Council tax is a priority debt but isn’t one that bailiffs can force entry for. If a debt collector comes to your door, knowing your rights can help to protect you from any unfair treatment.
Debt collectors cannot force entry into your home if you haven't paid your council tax. If you continue to ignore your debts and you then incur unpaid court fees, they could then enter your home.
Debt collectors can force entry for only a small number of debt types. Their right to force entry doesn’t extend to council tax arrears and debts. Bailiffs can’t force entry for council tax.
It’s worth being aware that not paying council tax can result in a list of other problems, so you might find that forced entry from bailiffs isn’t your only concern.
Read on to learn more about council tax debts and how to handle debt collectors at your door.
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Council tax debts are classed as priority debts because of the powers of your local authority. If you fall into council tax arrears, there are several ways that this can be resolved.
If you fall behind on council tax payments, your local authority has the option to take the money straight from your wages. They can take their council tax payments before the money even hits your bank account. If you’re on benefits, debts can also be paid back using money from your benefits payments. It’s possible that your council tax arrears could leave you with less money coming in.
If your local council can’t get what they’re owed by taking it straight from your income, they’ll move on to other debt collection tactics. Usually, the council will send bailiffs to your home in an effort to claim what they’re owed. If debt problems go unchecked, more serious risks include bankruptcy or a prison sentence.
The total council tax debt levels in 2018, according to government statistics, was around £3 billion. This debt has risen by 22% in the last five years, showing that more and more people are struggling – and therefore, bailiff visits are only likely to increase.
Debt collectors need to stick to the rules, though many will try to push their luck. They can’t force entry for council tax arrears, though they will do their best to get into your home and carry out the job they’ve been hired for.
You’ll need to invite bailiffs into your home, though the invitation doesn’t need to be verbal. Even leaving your door unlocked gives a bailiff a right to gain access. Keep your doors locked at all time, and deal with the bailiffs whilst they’re still standing outside.
If a door is unlocked, a bailiff can choose to walk right into your home. Once they’re inside, how you treat a debt collector can change how the situation unfolds.
Debt collectors can only visit between 6 am and 9 pm. A genuine bailiff should not attempt to visit your home outside these hours.
If a bailiff does show up for council tax arrears, it’s your right to keep them outside. Initially, deal with any debt collectors through a window or by shouting through the door.
Ask any debt collector for identification, and check that they’re really who they say. A genuine bailiff should give you their name, as well as the name and head office phone number of the company they’re working for. They should also be able to give details of your debt, so you know you much you need to pay back.
Make sure that you’ve got all these details before you let things go any further. Ask the debt collector to show you the documents by holding them up to the window, so that you’re not forced to unlock the door.
Once you’re faced with a genuine visit from a debt collection agent, you must deal with your debt productively and responsibly. Penalties for non-payment can include a prison sentence, so it’s essential that you get these next steps right.
If possible, tell the bailiffs that you’ll deal with your debt straight away. If you don’t have the money to give to the bailiff, call the council and speak to them directly. Explain your situation and discuss a repayment plan, or tell them how you plan to clear your debt. If you can come to a good agreement with the council, then they may agree to call off the bailiffs.
If debt collectors are at your door and you can’t come to an agreement with the council, it may be wise to let the debt collectors in to do their job. If you choose to do this, stay very calm to avoid any risk of escalation.
It may help you to work with the debt collection agent so that they’re more willing to be fair to you. You can’t avoid or ignore a council tax debt, so a calm approach will be the best way to make things work in your favour.
Communicate with the debt collector. Explain which items are yours and which aren’t, as they cannot take someone else’s property. You may be able to negotiate, having some say over which items will be used to pay back what you owe.
Ultimately, remember that the debt collector is there to do the job they’ve been hired for. If you can’t offer them enough to clear the debt you owe, they have a right to start taking other items. They can’t take essentials like your bed, fridge or cooker, but can take almost anything else.
Many people choose to let debt collectors in, specifically for council tax debts. That’s because the penalties for non-payment can only get worse from this point. With other debts, debt collectors can feel like a last resort attempt for a frustrated creditor. When it comes to council tax, your local authority has several further tools in their toolbox.
Dealing with a debt collector is never a positive experience, though how you behave can shape how the debt collection agent will treat you. If you’re unhappy with their attitude or their behaviour, you have a right to contact their company head office and complain.
Begin by making a bailiff aware that you know and understand your rights. Calmly explain that your door is locked and that you’ll work with them whilst they’re outside. Ask them to provide formal ID and details of the debt that they’re settling. Tell them to post their ID through your letterbox or hold it up to read through the window.
If a debt collector is a genuine agent and has been sent for a council tax debt, it’s in your interest to settle this debt as soon as possible. You can calmly tell the bailiff that you’re calling the council and will try to agree to a repayment plan, but if that doesn’t work, then you might decide to let the bailiff into your house.
Debt collectors can lay claim to most of the items in your home, though they can’t take property that’s owned by somebody else. Where possible, have proof of ownership to hand so that you can protect what’s not yours.
With council tax being a priority debt, ignoring it won’t make it go away. If you refuse to allow a debt collector in then, they’ll probably decide to go away, but it’s very likely that they’ll return for another attempt very soon.
Whether or not you let a debt collector in, you’ve got to deal with your debt. Make efforts to clear your council tax arrears or negotiate a solid repayment plan. Our guides to council tax and debt contain a wealth of useful information.
Read our guides to learn more about council tax debt and why it should be your priority.
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