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Action needed for households in Council Tax debt

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Citizens Advice Cymru is calling for more action to assist people falling behind on paying their council tax.

Council tax arrears are the most common debt issue we see at Citizens Advice in Wales. As the biggest fixed cost most households have after housing, people can risk falling behind on their council tax payments if their other essential living costs start to strain their budgets.

However, rather than help people to get back on track, current regulations governing council tax debt collection, alongside budget pressures that drive in-year collections, mean many people face recovery methods that can worsen debt problems and exacerbate financial insecurity. This can also have knock-on effects in other areas of people’s lives such as their job security, physical and mental health and personal relationships.

The Welsh Government has introduced a number of interventions to improve council tax collections during the last Senedd term, but we believe that they do not go far enough. Given the financial difficulties many households continue to face this year, it is critical that steps are taken to ensure people are treated fairly when they fall behind on their council tax.

In a new report to be launched at the Senedd on Wednesday, we outline actions the Welsh Government and local authorities can take to help people to get out of council tax debt in a fair and sustainable way:

  • Show greater flexibility to those who are struggling to afford debt repayments.
  • Stop people being asked to pay their entire annual bill if they miss 1 monthly payment.
  • Continue to improve awareness of council tax support and increase take-up by eligible households.
  • Create a statutory code of practice governing council tax debt collection, building on the Council Tax Protocol for Wales.

Rebecca Woolley, Director of Citizens Advice Cymru said:
“Many people in Wales are worried about making ends meet this year. Welsh and UK Government support packages have eased some pressure on households but they have not solved the cost of living crisis.

“We have seen record numbers of people coming to us for advice on essential bill debts such as council tax. Our report shows that households who want to pay their bills are still met with inflexible systems that risk making their debt problems worse.

“Citizens Advice Cymru wants to see affordable and sustainable repayment plans, clearer communication across local authorities, and firm commitments that bailiffs are only ever a last resort.”

Commenting on wider reform of Council Tax, Luke Young, Head of Policy & Campaigns said:
“The Welsh Government – with the support of Plaid Cymru through the Co-operation Agreement – has committed to wider reform of council tax in this Senedd term.

“We want to see action now to enforce protections for those struggling to pay under the current system, as well as a much needed overhaul of a tax that falls more heavily on lower income households in Wales.”