Can You Get Council Tax Court Summons With No Warning?
Council tax arrears can lead to severe legal action when residents continue to default on their monthly payments. Through this article, we will explore whether someone can get a council tax court summons without warning. In addition to this and for a clearer understanding of the court summons process, we will analyse the steps that authorities undertake prior to sending a court summons for unpaid council tax. We will also review some key legal terms that are essential to the process.
Can You Get Council Tax Court Summons With No Warning?
No, you cannot get a council tax court summons without a warning from council authorities. A court summons is sent to those individuals who have missed their council tax payments; despite receiving reminders from their local council. In such cases, tenants have either not contacted the local authorities with a response or their reason(s) for missing out on council tax payments are not valid/acceptable.
The purpose of a court summons is to make sure that either the defaulting party clears their council tax debt within 14 days of receiving the legal document or prepares to face a court hearing; during which they will be required to give valid reasons for not paying their council tax bills.
If a person who is in council tax debt does not respond to notifications and reminders sent by their local council office in pursuance of clearance of their dues, after the final notice, the local council may issue a court summons through a magistrate.
This means that now the debtor’s non-payment status has been brought to the notice of a magistrate and they have been notified by the court to clear their dues within 14 days of receiving the court order or attend a court hearing as per the date indicated in the summons letter.
This authorises the court to issue a liability order against the debtor due to which the local council can now collect the due amount by contacting their employer and having the said amount deducted from their salary. It also authorises the local council office to have the council tax debt deducted from any other state benefits that the recipient is due to receive.
Below is a list of actions that the local councils adopt prior to the court summons:
- Resident(s) fail to make a council tax payment, the due date passes and the local council office sends the first reminder to clear dues within 7 days.
- Should the resident respond to this reminder, a mutual course of action such as a payment plan may be worked out. In the other case, the council office sends a second reminder for debt clearance.
- Within the financial year of April-March, residents only receive 2 reminders. If they miss a payment for the third time a final notice will be sent that indicates a legal demand to be issued along with a liability order. This is when a court summons is issued to clear council tax arrears.
All legal fee incurred during the entire process is also billed to the debtor; thus increasing their total due amount.
If someone receives a court summons by mistake, the advisable response for them is to inform their local council office immediately. The claimant will be required to show proof of payments in case they have paid council tax bills but the court summons states otherwise.
What Should I Do If Magistrate Court Summons For Non-Payment Of Council Tax?
If someone has received a court summons from the magistrate, it is a clear indication of two things (a) their council tax payments are outstanding (b) they have not responded to local council reminders (these may have been received over a period of three months) to arrange a payment plan.
The consequences of this court summons can be varied; however, the first impact on the defaulting resident would be that the council tax payments that were originally designed as 10 monthly instalments are no longer applicable and they will have to pay the remainder of this annual tax in lump sum amount.
As a first step they must get in touch with their local council immediately and try to work out a payment plan, should the local council office allow for this leverage at this stage. In the other case, they must start making arrangements for full payment of their council tax bill.
What Is The Meaning Of Court Summons For Council Tax?
A court summons is a legal notice served in lieu of council tax debt and is used as a debt recovery tool by the local council when residents have deferred their council tax payments and not responded to the reminders sent them.
The court summons mentions the total amount due on the defaulting resident (this includes the remainder of their council tax payments as well as any legal fees that have been incurred during the recovery process) as well as the date of the court hearing.
The purpose of this legal notice is to let the debtor know that their council tax debt is now under consideration by the legal system and they will not be able to defer on payments any longer. It also mentions the date of the court hearing; which serves as the due date prior to which payments must be cleared or the debtor should be prepared to face a liability order.
Do I Have To Attend The Court Hearing?
While absence from any other court summons may be considered contempt of court, in the case of council tax debt, debtors are only expected to appear in court if they have valid reasons for not making payments and are expected to present an argument in their defence along with substantial evidence.
However, their absence has no impact on the court proceedings where the council presents its case and a Liability Order is issued; authorising the local council office to deduct their dues from the debtor’s salary or benefits by contacting relevant authorities.
