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Paying council tax

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

In this article
Coronavirus (Covid-19) tax update What is my council tax bill? Who has to pay council tax? How to pay council tax Changing your address for council tax
What happens if you don't pay your council tax? What if I can't afford my council tax bill? Can failing to pay my council tax affect my credit score? How do I stop council tax when I move house?

Coronavirus (Covid-19) tax update

The government has introduced a range of measures to support employed and self-employed workers, as well as small businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Keep on top of the latest news and advice related to the Covid-19 pandemic with Which?

What is my council tax bill?

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

You can choose to pay your full bill in a lump sum, or through instalments throughout the year.

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.


Who has to pay council tax?

Most people who are over 18 and own or rent a home usually have to pay council tax. It'll normally be the person living in a property who pays council tax.

Sometimes, however, it's down to the property's owner. Properties where owners have to pay council tax include:

  • empty homes
  • nursing homes
  • houses of religious communities
  • houses in multiple occupation where rooms are let individually
  • residences of staff who live in houses which are also occupied by an employer
  • residences of ministers of religion.

If several people live in a property, there is an 'order of liability' to see who is responsible for paying the council tax bill. The order is:

  1. the person who is the freeholder of all or part of the property, who lives there
  2. the person who is the leaseholder of all or part of the property, who lives there
  3. a resident tenant
  4. a resident who has permission to live in the property, but is not a tenant
  5. any other resident living in the property
  6. a mortgagee in possession of an owner's interest
  7. an owner of the property, when no one lives there.

How to pay council tax

You’ll be sent the figure for the full year’s council tax.

While this may seem daunting, 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 payments.

Councils are not allowed to issue surcharges on credit or debit card transactions.

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

Changing your address for 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.

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

Not paying council tax can have serious consequences - and they get progressively worse the more payments you miss.

Missing your first council tax payment

If you miss one of your monthly payments, your council should send you a reminder notice giving you seven days to pay it. 

If you don't pay within seven days, you may be asked to pay the whole year's council tax.

Missing your second council tax payment

You'll be sent a second reminder notice if you fail to pay your bill for a second time during a financial year (1 April to 31 March the following year). You're only allowed a maximum of two reminder notices.

Missing your third council tax payment

If you fail to pay your council tax for a third time, you'll receive a final notice saying you must pay the whole year's council tax - and you'll need to do so within seven days.

If you still don't pay your bill

Councils can take legal action if you fail to pay the money you owe within seven days, which could allow them to forcefully recover the money.

These legal proceedings tend to go in the following order:

  1. Liability order: this is a legal demand for payment that's sent by a magistrate. The council's costs for getting this sent to you may be added to your bill. You can go to court and give your reasons for not paying if you think you have grounds.
  2. From your wages: your council can get your employer to pay your unpaid council tax directly from your wages before the payment reaches your bank account.
  3. From your benefits: if you claim benefits, the council tax you owe can be taken directly from your Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance, Pension Credit and Universal Credit.
  4. Bailiffs: if there's no other way to recover the money you owe, the council can use bailiffs to take your belongings, which will be sold to cover your debt. The cost of using bailiffs will be added to the total amount you owe.
  5. Court: if the bailiffs can't recover enough property to pay off your debt, your council can take you to court. The court will decide whether you can afford to pay the bill and whether you have a valid reason not to pay. If the court decides you refused to pay your bill without good reason, you could be sentenced for up to three months in prison, and you may be forced to make an arrangement to pay your debt.

If you think you've been wrongly charged for your council tax bill, you should still pay it and then make an appeal afterwards. This means you'll avoid the enforcement measures outlined above. 

If you don't have enough money to pay your council tax, you should let your council know as soon as possible for the chance to come to an alternative arrangement, such as a payment plan or a council tax reduction. 

Find out more: how to get a council tax refund - learn how to challenge your council tax bill if you think you've been wrongly charged

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. You can find out more in our guide to reducing 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.

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 the band for your new home.

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 band from the day you move in.