Richmondshire District Council

Council tax - what happens if you don't pay

Help with debt problems: Free friendly expert advice can be found from leading debt organisations. 

If you're having problems paying your council tax, let us know straight away as you may be entitled to a council tax exemption, discount or relief that would reduce the amount you pay. Contact us at

If you're on a low income, you may be eligible for council tax reduction.

If you don't pay your council tax, we follow a process to recover what is owed.

Reminders and final notices

If you haven't paid your instalment by the due date, we'll issue you with a reminder, which means you have to pay within seven days.

If you still don’t pay, a summons will be issued, which will add costs to your account.

If you pay the amount you owe but fall behind with your instalments again, we will send a second reminder. This gives you seven days to bring your instalments up to date.

If you still don’t pay, a summons will be issued, which will add costs to your account.

We can only send a maximum of two reminder notices in any one financial year, so if you pay late a third time you will be sent a summons, which will add costs to your account.

A final notice, rather than a reminder notice, is issued if there was no right to pay by instalments, such as on a closed account because the amount due was payable as a lump sum.

If you still don’t pay, a summons will be issued, which will add costs to your account.

Summons and court orders

If you fail to pay after we have sent you a reminder or final notice we will issue you with a summons. If this is not paid in full before the hearing, we will apply for a liability order.

Before the hearing date, we'll be willing to discuss a mutually acceptable payment arrangement but this will be on the understanding that we continue with the legal action. We will still attend the hearing to ask the magistrates to grant a liability order. The magistrates won't discuss settlement of your account. So unless you wish to defend against our application, you don't have to attend court.

The audio hearing

A telephone hearing follows the same procedure as in-person hearing, in so far as, if the magistrates are satisfied with the evidence we present, they will grant a liability order. This gives us powers to recover the outstanding debt using other methods.

Challenging a council tax liability order

Magistrates cannot consider the following questions:

  • whether the council was right to order you to pay council tax on your house;
  • whether you should pay the tax;
  • whether the amount claimed is wrong;
  • whether you should get council tax support;
  • whether your council tax support has been worked out correctly.

You can appeal against these questions to the billing authority or a tribunal. But you cannot raise them in a liability order hearing.


For 2022-23, the cost for the issue of a summons is £44 and for obtaining a liability order £16. This makes a total of £60. These costs cover the extra work involved in issuing the summons and attending court.

Liability order

Once a liability order has been granted we are given extra powers to recover the outstanding debt.

These include:

Request for financial information

We can now request that you, or anyone else named on the order, provide their financial details within 14 days.

Attachment of earnings order

We can instruct your employer to make deductions directly from your pay. The amounts depend on how much you earn.

Deductions from your benefits

We can request weekly deductions from your:

  • Job Seekers Allowance (JSA)
  • Income Support (IS)
  • Universal Credit (UC)
  • Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Pension Credit Guaranteed Credit (PCGC)

Enforcement agents

If you don't contact us providing either an acceptable offer of payment, employment details, or details of your entitlement to state benefits, we will pass your case over to our enforcement agents for collection. They can call at your home to take control of your goods, and to remove and ultimately sell them at public auction. Any money raised will be used to clear the debt.

Once agents are instructed to collect the debt, you will have to pay additional fees. We strongly recommend that you engage with us, rather than letting it get this far.

After agents have been instructed you will no longer be able to discuss matters with us and must contact them instead.

Contact details for our agents can be found on their websites:

Charging order

If the debt is more than £999, we can make an application to the County Court to impose a security against the value of your house. This will be paid to us when it's eventually sold.


We may start bankruptcy proceedings if the debt is more than £4,999.

We will send a statutory demand that will give you 21 days to pay the full amount. If you don't pay, we will petition for bankruptcy in the County Court. Once issued with a bankruptcy order, the official receiver will investigate your affairs and your bank account, or accounts, will be frozen.

If you are made bankrupt, the official receiver will control your spending, you'll lose your credit rating and be blacklisted from getting any more credit. You could even be forced to sell your home to pay your debts.

Committal to prison for non-payment

If we can't recover the unpaid council tax by other means, we will have no alternative but to apply to the local magistrate for a committal summons. This is the first stage of possible imprisonment. If you receive a committal summons, you should contact us straight away or get legal advice from a solicitor, your local law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau.

Can I request a hold on recovery action and additional fees?

As of 4 May 2021, a new statutory Breathing Space scheme can help people with problems of debt better manage their finances and reach solutions by seeking professional debt advice. This scheme is designed to provide people with debt problems the right to legal protection from creditors for a limited period of time.

Who is eligible?

To be eligible for Breathing Space, you cannot, or are unlikely to be able to repay all or some of your debt. If this is the case, you can then apply for one of two schemes. These are:

Standard Breathing Space

To be eligible for the Standard Breathing Space, you must:

  • Be an individual
  • Owe a qualifying debt to a creditor
  • Live or usually reside in England or Wales
  • Not have a debt relief order (DRO), an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA), an interim order, or be an undischarged bankrupt at the time you apply

You must not already have a Breathing Space or have had a Standard Breathing Space in the last 12 months at the time you apply.

Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space

To be eligible for the Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space, you must meet the same criteria as the Standard Breathing Space. However, if an Approved Mental Health Professional can certify that you are receiving mental health crisis treatment, then you may be eligible for stronger protections provided under the Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space. This includes the right to Breathing Space without the requirement to seek professional debt advice.

How long does Breathing Space last?

If you are eligible for the Standard Breathing space, you will be provided with legal protection from creditors action/fees for up to 60 days. If you are eligible for the Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space, you will be provided with legal protection for as long as you are receiving mental health crisis treatment, plus a further 30 days. This applies no matter how long the crisis treatment lasts.

How do I apply for Breathing Space?

To start a breathing space application, you must contact a debt advice provider who is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). This includes agencies such as: 

Citizens Advice - tel: 0808 278 7900

Money Advice Service - tel: 0800 138 7777

StepChange Debt Charity -tel: 0800 138 1111

National Debtline - tel: 0808 808 4000

Collection rates

We consistently collect more than 98 percent of council tax each year. The recovery of any outstanding debts is vigorously pursued.

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