MILLIONS of Brits are struggling to pay bills because of rising prices, and the pandemic has hit many people's finances.
According to Citizen's Advice one in seven of us have fallen behind with payments for essentials like energy, water, phone and rent.
Council tax is one of the household bills many are struggling with too – and that's even before and rise in April that could see them go up by as much as 5%.
But this is bill that you should always try and avoid falling behind with, as the consequences of not paying are the most severe.
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 ended.
You can pay council tax in monthly instalments over 10 or 12 months, but if you fall behind you can be asked to pay all the outstanding balance at once.
Struggling households cab get help with council tax bills and if you're worried about falling behind then it's worth checking out what you could get.
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If you can't pay your council tax bill it's best to let the council know immediately rather than putting it off.
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 own your home 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 including:
- 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 directly for more information including how to apply.
Council tax 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.
Pause council tax payments
Struggling households can 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.
Apply for Household Support Fund cash
Your local council may also be able to help with cash and grants if you are struggling with bills through the Household Support Scheme
This is a pot of £500m being given out to hard-up Brits over winter and what you can get depends on where you live.
In some areas there is cash to cover bills, so you can use it to help pay council tax.
Some places will give cash or vouchers to cover specific bills like energy or for buying food.
While you can't use that for paying council tax, getting that help instead could free up cash to cover it.
To find out what help you can get where you live, you can find your local council using the search tool on gov.uk – just enter your postcode.
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.
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:
- National Debtline – 0808 808 4000
- Step Change – 0800 138 1111
- Citizens Advice – 0808 800 9060
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