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Everything you need to know about council tax in the UK

If you’ve recently moved to the UK (or you’re planning on it), you might be wondering about council tax. How much is it? What does it pay for? How can you get a reduction? And what happens if you don’t pay your bill?

Well, our brief guide to council tax in the UK is here to help.

What is council tax?

Council tax is an annual bill that’s collected from your local council. Every April, you’ll receive an annual bill with the choice to pay the amount in full or over instalments. If you choose the latter, you’ll usually pay council tax in 10 instalments across the year. For two months of the year, you don’t have to pay. 

Each property in England and Scotland has a council tax band, ranging from A (the cheapest) to H. Meanwhile, Wales has nine bands, ranging from 1 (the highest) to 9. Which band your property falls in depends on a number of things, including where you live and the size of your property. 

If you’re living in a property in the UK, it’s your responsibility to pay council tax. This is the case whether you’re the owner and occupier, or a tenant in a privately rented or council accommodation. 

There are some properties and people that are exempt from paying council tax. And some individuals are eligible for a 25% or 50% discount depending on who else lives on the property. If you live alone, you won’t have to pay the full amount. We’ll explain more about this later in this article. 

What does council tax pay for?

Council tax contributes to 25% of all government spending. The rest of the money comes from business rates. It is the responsibility of your local council to distribute the money as they see fit. 

Most of the council tax fund is spent on local and community services. This includes things like police, fire services, street cleaning, street lighting, parks maintenance, elderly and vulnerable support and local leisure facilities. Council tax also pays for rubbish collection and disposal, local administration and record-keeping, libraries and education services. 

How much is council tax?

The amount of council tax you owe depends on the value of your home and where you live. If you live in England, you can find your local authority and work out how much you have to pay here. Living in Scotland? Your information can be found here. And if you’re residing in Wales, this link here has all the information. 

Once you’ve clicked on the relevant link above, you’ll be able to find out more information about your local council tax. You may also be able to contact your local council to ask.

How do you get a council tax reduction? 

If the thought of council tax expenses on top of all other bills is leaving you a little stressed, don’t worry. You may be able to get a reduction. This applies if you’re:

  • On low income
  • A student or living with students
  • The only adult living on the property
  • Someone with a disability
  • Mentally impaired, or living with somebody who is
  • A care leaver living in Scotland and in certain counties in England and Wales
  • Living in a care home or hospital
  • In prison
  • A member of the armed forces (circumstances depending)

For more information on whether you’re entitled to a reduction, click here. Even if you don’t think you will be, it’s worth checking.

What happens if you miss a council tax payment?

It’s not a good idea to miss a council tax payment. If you fall behind on your bills, the council may ask you to pay the full year’s payment upfront. This could be costly. As an example, instead of paying £167 a month, you’d need to pay £1,1671 in one go.

To avoid this, you should contact your council as soon as you think you might miss a payment. This way, they might be able to offer a compromise. They may let you make a late monthly payment or increase your future monthly payments to make up for it.

And if your income is low, they may even be able to offer a reduction. It all depends on your council and circumstances.

If you don’t pay your bill, you’ll receive your first reminder two weeks after your missed payment. If you pay within seven days, you won’t need to do anything else and your debt will clear. Phew.

And what happens if you still don’t pay your council tax bill?

If you don’t pay within seven days of receiving your notice, or it’s the third time you’re late with your payments that tax year, you’ll receive a ‘final notice’ requesting that you pay the remaining annual balance within seven days. If you still refuse to pay, the council will report you to the courts in order to collect your debt. They may also contact your employer to arrange council tax payments to be deducted from your payslip and you could lose any benefits you’re entitled to. Not good.

As a next resort, bailiffs may be sent to your front door. You may even have to cover the bailiff fees. This could set you back hundreds of pounds. And the final punishment for not paying your council tax in England? A prison sentence. Wow.

Your best bet? Pay your bills on time. And if you think you won’t be able to afford a payment, contact your local council as soon as possible. They’ll often be able to help or offer a compromise.

Otherwise, the hassle, stress and extra debt just aren’t worth it!


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