In the great debt scheme of things council tax is a commitment that you really should not ignore. Defaults on council tax payments are viewed as being priority debts. This simply means that you should make every effort to make your payments here as the consequences of not doing so are a lot more severe than those associated with other types of debts.
But, a lot of people often find that they end up unable to pay their council tax. They may lose their job through redundancy or illness or they may simply get into so much trouble with their debts that they have no money to use to pay them back. So, what will happen if you don’t pay your council tax as you are supposed to?
Your council has the right to take you to court for non-payment of council tax although this really depends on how you deal with the situation. If you tell them early that you are having payment problems then most councils will come to some arrangement that will ease the pressure for you. This may be, for example, a series of regular repayments at a level you can afford until your debt is repaid.
If, however, you don’t try to do this or you renege on this kind of agreement then you may well be taken to court. Proceedings here will be held in a Magistrates Court where your council will try to take out a legal order known as a Liability Order. This basically tells you that you have to pay back all that you owe as well as all relevant costs.
If the court agrees to the Liability Order then the council has the right to try and get their money back. If you cannot/will not pay back what you owe in full then other measures can be used. You may, for example, have the money that you owe deducted from your salary/benefits at source in pre-set payments. Alternatively, the council may use bailiffs to try and take possession of your assets to get their money back. They can also try to get a Charging Order against your property and, in some cases, may even have some people declared bankrupt.
In certain cases custodial sentences may also be imposed. Say, for example, your council tried to get their money back via sending in the bailiffs once they had a Liability Order but that hasn’t worked. In this instance they can go back to the court and ask for a warrant to have you put into prison for up to three months. Bear in mind that this really is a last resort though and the court will only issue a warrant if they feel that you are at fault here.
You can avoid things going this far by recognising when you will be having a problem early and talking to your council about your situation. They will always want to take the most cost effective and humane route here -- they don’t want to have to take you to court and would far rather get their money back some other way. But, they can only help you out if you talk to them in the first place.