If you’re finding it difficult to pay your council tax on time and are unable to reach a suitable arrangement with your local council, it can put you in a stressful situation. Clearing any outstanding council tax arrears that you’ve fallen behind with isn’t always easy. The situation can be made worse if the council instruct sheriff officers to chase you up for the debt.
Sheriff officers have certain rights to recover any outstanding council tax debt on behalf of a local council. However, they can only carry this out if the council has secured a summary warrant from the Sheriff Court. This will give them legal grounds to collect any outstanding balance(s).
Unfortunately, you will not receive notification that the council is applying for a summary warrant or that any action is taking place against you in the meantime. The Sheriff Court will be able to automatically grant the necessary warrant. This will then be sent to you via post to your address by the sheriff officers.
What do I do if I receive a summary warrant?
If you do receive a summary warrant, at this stage, you will be unable to negotiate a repayment plan with the council. You will be required to make contact with the sheriff company assigned to your case. There should be information enclosed that provides contact details of who you need to get in touch with to make payment arrangements.
In addition to your outstanding council tax debt, there will also be a court fee charge, this is generally an automatic 10% penalty fine from when the summary warrant was obtained.
At this stage, it is recommended that you attempt to come to a suitable arrangement to repay your council tax arrears. If you can, try to make regular instalments that fall in line with your current affordability. In most cases, the sheriff officers will want you to complete a financial assessment that details your household income and expenditure, before they allow you to set up a repayment plan. They may also ask you to provide bank statements as evidence.
We provide free impartial advice and guidance. Our advisors can negotiate an affordable repayment plan for you. Are you facing a bank or wage arrestment? We may have a solution to meet your individual circumstances.
Note: Sheriff officers and enforcement agents are essentially the same, they perform the same duties.
If you receive employment support allowance, income support or jobseeker’s allowance, you can arrange for your repayments to be deducted from these attachable benefits. You will need your national insurance number to do so.
Sheriff officers can request details of your current employer and bank account information. They may even ask you to provide additional information about anyone else who is also liable to pay the outstanding council tax debt. This could be a partner or anyone else who is named on the bill. If you fail to provide this information, you may receive a fine.APPLY FOR HELP
What if I am unable to pay after receiving a summary warrant?
If you are unable to pay your council tax debt at this stage, the council can return to the sheriff court and apply for a ‘charge for payment’. This will be a formal notice requiring you to pay the amount owed in full within 14 days. If you’re unable to do so, sheriff officers will now have the power to recover any money owed through a number of different methods. This can include the following:
- Earnings arrestment (sometimes referred to as a wage arrestment) – this means taking payments directly from your wages/salary
- Freezing bank accounts – this will give you limited access to your money
- Taking money directly from your bank account(s)
- Entering your home and taking goods that add up to the amount you owe by selling them
Remember: You still have time during these 14 days to arrange an affordable repayment plan.
What if I cannot pay after receiving a charge for payment?
If you receive a ‘charge for payment’ and still can’t afford to pay your arrears in full within 14 days, a sheriff officer will follow through with one or more of the options found above. This will depend on what information you have provided previously, in an attempt to recover the remaining debt. It is important to remember that if you do not supply them with the correct information, aside from receiving a fine, they may also be able to obtain this through other means such as contacting the council directly.APPLY FOR HELP
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Can sheriff officers enter my property?
Yes, but they can only do this if they have the correct documentation permitting them to do so. This does not mean they have the right to enter your home whenever they choose to do so. They can sometimes give you misinformation, unfortunately, they are regulated on what they do and not what they say. It is important to know your rights, if a sheriff officer does show up at your property, make sure you ask to see official documentation from the sheriff court.
If a sheriff officer wishes to enter your property, he/she must have a court generated exceptional attachments order to be granted. This will give them the right to enter your home and request payment or take goods estimated to cover the amount owed once these items have been sold. Official documentation will contain wording that states “grants warrant for all lawful execution” or something very similar. Unfortunately, if you have allowed sheriffs to enter your home previously, this may mean that you have given them permission to enter your home on subsequent visits moving forwards.
What if the sheriff officer does not have a exceptional attachments order?
To put it simply, do not let them in your home. If you’re concerned, you are not even required by law to open your door to them. You have the right to communicate with sheriff officers through a chained door, letterbox or window. This is legally allowed.
We recommend you exercise caution, remember that a sheriff can enter if a door is left unlocked as this is classed as peaceful entry.
What does gaining entry by reasonable force mean?
Sheriff officers are able to use ‘reasonable force’ to enter your property, this is to collect goods that will be sold to pay any outstanding council tax debt. Remember, an exceptional attachments order will be required to do so. Sheriff officers will likely only use this method if they have previously failed to arrest your earnings or deduct any attachable benefits beforehand.
Fortunately, there are strict rules in place that establish what ‘reasonable force’ can mean.
There are very strict rules about what constitutes reasonable force. A sheriff officer can gain entry by the following methods:
- Breaking any hinges or locks to open a door
- Force a gate to be opened
- Cut through a chain or padlock
- Breaking down a vehicle barrier
Sheriff officers cannot gain entry by the following methods:
- Pushing anyone out of their way
- Entering through an open window
- Breaking a window to gain entry
- Removing floorboards to access any part of your property
- Climbing over a fence or a wall
Exceptional attachment orders for any debt owed can only be carried out between 8am – 8pm on Monday to Saturday, this excludes Sundays and bank holidays. For this to occur, you must also be given a minimum of seven days notice in advance. Additionally, you are required to have someone aged 16+ at the property who understands what is taking place (this is to protect those who are vulnerable). If any resident does not understand English or has a physical or mental impairment/disability, any sheriff action cannot take place until the above conditions have been met.
However, it is important to remember that any possessions that are kept outside your property e.g. a bicycle or vehicle can be seized. These can be sold later on without requiring an exceptional attachment order.APPLY FOR HELP
What items can sheriff officers take from me?
Only those items that are considered to be non-essential can be taken. Items that are used for everyday living or work cannot be taken. The following items are considered to be exempt:
- Beds and bedding
- Furniture (beds, bookshelves, chairs, tables, and wardrobes)
- Home fixtures and fittings (lights and floor coverings)
- White goods (fridge, freezer, dishwasher, microwave, heating appliance)
- DIY and home maintenance goods
- Education or training materials
- Children’s items (toys)
- Work related items (tools)
Luxury goods are generally considered to be jewellery or electronics used for entertainment purposes such as DVD/Blu-Ray players, music players, tablets (iPad), laptops etc.
The above lists are general guidelines, if you believe that something has been taken unlawfully, you should contact both the council and sheriff company directly to make a complaint.
If you are in council tax debt, no matter what stage you’re at, whether the debt is still with the council or has been passed to sheriff officers, we’re happy to help. We provide free advice and mediation services.