Tax and other debts owed to HM Revenue and Customs

If you've received a bill from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that you can't pay, it's important to contact them as soon as possible to try to come to an arrangement. If you don't, and your bill remains unpaid, HMRC will start proceedings to recover the money.

Your options if you can't pay your bill

If you can’t pay your bill, talk to the office that sent you the latest communication - if they agree that you really can’t pay, they’ll do what they can to help. They may give you extra time to pay – possibly by instalments.

If you ignore your bill

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will take ‘enforcement action’ to get the money if you don’t pay your tax bill. You may be able to avoid this if you contact them.

If you don't reach an agreement (or you don't keep up the payments you've agreed to make) HMRC has several options.

Direct recovery of debts

HMRC can take the money you owe directly from your bank or building society account. This is called ‘direct recovery of debts’.


HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) can take things you own, and sell them to pay your debt. This is called  ‘distraint’ in Northern Ireland.

You’ll also be charged certain fees. Find out more about distraint on the the GOV.UK website, including what happens when HMRC visit and their enforcement action fees. 

Court action

If HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) takes you to court, you may have to pay court fees and HMRC’s costs as well as the tax you owe.

Find out what happens if HMRC start magistrates court proceedings against you.

Bankruptcy proceedings

If you don't pay or your debts exceed your assets, you could be bankrupted and lose your home, business, savings and investments.

Free advice if you can't pay your tax bill

You can also get advice  from a number of organisations, including: 

If you think you've been treated unfairly

You have a right to fair treatment by HMRC even if you can't pay your tax. If you're unhappy with how you're treated you can complain.

More useful links

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