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Prison threat undermines efforts to make debt collection less punitive, says Citizens Advice

18 September 2019

Citizens Advice has responded to Chris Daw QC’s report (published by the SMF) on scrapping imprisonment for council tax arrears in England.

The national charity’s research published in April 2019 shows aggressive collection added half a billion pounds in fees to people’s council tax debts in 2016/17.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Outdated regulations push local authorities to collect council tax arrears aggressively.

“Threatening imprisonment, or sending people to prison in England, undermines efforts to make debt collection less punitive. The same regulations also mean after one missed monthly payment, people can become liable for their full year’s bill, pushing people into further debt.

“The government needs to fundamentally reform the regulations governing how local authorities collect debts to give councils more flexibility to help people get their finances back on track.“


Earlier this year, the government announced it will review the way council tax debt is collected. It should use its review to fundamentally reform the rules governing how local authorities collect debts by amending the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992

Council tax arrears is the most common debt problem Citizens Advice helps people with. On average our clients in council tax debt have just £14 a month disposable income.

Last year, our local services around England and Wales helped more than 95,000 people struggling to make their council tax payments.

The national charity estimates over £560 million in fees were added to people’s council tax debt in 2016/17 alone. This includes £300 million of bailiff fees which is particularly concerning as some of these fees have to be paid by the person in debt before any council tax arrears can be recovered by the local authority. That is equivalent to adding nearly £278 to every households’ debt that was in council tax arrears

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
  2. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.
  3. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.
  4. Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.
  5. Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  6. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit
  7. For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 to talk in Welsh.
  8. We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
  9. Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.