Magistrate court summons for council tax debt is sent to residents when the local council office has not been successful in recovering the amount even after sending reminders to the resident. Since council tax is a mandatory tax, non-payment leads to legal action from the council’s side when their payments become due over a period of time and there is no acknowledgement or response to the reminders sent by them.

Residents; whether tenants or homeowners in England, Scotland and Wales need to be mindful of the fact that being a property based tax that serves as a major revenue generation tool for local councils, council tax serves as the means for various community-based services that local councils provide them. These include fire and police services, parks and recreation, garbage disposal and recycling, schools and elderly care. 

If council tax payments are being deferred deliberately, local councils will be forced to take help from magistrate courts to intervene and influence the early clearance of dues.

However, if an individual is facing financial hardship and is unable to make certain payments, they must inform their local council office to avoid legal action. Individuals on a low income or in receipt of state benefits may be allowed a reduction in their council tax. For this, they must inform their local council office so that desired arrangements are made. To apply for a council tax reduction click here Apply for Council Tax Reduction

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defaulting resident would be that the council tax payments that were originally designed as 10 monthly instalments are no longer applicable and they will have to pay the remainder of this annual tax in lump sum amount.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.

Through this article, we will try to answer the following questions on this topic:

  • What Is The Meaning Of Court Summons For Council Tax?
  • Do I Have To Attend The Court Hearing?
  • What Is A Liability Order?
  • What If The Court Summons Is Sent By Mistake?
  • Can Council Tax Debt Be Written Off?

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 has 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 as contempt of court, in 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 upon 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 

Can Council Tax Debt Be Written Off?

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.

Conclusion

Since council tax debt is a priority debt, it must be cleared at the earliest. If one is facing financial hardship, they must check if they are eligible for a council tax reduction by contacting their local council office immediately so that if their status is approved they receive the benefit. Furthermore, if an individual foresees that they will not be able to make certain council tax payments, they must inform the local council office so that if a one-time discount is applicable they may be able to avail it.

Deliberate non-payment of council tax bills and lack of response to local council reminder notices may eventually lead to a court summons from a magistrate seeking clearance of dues in full. At this stage, a Liability Order may be issued (usually 2 weeks post-issuance of the court summons) and may land the debtor in further financial difficulties than they were in prior to this situation. 

FAQs: What Should I Do If Magistrate Court Summons For Non-Payment Of Council Tax?

Do you go to jail for not paying council tax?

Yes, if you have not cleared your council tax debt even after receiving a court summons, the local council may appeal for your arrest. In this case, debtors may be sentenced to a three-month jail term.

Does a council tax court summons affect credit rating?

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 debtor’s 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.

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.

References:

Tax | Summons FAQs

What happens if I don’t pay my Council Tax? – Mansfield District Council

Problems paying your Council Tax? · Colchester Borough Council

Liability orders | Late or non-payment of council tax

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