National regulations governing how council tax arrears are collected are inflexible, push people further into debt and need to change, says Citizens Advice Ashfield.
That’s because when people miss a single council tax payment, they become liable for the full year’s council tax bill soon after. The rules also mean councils are pushed to use the court process to collect arrears, and don’t set out what good collection looks like.
Citizens Advice Ashfield says the current regulations governing how arrears are collected limit the ability of local councils to collect debts in a fair way. This can cause debts to spiral making it harder for people to get their finances back on track.
The call comes as new figures published by National Citizens Advice this month show that last year, for every £1 referred to bailiffs for collection, councils received just 27p in return. It also found:
Last year Citizens Advice Ashfield helped 278 people with council tax issues. It is also the most common debt problem brought to the charity, helping 86,000 people nationally each year. In 2018, an estimated 2.2 million households in England were behind on their council tax bill.
Reforming how council tax is collected is just one of the ways Citizens Advice is asking the next government to help people recover from debt.
Some aspects of the process are not within the council’s power to change. That’s why Citizens Advice want to see central government improve the regulations which govern how council tax is collected on a national level, to enable councils to collect debt fairly and efficiently.
As a minimum, the next government should amend the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 to:
Kathryn Stacey, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ashfield said:
“Council tax debt is the biggest debt issues we help people with in Ashfield and many of the problems relate to the way this is collected.
“Our advisors see first hand the impact the quick escalation of the debt through a court process and the use of bailiffs has. These practices add extra costs, can worsen people’s mental health and make it harder for them to get their finances back on track.
“We work closely with the Ashfield District Council to help those most vulnerable clients through direct contact with the collections team and ‘Council Tax Protocol’ agreed last year but the way regulations control councils’ powers to collect council tax debts makes it hard for them to do so in a fair way. That’s why we want central government to improve the collection rules in England and put an end to ineffective practices, including charging a full year’s bill after a single payment is missed.”
If you are struggling to pay your council tax bill or have other debts, Citizens Advice Ashfield can help.