Council Tax Arrears: A Guide to Understanding, Support, and Solutions

As the Owner/director of Absolute Enforcement, our company specialises in High Court Enforcement. I recently took part in an enlightening conversation with ITV News about the specific challenges of enforcement surrounding council tax arrears. During our discussions we talked about how many people facing financial difficulties struggle to understand that there is help available to them. We fully understand the idea of bailiffs showing up at their door only makes things scarier, but we have a duty to treat the debtor fairly and establish the difference between those avoiding payment and those who are struggling.

Firm But Fair

After our discussions with ITV News, it’s clear that many people who fall into debt, feel scared or intimidated about having a bailiff visit, which is completely understandable.  I believe we should concentrate on educating people on how to handle their debts better and offering more support to those really struggling with council tax payments. That’s why I am taking time to write this blog – to offer some helpful advice to those having a tough time keeping up debts especially with their council tax bills.

Enforcement agents are commonly referred to as bailiffs, and naturally come with a stigma but they play a pivotal role in the enforcement of recovery of council tax payments. Enforcement agents operate in a delicate landscape, differentiating from those who refuse to meet their obligations, to those who struggle. However, it’s essential to recognise that a significant portion of these individuals may intentionally evade payment, falsely claiming vulnerability to sidestep their debts. This dishonest behaviour not only complicates the enforcement process but also undermines support for those genuinely in need. Our Enforcement agents are highly trained to deal with both scenarios and act accordingly.

As enforcement agents (bailiffs), we observe distinct differences when enforcing various debt types, particularly between High Court Enforcement and council tax enforcement. When enforcing a High Court writ for individuals who have not complied with a court order, it’s often not due to financial constraints but rather a matter of principle or dispute.

 

Conversely, when visiting debtors for unpaid council tax, there’s a higher likelihood that non-payment stems from financial hardship or vulnerability issues. It’s essential that our Enforcement Agents recognise that each case is unique, and their approach hinges on the information gathered during the visit. Our Enforcement Agents are court-licensed professionals who take rigorous training and qualifications and undergo regular refresher courses, including training on identifying vulnerability. This enables them to distinguish between individuals avoiding payment and those genuinely struggling with debt, allowing for tailored enforcement approaches that prioritise fairness and understanding.

What Happens if I Don't Make Payment?

In England and Wales, neglecting council tax payments constitutes a criminal offence. Which carries its own potential ramifications such as imprisonment, attachments to earnings, property charge orders, bankruptcy, and bailiff action, which may involve (if escalated) the removal and sale of assets to settle the debt.

 

However, and most importantly for those experiencing financial hardship without adequate assets to settle their debts, enforcement agents strive to collaborate on fair arrangements that enable debt clearance within a reasonable timeframe.

Understanding Your Rights and Obligations

When it comes to dealing with council tax arrears, understanding your rights and options is paramount. Let’s delve into the steps you can take to address your council tax obligations and seek the support you need:

Recognising the Challenge: Council tax arrears can arise for various reasons, ranging from unexpected financial setbacks to ongoing struggles with budgeting but it’s important to recognise it early and address them. It’s essential to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and take proactive steps to address it.

Seeking Assistance
: If you find yourself unable to meet your council tax obligations, don’t hesitate to seek help. Many local authorities offer council tax support schemes designed to assist individuals facing financial difficulties. Explore your options and reach out to your council for guidance.

Engaging with Enforcement Agents: In cases where enforcement action becomes necessary, it’s crucial to engage with enforcement agents in a constructive manner. Enforcement agents (bailiffs), may visit your property to execute a court order. While the prospect of a bailiff visit may seem daunting, remember that their primary objective is to facilitate a resolution that is fair and equitable for all parties involved.

Understanding Your Rights: As a debtor, you have rights that protect you from unfair treatment during the enforcement process. Most enforcement agents will wear a body camera. This is good practice as the enforcement company can audit the visit to ensure the agent has acted lawfully and fairly. The two main legislations enforcement agents (bailiffs) work under are the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 and The Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013.

Negotiating Repayment Arrangements: When discussing repayment arrangements with enforcement agents, be honest and transparent about your financial situation. Propose a realistic repayment plan that you can adhere to, taking into account your income, expenses, and any extenuating circumstances. Enforcement agents understand that individuals experiencing financial hardship with paying their Council Tax may not have the means to settle their debts immediately. They are often willing to work with debtors to establish fair and manageable repayment arrangements that enable debt clearance within a reasonable timeframe.

Seeking Additional Support: Don’t hesitate to seek assistance from external sources, such as charities, financial advisors, debt counselling services, financial literacy programs or organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau. These resources can provide valuable guidance and support as you navigate your council tax arrears. Additionally, consider scheduling a visit from a bailiff at a time when you can have a friend, family member, or caregiver present to provide additional support and reassurance during what may be a challenging encounter.

Alternative Repayment Options: Besides discussing repayment arrangements with enforcement agents, consider exploring alternative options for resolving your council tax arrears. You may be eligible for council tax deferrals or discounts based on specific circumstances such as low income or disability. Investigating these alternatives can help you find the best solution for your financial circumstances.

Preventative Measures: Learning about proactive measures to prevent council tax arrears is crucial for maintaining financial stability. Take advantage of budgeting tips, advice on managing finances during periods of unemployment or reduced income, and information on available support mechanisms. Empowering yourself with preventative strategies can help you avoid future financial challenges.

