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What happens if I receive a council tax bill and don't pay it

What happens if I receive a council tax bill and don't pay it?

Warning: Ignoring a council tax bill, even if you think you should be exempt, can have serious consequences.

If you fail to respond to a council tax reminder letter, your local authority can apply to the court for a liability order. This is an order which states that you are liable to pay that amount of council tax and have not paid it. The local authority will ask the court to issue a summons. Court fees and other costs such as interest may then be added to your original bill. Once the summons has been served and before the liability order is granted, if you pay the outstanding amount of council tax, plus any costs, then the local authority cannot continue with the application for a liability order.

Once the local authority has obtained a liability order, they should then ask you for a statement of means, showing your financial circumstances. The local authority are allowed to recover the debt in a number of ways, including by deduction from your earnings, or by sending bailiffs to your home to seize your possessions (the local authority should send you a letter warning you of a bailiffs first visit, at least 14 days before).

England and Wales are the only countries in Europe where you can be sent to prison for not paying a council tax bill.

In the earlier sections of this guide we explain the rules about who is liable to pay council tax, based on our understanding of the council tax legislation, and we know this information is accurate. However, sometimes local authorities will still dispute liability and insist that a student is liable where we know they are not. In this type of case, to avoid an escalation of the dispute through the courts, our advice is to pay the council tax and contact a Welfare Adviser who can advise about appealing and requesting a refund, as well as advice about options regarding financial hardship paying council tax may cause. 

Your credit rating may also be affected if the local authority issues council tax arrears notices or begins legal action against you for non-payment of council tax, which might make it difficult for you to get credit such as a mortgage in the future. This is why it is important to act quickly in any council tax dispute.

Contact a Welfare Adviser immediately for advice, if you receive any of the following:

  • correspondence from a court
  • notice that a liability order has been made against you
  • notice of a bailiff’s warrant
  • a visit from the bailiffs

A Welfare Adviser can explain your options and can usually help you to contact the local authority or the court as appropriate. Although you may be feeling very anxious about court proceedings or the bailiffs visiting, it is  important that you don’t ignore the situation and be reassured that help is available.

The website has useful information about what happens if you do not pay your council tax.



Law, regulations and policies can change quickly. The information on our website is given in good faith and has been carefully checked but QMUL cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions. QMUL is not responsible for the content or reliability of the linked websites which are provided for further information.

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