If you fall behind with you council tax payments and cannot come to an agreement with the council on how and when to pay your council tax debt back, it may authorise an enforcement agent to collect what you owe.
These agents – sheriff officers – have certain powers to collect on behalf of the council, but they can only do so if the council has obtained a summary warrant from the Sheriff Court, which gives them to legal right to collect what you owe.
Unfortunately, you will not find out in advance if the council is seeking a summary warrant against you. The court will automatically grant the warrant, which the Sherriff Officers will send a copy of to you in the post.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU RECEIVE A SUMMARY WARRANT?
Once you receive a summary warrant, you are no longer dealing with the council so you should contact the Sheriff Officers using the details provided on the warrant to arrange payment. In addition to the debt that you owe for council tax arrears, you will find you have also been charged a court fee, which is usually an automatic penalty of 10% when the warrant was granted.
At this point, you should try and come to an arrangement to pay back your council tax arrears in small, but regular instalments if you can. The Sheriff Officers will almost certainly want to see a budget that details your income and your outgoings to set up payments by this method.
Sheriffs and Enforcement Agents are
essentially the same thing
If you receive income support, pension credit or jobseeker’s allowance, payments can be made directly from these. The Sheriff Officers will need your national insurance to set this up.
At some point you may be asked to provide details of your employer and banking arrangements. They may even want to find out the details of anyone else who was liable to pay the council tax bill to try and obtain payment from them. If you do not provide the information you may receive a fine.
WHAT IF YOU CANNOT PAY YOUR ARREARS AFTER YOU HAVE RECEIVED A SUMMARY WARRANT?
At this point, the council will go back to the court and obtain a charge for payment. This is a formal notice that you have 14 days to pay your arrears or the Sheriff Officers are granted powers to obtain the money you owe by one of several different means.
- Earnings arrestment – that is, taking payments directly from your salary
- Freezing bank accounts
- Removing money directly from your bank account
- Entering your home and taking possessions that would amount to what you owe when sold
There is still time during the 14 days to arrange a repayment plan.
WHAT IF YOU CANNOT PAY YOUR ARREARS AFTER YOU HAVE RECEIVED A CHARGE FOR PAYMENT?
If you are still unable to pay what you owe, a Sheriff Officer will pursue one or more of the options listed above to obtain payment for the debt depending on what information you have provided them with in the past.
CAN THE SHERIFF OFFICER ENTER YOUR HOME?
Sheriff Officers should only enter your home if they have the right documents. They don’t have the right to enter whenever they choose, no matter what they may say. The said truth is, some Sheriff Officers say and do whatever they can to force you to pay and that can mean turning up without official court documents and try to blag their way into your home.
To enter your home Sheriff Officers must have a court-generated exceptional attachments order that gives them the authority to enter your home and collect payment or goods they estimate will cover the debt you owe once they are sold. The correct document will contain a phrase along the lines of ‘grants warrant for all lawful execution’.
Unfortunately, if you have let them in before you may have granted them automatic permission to enter again.
WHAT IF THEY DON’T HAVE THE EXCEPTIONAL ATTACHMENTS ORDER?
Don’t let them in. That simple. You don’t even have to open the door to them if you are worried. It is perfectly legal for you to talk to the Sheriff Officers through the door, a window
or letterbox if you do not feel comfortable opening the door to talk to them. In fact, we recommend you do this, but if you want to open the door make sure you have a chain on to prevent it from being pushed open. It also wise to ensure you do not have any unlocked door, as it is legal for a Sheriff Officer to enter through an unlocked door.
GAINING ENTRY BY ‘REASONABLE FORCE’ (AND JUST WHAT IS ‘REASONABLE’?)
An exceptional attachments order allows the Sheriff Officers to use reasonable force to enter your home to collect possessions that can be sold to pay the debt. Generally speaking, the Sheriff Officers will attempt this only when they have failed to obtain arrestment of your salary or benefits first.
There are very strict rules about what constitutes reasonable force.
A Sheriff Officer CAN gain entry by:
- breaking the lock or hinges of a door open
- forcing a gate open
- cutting through a padlock and chain
- breaking down a vehicle barrier.
A Sheriff Officer CANNOT gain entry by:
- pushing anyone out of the way
- getting in through an open window
- breaking a window to get in
- taking up floorboards to access part of your property
- climbing over a fence or wall.
An exceptional attachment for debt can only take place between 8am and 8pm Monday to Saturday, but never on a Sunday or Bank Holiday, and you must be given seven days notice. In addition, there must be someone over the age of 16 present in the house who understands what is happening, so if the resident does not understand English or is physically or mentally disabled the Sheriff Officers cannot go ahead.
However, you need to be aware that if you have possessions outside of your property, such as a vehicle or pushbike, Sheriff Officers can seize it for sale without an exceptional attachment order.
WHAT CAN THE SHERIFF OFFICERS TAKE?
Only items which are considered luxury items can be removed for valuation and sale. Items that are used for day-to-day living cannot be taken and are considered exempt.
- Beds and bedding
- Furniture, such as tables, chairs, bookcases, beds and wardrobes
- Fixtures and fittings, like lights and floor coverings
- White goods, such as fridges, heating appliances, dishwashers and microwaves
- A home computer
- Small appliances, such as radios, microwave, kettles, and a TV
- Education or training-related items
- Toys or child-related items
- DIY and home-maintenance-related items
- Items required for work, such as tools
Luxury items may include DVD players, CD players, tablet computers, laptops, and other luxury electrical goods.
If you owe council tax arrears, no matter what stage of collection you are at with the council, give us a call and speak to one of our advisers. We can help you create a plan for paying back what you that will satisfy the Sheriff Officers, or if you cannot pay advise you how to deal with them if they want to come to your home and carry out an exceptional attachments order.