Debt adviser explains what happens if you don't pay your household bills and how to get help

There is help available for people who can't pay their bills
There is help available for people who can't pay their bills -Credit:PA

If you are unable to pay your household bills, there is help available, debt experts have said.

Last year, Citizen Advice revealed that one in four people in the UK are currently behind on at least one bill, with the most common arrears being council tax and and energy. Chris Davis, CEO of leading debt advice organisation MoneyPlus, said these bills, including water, are regarded as "priority debts" and can lead to significant repercussions if they are not paid.

To help you understand these repercussions, Chris explains what could happen if you do not pay these bills. He has also outlined what you can do if you are struggling to pay, reports the Mirror.

Council tax

Chris says council tax is different to energy and water bills, as if you miss a payment you will hear from the council within two weeks. He added: "If this correspondence is ignored it could turn into liability orders, attachment orders, and ultimately a summons to court whereby you could be imprisoned for not paying. If you pay council tax within seven days of receiving a warning notice, nothing else will happen.

"If not, the council will send you another notice and ask you to pay the full amount owed for the remainder of the year. If you fail to respond, a final notice will be issued and if the bill is not paid the council will apply for a liability order to pay for outstanding debt."

Chris says like other bills, council tax works in the same in that you need to make sure you are speaking directly to your local council if you cannot pay. However, Chris says your council tax bill always needs to take priority over other debts.

He added: "If you can’t pay your council tax because you’ve got to pay so much towards your debts, such as a credit card bill; the credit bill must come second. Otherwise, you need to seek advice from a regulated and reputable debt advice organisation, or a charity. The council should be talking to you about an affordable repayment plan, or offering reductions if you are eligible.”


If you don't pay your energy bill, you start to build up debt which your energy provider will chase up with you. Chris said you will likely receive a notice to pay within 28 days of not paying your most recent bill. Some suppliers also charge a penalty fee if you do not pay your bill.

Under Ofgem rules, your supplier must give you notice to pay your bills and also offer you some alternatives if you’re struggling. This might include a payment plan. If you still refuse to pay, it may then put you on a prepayment meter. However, it does have to follow strict criteria before doing this.

Chris added: "Your energy provider should be able to work with you in setting up a payment plan. Someone might be struggling because of a credit bill or unsecured loan agreement in place and energy providers must help you with a solution."

If your supplier moves you onto a prepay meter, any arrears would then be added to the meter and a set amount would be deducted each week. This means you must pay the arrears at a set weekly amount or lose the supply.

If you still don’t pay, your credit file could also be affected as they can be marked as defaults on your credit report. Your debt also could be passed onto a debt collection agency, and the supplier could also apply to a court to get a county court judgement (CCJ) against you. If any of the above happens then it means you could struggle to get good rates on credit, or even be refused.

Chris said: "The level of support available will be dependent on which energy provider you’re with. Most of today’s providers are very large-scale organisations so they should have a good support system in place.

"It’s never too late to begin payment and you might also be able to get a grant from your energy company or from a charitable trust for example. Look into whether there are any grants or local support schemes available from your local council’s website, such as the warm homes support. Identify whether you qualify with them and speak with your local council for guidance too. If you’re past the state pension age, look into that and make sure you’re getting your winter fuel payments."


If you do not pay your bill, your water company can’t disconnect you but it does have the power to take you to court - although this would be a "last resort". Chris explained that your supplier should contact you about your arrears if you fall behind to try and work out a payment plan for the debts.

However, if you ignore these requests, do not agree on a plan, and do not pay, then suppliers can instruct bailiffs to collect money. You may also get a county court judgment against you and you’ll have to pay extra court costs.

Chris added: "You need to speak to the water company, having identified the money you have to pay. Ask them for a copy of their code of practice. There are certain grants available for individuals receiving state benefits and you can also access a third-party reduction on a scheme called Waterdirect.”


Out of all of the monthly bills, the only one that is classed as "non-essential" is broadband. Chris noted that even though it's not classed as a priority many people today deem online services as essential, adding: "Whether it’s for streaming entertainment, or accessing train timetables and the latest news."

Even though social attitudes may have changed regarding its priority, Chris says that as broadband is a commercial entity, providers can suspend your access to its service if you fall into arrears and are pursuing repayments. If you are disconnected, some providers also charge reconnection fees, which must be paid on top of the debt owed. Before restricting their service, telecom providers need to make extra effort to contact customers.

However, if you continue to ignore the debt or refuse to pay then things will escalate. Chris added: "They may also employ debt collectors as a last resort to pursue a liability that is outstanding and may even go down the court route if you don’t respond. But this is always a last resort."

What to do if you are struggling to pay your bills

Chris noted that all companies should behave in a "responsible and professional manner" when it comes to arrears and if you are struggling, the first thing you need to do is reach out to your provider and tell them. Once they know, they can offer you support in getting on top of your bills and your arrears.

Chris added: "The phone – or any other line of communication – can feel like the heaviest thing in the world but it’s really important to communicate and to reach out for support and advice when it’s needed.”