The fIfth in our 'ask the expert' series, which sees Kevin Boon of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) explore council tax management.
Q. Hello Kevin, I recently moved to a bedsit in North London - a single person accommodation I had been led to believe was immune to council tax charges. Last week, much to my surprise, a council tax bill for nearly £500 arrived. I am from Belgium and have no savings so simply have no way of paying the charge. I have looked into council tax benefit but it doesn’t come close to covering the charge and I don’t even have the money to cover the difference. I rely on my bedsit for work so worry that, if I am evicted, I will have to leave England. Is there anywhere I can turn for extra help with my council tax payments? Please help! – Katia, Muswell Hill
A. Hi Katia, thanks for getting in touch. Although you stated your bedsit was needed for work, I'm unsure to whether you were working during the time that the council have issued a bill for. If you were working you would be liable for paying the council tax directly to the council. The only exception to this would be if your tenancy agreement states that your rent also includes payment towards your council tax rather than you having to pay it directly. If this is the case you need to contact your landlord and point out the fact you've been billed from the council and request that they settle the debt. Alternatively, you could ask your landlord to refund you the difference so you can settle the debt yourself.
If your tenancy agreement does not state that council tax is included, then I'm afraid you would be responsible for coming to an arrangement with the council to clear the debt. If you are living by yourself, you would be entitled to a 25% sole occupancy discount so make sure this has been applied to the bill you've had. If not, request the council amend the amount to reflect this and try to come to a payment arrangement. Generally, a council will want full repayment of a council tax bill within the same financial year. Given the fact we're close to the end of the financial year this will be difficult so you may need to see whether the council can spread the arrears over the next financial year.
Failure to pay a council tax bill would not result in you being evicted. The council would normally issue a Liability Order due to non payment and pass the debt to bailiffs to contact you to make an arrangement to pay. If the bailiffs were unsuccessful in retrieving the money, it's likely that the council would obtain an attachment of earnings to deduct what is owed straight from your wages.
If you are not working at the moment, you should be entitled to council tax benefit which will remove any future liability of council tax until you find employment. If you can prove that you were not working during the time when you have been billed from the council, you can backdate your claim for up to 6 months. This should then remove your liability from the last 6 months you've been billed for. Any arrears prior to the last 6 months would still need to be paid, so again you would need to come to an arrangement with the council to pay what's left.
Having problems with debt?
Every Friday, Kevin Boon of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service will answer your questions and provide expert advice on the best way to deal with debt. Send your questions to email@example.com with 'Money Matters' in the email subject line.
CCCS is a national charity giving independent advice to anyone worried about debt, delivered free of charge by expert counsellors. Based in Leeds, CCCS is able to help people with debt problems wherever they live in the UK, through its free national telephone service (0800 138 1111), ten regional centres and online debt remedy service ( cccs.co.uk/debtremedy).