Inability to pay, will not be considered a valid reason by the magistrate for council tax debt. Below is a list of valid defences that may be able to stop a Liability Order from being raised:
- there is a calculation error in the council tax bill
- the bill has not been properly set
- the debt is cleared prior to the court hearing
- the Valuation List does not mention the said property
- more than six years have passed (this means the debt is to be written off)
- the debt is being recovered more than six years after it became due
- the resident has declared bankruptcy and proceedings have started
- an administration order has been made through the County Court Act 1984
What Is A Liability Order?
A Liability Order is a court order granted by the magistrate to the local council authorising them with certain powers to recover council tax debt. The legal fee for its issuance and any other court fee will be included in the amount due to the debtor.
Since it is not a County Court Judgement, the issuance of a Liability Order does not have a negative impact on the debtor’s credit rating. However, the local council can now use the following means to recover the outstanding amount of council tax:
- instruct the debtor’s employer to make deductions from their salary
- influence the Department of Work and Pensions to make deductions from the debtor’s benefit claims
- claim a charge on the said premises on which the tax is due
- ask a bailiff to visit the premises and possess valuables to cover the amount of tax
- place an application before the Country Court to make the debtor bankrupt
- apply to the Magistrates’ Court requesting for the debtor to be sentenced to jail
What If The Court Summons Is Sent By Mistake?
In the rare case, should a resident receive a court summons by mistake, their immediate response should be to inform their local council office. Sometimes, residents may have to provide evidence of the council tax payments that they have made so that any error may be corrected.
Some of the common potential mistakes are:
- there has been an error in assigning a valuation band to the claimant
- the valuation band for the property is changed due to a change in circumstances
- the property has been valued incorrectly
- there is a calculation error in the instalments
Local councils do not have the authority to write off council tax debt; however, in case more than six years have passed since the time of the debt, it may be written off due to time-lapse.
Generally speaking, councils would have made sure to have used all debt recovery tools during this time so if any amount does get written off, it would that part of the debt that remains un-recovered.
Sometimes an Individual Voluntary Agreement (IVA) may help in getting a percentage of the debt written off.
In this case, the total value of the debt must be £5000 (or above) and the debtors must have a regular income of £800 (or above). The local council that the debtor comes under must be on the list of approved councils as well.
The discussion in this blog post makes it clear that council tax arrears will eventually lead to a court summons by the magistrate. However, this legal action does not take place without warning. Residents are initially sent reminders by the council authorities to clear their council tax debt. It is only after not receiving a response or not getting an appropriate response while council tax debt continues to pile up that a court summons is issued.
FAQs: Can You Get Council Tax Court Summons With No Warning?
What happens if I fall behind on Council Tax?
If you fall behind on council tax, you will initially get reminders from the council authorities to clear your dues. However, if you do not respond to those reminders or continue to remain in council tax debt, the authorities can take legal action by sending a court summons to you.
Since a council tax court summons is not a County Court Judgement, it has no impact on the debtor’s credit rating. However, it may authorise local councils to ask debtors to deduct the amount (or a percentage of it) from the debtor’s wages. It also authorises them to contact the Department for Works and Pensions to deduct it from the state benefits that the debtor may be availing of.
What happens at a court summons for council tax?
The magistrate issues a Liability Order during the court proceedings; authorising the local council to recover council tax debt through alternate means; allowances, benefits and wages of the debtor. Should a debtor have valid reasons for not being able to clear their council tax dues, they may present their case during the hearing.
Is a council tax court summons a CCJ?
No, a council tax court summons does not qualify as a County Court Judgement (CCJ). This is the reason why it does not affect an individual’s credit rating.
Can summons be cancelled?
It is highly unlikely that a council tax court summons will be cancelled. However, if the debtor makes payments prior to the scheduled date of the hearing or there is an agreement reached between him and the local council on a payment plan or a council tax reduction scheme, the court summons stands cancelled.