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Council tax arrears levels in England hit £6bn

The Money Advice Trust responds to the latest council tax arrears figures.

Posted June 19, 2024

  • Latest figures show £6bn owed to local authorities in England
  • Council tax arrears increased by £488 million (9 percent) in the last year

Figures released today by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities show that council tax arrears in England have reached close to £6bn, with the overall figure outstanding in England and Wales now at £6.2bn as of March 2024.

The latest arrears figures show debt levels continuing to increase, up by 9 percent between March 2023 and March this year.

National Debtline, a free, independent debt advice charity is calling on people worried about their council tax bills to seek advice as soon as possible.

Current rules for council tax mean that households can be liable for their full annual bill if they miss one payment.

With the average council tax bill rising by £106 this year, at a time when many people are still reeling from the impact of high costs, the charity is warning that more people are at risk of falling into financial difficulty. 

Rising levels of council tax debt

The charity reports that a third (30%) of callers to its National Debtline service had council tax arrears in May, making it the most common priority debt its advisers hear about.

The amount owed has also grown, with National Debtline callers owing on average £1,762 in arrears – up by 49% from £1,181 in 2019.

The need for reform

National Debtline says the figures are just the latest in a series of warnings on the need for reform of council tax collection rules.

Highlighting the fast escalation of collection activity for one missed payment, which often results in bailiff action, the charity is calling for the next Government to make improving council tax collection practices a key priority – a move it says will bring down arrears and ensure low income households have the support they need to keep up with their bills.

The charity is urging the next Government to:

  • Improve support through increased and ringfenced funding for local Council Tax Support schemes to prevent arrears occurring in the first place.
  • Reform existing collection rules (The 1992 Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations) including:
    • stopping people becoming liable for their full annual bill if they fall behind on instalments.
    • introducing a pre-action protocol so councils have to offer genuinely affordable repayment plans before progressing to other collections methods.
  • Introduce independent regulation of the bailiff industry, to ensure people in debt are treated fairly.

Steve Vaid, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said:

“Council tax debt is on a worrying upward trend and the sheer scale of arrears now underlines the need for urgent action.

But this is nothing new. Council tax continues to be one of the most common debts amongst our National Debtline clients, and recent cost of living pressures have left many more people struggling to keep up with their payments.

“Councils have a vital role in helping residents with unmanageable bills and to ensure council tax, crucial to funding local services, is collected in a way that is fair and affordable.

“Reforming collection practices should be a priority for the next government, including putting an end to people becoming liable for their full annual council tax bill after falling behind.

"I would urge anyone worried about their council tax, or any other bills, to seek free, independent advice from National Debtline. Our advisers are here to help and can talk you through your options.”

National Debtline provides free, independent, expert advice. Contact National Debtline for free on 0808 808 4000 or via  

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