Each year, approx 3.5 million households and businesses have a Liability Order issued against them for council tax arrears. With forthcoming changes to the benefits system (in particular with the introduction of Universal Credit) it is anticipated that this figure is set to increase significantly in the coming year.
Do I need to attend the hearing at the Magistrates Court?
You don’t need to attend the hearing. Unless the amount claimed on the summons is wrong or you are not the person named on the summons, the Magistrate must grant a liability order.
If you do attend the hearing you will normally be able to speak with a representative from the local authority. It would be helpful to take any evidence of financial hardship with you. In most cases, an agreement is usually reached for you to settle the debt by way of affordable payments. The Liability Order will still be granted. The account will remain with the local authority unless you default on the agreed payment arrangement.
What will happen at the hearing?
To obtain a Liability Order, the council will present a spreadsheet (called a Complaint List) to the Magistrates Court. This will consist of a list of householders in arrears with Council Tax or Non Domestic Rates. Unless there are objections, (which are rare), the Court will rubber stamp the Complaint List with a court stamp. This has the effect of formally establishing that there is a liability (to the council). Once granted, the local authority can take a range of enforcement actions to recover the liability.
Will the council send me a Liability Order?
No, a ‘Liability Order’ is not a prescribed court document. The stamped ‘Compliant List’ gives the legal authority to the council to use a range of enforcement methods (attachment of earnings, attachment against benefits, bailiff enforcement etc) to recover the liability.
What will happen when a Liability Order is granted?
It all depends on the individual council. Some councils will send a letter to you but they are not under any legal obligation to do so. They can if they wish, pass the account over to an enforcement agency.
To avoid bailiff enforcement, it is vital that you contact the local authority at the earliest possible stage to negotiate ways in which to settle the debt. This is because, once the Liability Order has been passed to their bailiffs, it is very rare indeed for the council to recall the debt.
Commentary from Bailiff Advice Online
If you have any queries about the enforcement of a Liability Order, or are experiencing difficulty in getting a payment agreement accepted with the bailiff company, please feel free to contact us. You can email a question to us using our online Enquiry Form. Alternatively, can contact our helpline. Details are on our Contact page.
Lastly, our Simplified Guide to the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 can be read here.