead with a challenge, you can contact the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) in England and Wales or the Scottish Assessors Association (SAA) in Scotland.
It could be worth doing as a pensioner recently won back £3,500 in council tax overpayments using a simple online form.
4. Pause payments
Struggling households can now pause council tax payments and other bills for 60 days under a new scheme that launched in may.
The breathing space scheme will protect hard-up Brits from bailiffs and prosecution for two months.
The scheme will apply to council tax arrears and other outstanding debt, including tax, benefit overpayments as well as credit cards and loans.
During this time, households will receive professional debt advice to find a long-term solution to their financial difficulties.
You can find out more about who’s eligible and how to apply.
5. Get free debt advice
As well as being a priority bill, missing one council tax payment could mean you become liable for your entire annual bill in one go.
This means it’s really important to seek advice as soon as possible, if you know you’re unable to pay your bill.
There are plenty of organisations where you can seek debt advice for free, including:
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