Paying Your Council Tax – Some Useful Tips

Christmas is history and New Year celebrations are just a hazy memory. Spring has not sprung yet, but April isn’t too far away. It is time to think about Council Tax.

Council Tax is a local tax raised to pay for essential local services (if you have an idle minute or two you might want to find out what services your council tax does and doesn’t pay for). How much you pay depends on the most recent council valuation of your property. Whether you are liable depends on your circumstances. Payment is by household but not every household is liable for Council Tax.

Tip 1: If you are not sure whether you are liable to pay Council Tax either visit your local council’s website or the Citizens Advice website on www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Tip 2: If you don’t think your property’s valuation is correct you can take a challenge to the local Valuation Tribunal for a fresh decision.

Those liable to pay Council Tax usually receive their bill around now. You then have the option either to pay the year’s bill in one go or request payment by instalments – usually over a 10 month period (with various ways to pay).

Tip 3: If payment by instalments is your preferred option get in touch with your local council right away. Some LAs now allow repayments to be spread over 12 months if you contact them early.

Tip 4: If you are computer savvy most LAs will give you the option of using an online account through which to manage your CT payments. Again, the details should be on your bill.

If you struggle to pay your Council Tax, and begin to get into arrears, it is important to remember that Council Tax arrears are considered a ‘priority debt’, meaning that there are serious consequences for non-payment. If you are proven liable for CT but are not paying it the local council can: deduct monies from your welfare benefits (or earnings if you are employed); put a charging order on your house; instruct bailiffs to visit your house and take (and sell) items with the equivalent value of your arrears; or, if they can prove you ‘can pay but won’t pay’, they can ask a Court to put you in prison for non-payment.

Tip 5: Each council has its own approach to collecting CT arrears and dealing with vulnerable debtors. Ask your local Citizens Advice if you don’t think you are being treated fairly.

Tip 6: When dealing with debt collectors, showing a willingness to pay even a small amount weekly should be treated favourably.

One way to avoid CT arrears, if you are on a low income, is to claim Council Tax Support (your Council’s local replacement for what used to be called ‘Council Tax Benefit’). Each council has a different set of rules, but two discounts remain universally available. Firstly, if you or your partner receive the ‘guarantee element’ of Pension Credit you are entitled to a 100% discount on your CT liability. Secondly, if you are the only person liable for CT in your household you should be entitled to a 25% ‘single person’s discount’. The remaining calculation is based on your income and savings. Mistakes in calculations do happen, especially if your circumstances are complicated or change frequently.

Tip 7: Ask your local Citizens Advice to check your council tax support calculation each time your circumstances change significantly.

Tip 8: If you are having trouble managing your money seek help before it’s too late.

And finally, with the introduction of Universal Credit to Coventry and Warwickshire there has been some confusion over entitlement to Council Tax Support, with many UC claimants believing that a claim for UC included a claim for CTS. CTS is not part of Universal Credit. If you claim UC in the near future, be sure to contact your council separately to make a claim for CTS.

For more general information about Council Tax go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk or visit your local council’s website.

Our thanks to Coventry CAB for submitting this article to us. For more information, contact your local CAB or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk.