Receiving a court summons for council tax debt means that the recipient has either not responded to the previous reminders (usually three) that were sent by the local council office or that the evidence shared by them as proof of inability to pay council tax is (a) insufficient or (b) inaccurate. 

According to the BBC website, nearly 4,800 people were taken to court in 2016-17 due to council tax debt Councils to be reimbursed after courts fee ‘error’ The same report suggests that as per The Ministry of Justice, due to an administrative error, court fee for council tax had been mistakenly set too high in 2013-14, due to which the courts reimbursed the amounts to local councils upon realising the error.  

In rare cases, there is a possibility that the local authorities have mistakenly sent a court summons either due to a miscommunication, miscalculation or perhaps misjudgement.

In either case, the first response by a recipient of a council tax court summons should be to contact their local council office immediately. Local council websites can be found here by entering your postal code Find your local council

How To Fight Council Tax Summons?

The very fact that one has received a court summons to clear their council tax debt is a clear indication that they have dues to pay. Should one be in error, they must contact their local council office and work out a payment plan so as to avoid a court hearing.

However, should the recipient of a court summons not be at fault, they must still contact their local council office to clear the miscommunication that caused a court order to be issued. In the meanwhile, they must gather all council tax payment receipts and/or relevant evidence(s).

Whether a court summons is righteously issued to clear council tax debt or it is due to an error of local authorities, the recipient must always contact their local council office. To understand the circumstances surrounding this situation, we will try to learn more about the following:

  • what a council tax summons is
  • the reasons why a council tax summons is issued
  • what should the recipient do to respond to council tax summons
  • what happens if the court summons for council tax payment by mistake

What Is A Council Tax Summons?

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.  

Why Is Council Tax Summons Issued?

The very need for a court summons to clear council tax debt arises due to the fact the local council has failed to (a) recover the amount from the debtor and (b) not received a response from the debtor despite reminders or notifications.

Council tax is a major tax against properties in England, Scotland and Wales. It is the main source of revenue for local councils and serves as the source of income to provide for community-based services such as police, fire, roads, parks, elderly care (to name a few), 

According to a report titled “Wrong Side of the Tax” Wrong Side of the Tax: Council tax debt collection needs to change council tax revenue accounts for nearly 32 per cent of local government funding. Should there be large discrepancies in the amount due versus the amount collected, local councils will face hardships in maintaining the services that they provide.

If a resident is struggling to pay council tax payments, they must inform their local council office. Together, they may be able to work out a solution as councils often allow for delayed payments or offer a one-time discount. They may also gather details from the resident(s) to find out if they may be eligible for a council tax reduction, especially if they are on low income or claim state benefits. In this case, they may apply for council tax reduction and avail discounted rates. To check eligibility for council tax reduction click here https://www.gov.uk/council-tax-reduction

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.

What Should I Do To Respond To Council Tax Summons?

If an individual has received a magistrate’s court summons for council tax debt, they must understand a few things 

  • they will have to appear in court to agree on a payment plan 
  • the usual 10-month instalments of council tax are no longer applicable and full payment of the yearly amount has to be paid in full 
  • a legal fee of £55 to £80 for court proceedings will be added to the council tax debt of the resident.

In response to the court summons, the debtor should contact their local council office immediately. If they are able to clear their dues within 14 days of receiving the court summons or work out a payment plan with their local council office, a court hearing will not be necessary.

What Happens If The Court Summons For Council Tax Payment By Mistake?

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.

In case the error lies in the valuation band assigned to the property or the valuation of the property itself or there seems to be a calculation error in the instalments versus the annual tax, informing the local council office should be the immediate step so that the errors are corrected at the earliest.

Conclusion:

Here are some facts about council tax arrears:

  • At the beginning of 2018-19 council tax arrears amounted to £3.0 billion
  • During the year, local authorities managed to collect £625 million of this amount; amounting to a collection rate of 20.6 per cent.
  • During the same time, £195 million of unrecovered council tax dues was written off by local authorities.
  • At the end of the financial year on March 31 2019, the amount of council tax arrears stood at £3.2 billion; a 7 per cent increase from the previous year.
  • This includes court and administrative fees incurred during this time amounting to £336 million; an increase of 9.8 per cent from the previous year.

Being a priority debt, council tax must be paid on or before the due date. Failure to make payments should be anticipated and local council offices duly informed to work out options such as extended instalments, payment plan or a one time discount. 

However, if the matter escalates to the point that a court summons is ordered, clearance of council tax dues becomes legally binding. If council tax arrears are not cleared despite this, courts are authorised to raise a liability order and in extreme cases, sentence the defaulter to a jail term of three months. 

FAQs: How To Fight Council Tax Summons?

What is a court summons for Council Tax?

A summons is a request to the magistrate court to issue a liability order in the name of the council tax debtor. It is a council tax debt recovery method used by local councils when debtors have failed to pay their council tax dues and have not responded positively (or at all) to payment reminders.

Does Council Tax debt get written off after 6 years?

Yes, council tax debt does get written off after 6 years. However, most councils try every resource possible (including court summons, liability order, visit by a bailiff, even a court sentence to jail time) before the end of this period to make sure that payments (or at least partial payments) are received.

What happens if you don’t attend a court summons?

If someone misses a court appearance despite a court summons, they may be considered in contempt of court and in extreme cases, an arrest warrant may be issued in their name. However, if someone misses appearing in court for a council tax court summons, it is assumed that they have no evidence to defend themselves and a liability order is issued in their name. It is still advisable to appear before the court upon being summoned so as to discuss alternative methods of clearing one’s council tax dues.

Do you go to jail for not paying council tax?

Yes, you can go to jail for not paying council tax. However, this happens only if the debtor has not responded to payment reminders sent by the local council office, not adhered to the liability order, failed to follow the alternate payment plan, not appeared before a magistrate after receiving court summons and/or the bailiff visiting their premises has not found sufficient valuables to cover the cost of their council tax arrears. It is only then that a court may award a jail sentence of three months to the debtor. It should be borne in mind that this will not be applicable upon individuals facing low income or in receipt of state benefits. 

Can bailiff force entry for Council Tax?

No, a bailiff cannot force entry to recover council tax debt. In fact, before their visit to the premises, the local council office informs the residents of the anticipated visit (with date and time). The residents are also asked to clear their dues prior to the visit. If there is no response from them with regard to clearance of council tax debt, they are then informed of the amount due upon them (including bailiff fees) and that the bailiff will be taking into possession valuables that amount to the said dues. 

References:

Dealing with a summons

Pay Council Tax arrears

Explanation of how and why a summons is issued for council tax.

Find your local council

Dealing with Council Tax arrears

Fact Sheet – Council tax arrears | Council tax bailiffs | National Debtline

Wrong Side of the Tax: Council tax debt collection needs to change

Council tax levels 2014-15

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