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Paying council tax

Discover how council tax can be paid, what to do if you move house and what may happen if you fail to pay.

In this article
What is my council tax bill? How do I start paying council tax? Ways of paying council tax What happens if you don't pay your council tax?
Can failing to pay my council tax affect my credit score? What if I can't afford my council tax bill? How do I stop council tax when I move house?

What is my council tax bill?

Council tax bills for the coming year are issued on or before 30 April. 

This guide outlines how you can start paying council tax on a property for the first time, what happens if you miss a payment, and what happens when you move home. You can jump to the section you want using the links below.

How do I start paying council tax?

When you move into a new property, you need to contact the local council to let them know your change of address and register to pay council tax.

You’ll need to provide your personal details, the details of who you live with, whether you own or rent the property and when you moved in.

If you’re not sure who your local council is, HMRC can direct you using your postcode.

Your local council will then be in touch, detailing the amount of council tax you are liable to pay. You can work out your bill with our council tax calculator.

If you disagree with this bill, you can appeal it – but you should keep up with the payments while a decision is being made.

Ways of paying council tax

You’ll be sent the figure for the full year’s council tax – which may seem daunting, but it’s normally payable in 10 monthly instalments, meaning residents get a two-month council tax break in February and March.

Some authorities offer alternatives, such as 11 or 12 payments a year, to help spread the cost.

Councils prefer to receive payment by direct debit, but you can also pay by cash, cheque or debit card.

Most councils accept payment via the internet, telephone banking, Bacs or standing order. Some accept credit card payment, but the change in law on surcharge fees may result in some councils removing this option.

If in doubt, check with your council’s finance office before payment is due.

Find out more: Reducing your council tax - learn how you can get a lower council tax bill

What happens if you don't pay your council tax?

Not paying council tax can have serious consequences.

If you miss a council tax instalment, you should get a reminder notice requiring you to pay by a certain date – however, not all councils do this, and the onus is on you to remember when your payments are due.

The next step: you will be asked to pay the outstanding balance of your council tax bill for the rest of the year in a one single payment. If this is not paid, the council may start recovery action by applying to a magistrate's court.

If a liability order is granted by the court, the council may seek to obtain payment by an attachment of earnings order, where money is deducted directly from your pay.

Your council could also apply for deductions to be made from benefits you are receiving, or it could use bailiffs to recover the debt.

In extreme cases, councils have the power to bring bankruptcy proceedings or apply for a warrant to have you committed to prison.

More than 4,800 people were taken to court and threatened with prison for failure to pay council tax debt in 2016/17.

Find out more: disputing a council tax bill - learn how to challenge your council tax bill 

Can failing to pay my council tax affect my credit score?

According to Experian, council tax debt will not affect your credit rating. 

Councils do not share information about council tax debt with credit reference agencies. If the case goes to a Magistrates’ court and fines are imposed, these details do not appear on credit reports either.

What if I can't afford my council tax bill?

If you are unable to pay your bill, you should contact your council immediately and ask if it will agree to reschedule your payments.

If your circumstances have changed – for instance, you have become a low income earner, you may be eligible for council tax support.

Each authority has different criteria for who is eligible to claim, depending on your income, savings and whether you live alone.

How do I stop council tax when I move house?

If you move home, you need to let the council know in advance, so it can stop charging you council tax for your old address from the day you move out. 

If you are staying within the borough, it will adjust your bill to a new rate. 

If you are moving further afield, you’ll need to notify your new council (as outlined above), and it will start charging you council tax based on your new property's rating from the day you move in.