Priority debts are the most important debts that have serious consequences for non-payment. You should deal with these debts as soon as possible. Non-priority debts should be paid but have less serious consequences for you than a priority debt. These debts are paid only after you have met your priority debts. There is more information about non-priority debts in the next step.
The following types of debt would be classed as priority debts:
Mortgage (secured loan) payments
If mortgage payments are not made for a few months, your property or home may be taken by your mortgage provider (repossessed) and sold to pay your debt. It is important to talk to your lender if you are having difficulty with paying. There are schemes designed to help people pay the interest element of their mortgage. For further details, visit the GOV.UK website.
Unpaid rent (rent arrears)
You could be made to leave your flat (evicted) if you fall behind on your rent. If you have made an application for Housing Benefit, it’s important to make sure your landlord is aware of this.
Council tax in England and Wales
If you don’t pay your council tax, your local authority can look at sending bailiffs (now known as enforcement agents) to your home. These agents can try to seize your possessions. Your local authority could also deduct money from your income or benefits.
Council tax in Scotland
If you don’t pay your council tax, you could be taken to court. If you still don’t pay, they could take further action, including deductions from your income or benefits, or sending sheriff’s officers to your home. These officers can try to seize your possessions.
Rates in Northern Ireland
If you don’t pay your rates, you could be taken to court by the Land & Property Services. If you still don’t pay, they could take further action, including deductions from your wages or a charge being put against your property.
Unpaid gas or electric bills
Your gas and/or electricity may be disconnected if you don’t pay these debts. Explaining your circumstances to your energy supplier may stop this from happening. If you’re classed as ‘vulnerable’ (for age, health, disability or severe financial insecurity reasons) and are unable to pay your bills, most of the major energy suppliers will not disconnect your supply. But you have to let them know that you’re classed as ‘vulnerable’ to be placed on the priority services register.
Fines, maintenance and compensation orders
If these are unpaid, a bailiff (enforcement agent) may be sent to try and seize your possessions. You could also be sent to prison. In Scotland, these are enforced through the sheriff court.
You may face a magistrates’ court or sheriff court fine for failing to pay this. See note on Fines, maintenance and compensation orders above.
Tax and VAT
If you don’t pay these, the government may recover the money you owe using commercial debt collectors or by taking your belongings (bailiff/sheriff officer action), or they may take you to court.
Hire purchase and conditional sale agreements
Items you have purchased using these methods may be taken back (repossessed) by the finance provider if you don’t follow the agreed payments.
If you don’t pay these, civil action could be taken and your vehicle could be taken. These penalties may sometimes be treated as priority debts. You should take advice on how to deal with these.
Other priority debts
You may also have other priority debts that are specific to your needs. You should be able to prove why you consider each debt a priority.