Emotional Support: Recognise the emotional impact of financial difficulties and enforcement proceedings. It’s important to prioritise your emotional well-being alongside addressing financial issues. Seek out resources for emotional support such as helplines, support groups, or counselling services to help you cope with the stress and anxiety associated with managing council tax arrears.

These support measures are designed to empower you in navigating your financial challenges related to council tax arrears. By utilising these resources, you can take proactive steps towards resolving your debts and achieving financial stability.

Charities and Agencies

By reaching out to these support charities and agencies, you can access the guidance, advice, and assistance needed to effectively manage your council tax arrears and regain financial stability.

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB): CAB provides free, confidential advice and support on a wide range of issues, including debt, benefits, housing, and legal matters. They offer face-to-face consultations, telephone helplines, and online resources to assist individuals in resolving their financial challenges.

www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Phone: 0808 223 1133

Email: individualrights@citizensadvice.org.uk

StepChange Debt Charity: StepChange offers free, impartial debt advice and debt management plans to individuals struggling with debt, including council tax arrears. Their expert advisors provide tailored solutions to help individuals regain control of their finances and work towards becoming debt-free.

www.stepchange.org

Phone: 0800 138 1111

Email: admin.team@stepchange.org

National Debtline: National Debtline provides free, confidential debt advice over the phone and online. Their trained advisors offer practical guidance on managing debt, negotiating with creditors, and accessing support services. They can help individuals develop personalised debt repayment plans and navigate the enforcement process.

www.nationaldebtline.org

Phone: 0808 808 4000

Email: youraccount@nationaldebtline.org

Turn2us: Turn2us offers support to individuals experiencing financial hardship, including assistance with accessing welfare benefits, grants, and charitable funds. Their online benefits calculator helps individuals determine their eligibility for various financial support schemes, including council tax support.

www.turn2us.org.uk

Phone: 0808 802 2000

Email: info@turn2us.org.uk

Shelter: Shelter provides housing advice and support to individuals facing homelessness or housing-related financial difficulties. Their advisors can offer guidance on managing rent or mortgage arrears, accessing housing benefits, and navigating housing-related legal issues.

www.shelter.org.uk

Phone: 0344 515 2000

Email: info@shelter.org.uk

MoneyHelper: The Money Helper Service offers free, impartial money advice and tools to help individuals manage their finances more effectively. Their website provides information on budgeting, debt management, and accessing financial support.

www.moneyhelper.org.uk

Phone: 0800 138 7777

 

Support Managing Stress Relating To Financial Difficulties.

In addition to the above financial support and guidance, below are some resources for support with managing stress related to financial difficulties, including council tax arrears, as well as support for mental health:

Mind: Mind is a mental health charity that provides information, advice, and support to individuals experiencing mental health problems. They offer a variety of resources, including helplines, online forums, and local support services, to help individuals manage their mental health and well-being.

www.mind.org.uk

Phone: 0300 123 3393

Email: info@mind.org.uk


Samaritans
: Samaritans is a confidential emotional support service available 24/7 for anyone in distress or experiencing emotional difficulties. Individuals can contact Samaritans by phone, email, or text to speak with a trained volunteer who can offer non-judgmental listening and support.

www.samaritans.org

Phone: 116 123

Text the word ‘Shout’ to 85258


NHS Mental Health Services
: The NHS offers a range of mental health services, including counselling, therapy, and support groups, for individuals experiencing mental health difficulties. Individuals can access mental health support through their GP, local mental health services, or the NHS 111 helpline.

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably): CALM is a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide and providing support to men in crisis. They offer a helpline and webchat service for men experiencing emotional distress or suicidal thoughts, as well as resources for managing mental health and well-being.

www.thecalmzone.net

Phone: 0800 58 58 58


Anxiety UK
: Anxiety UK is a charity that provides support, information, and resources for individuals experiencing anxiety disorders. They offer a helpline, online support groups, and therapy services to help individuals manage their anxiety and improve their mental health.

www.anxietyuk.org.uk

Phone: 03444 775 774

Text: 07537 416 905


Mental Health Helpline Directory
: Various mental health helpline directories, such as the Hub of Hope, offer comprehensive lists of helplines and support services available for individuals seeking mental health support. These directories can help individuals find local and national support services tailored to their needs.

www.hubofhope.co.uk

Conclusion

In conclusion, managing council tax arrears requires a proactive and informed approach. By understanding your rights, seeking assistance, and engaging with enforcement agents in a constructive manner, you can navigate this challenging situation with confidence.

“Addressing council tax arrears can be daunting, especially for those truly struggling with financial hardship. As the director of Absolute Enforcement, I sincerely hope this document provides valuable support and guidance to individuals facing these challenges. It’s crucial to recognise that dealing with a Bailiff may seem intimidating at first, but with the right understanding and support, it becomes a manageable process. My hope is that this resource empowers you to navigate your council tax obligations confidently and with a sense of reassurance. “ Chris Lucas-Jones of Absolute Enforcement Limited

Please note that at the time of writing this blog, the provided email addresses are believed to be accurate. For the most up-to-date contact information, we recommend visiting the respective agency’s website.