Do not fall behind with council tax payments, charity warns

Citizens Advice Scotland estimates the total amount of tax owed by clients seen over the past year came to £10.1 million.

Do not fall behind with council tax payments, Citizens Advice Scotland warns iStock

Householders are being urged to keep up with their council tax payments as the number of debt cases being reported to a charity continues to climb.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has revealed it provided guidance to over 3,000 people in council tax arrears between October last year and September this year.

The charity estimates the total amount of money owed by clients seen over the period came to £10.1 million.

It said the average council tax debt now stood at £3,368.69, almost three times the average council tax bill of £1,302.

CAS believes the ongoing cost-of-living crisis has led to people prioritising other household costs over council tax such as food, housing and energy.

The charity is advising clients council tax should be treated as a “priority debt”, meaning a debt people should deal with first or risk punitive enforcement action that is faster and harsher than that for commercial debt.

Previous research from CAS found reasons for people falling into council tax debt included struggling on low incomes and prioritising other living costs.

The research also suggested people were not aware of the harsher debt collection consequences of being in council tax arrears compared to other types of debt such as loans or credit cards.

Councils can subject those in arrears to a speedy debt enforcement through a bank arrestment as a means of recovering payment.

The same research also found that local authorities can overlook potential opportunities for people to make repayments.

CAS said one in three people currently presenting at Citizens Advice Bureaus (CABs) as being in debt owe council tax on average.

Financial health spokesperson Myles Fitt said: “With over £10m of council tax debt seen by CABs, and the average debt close to three times the average bill, this is the largest single debt issue CABs deal with.

“We are seeing the impact of the worst cost-of-living crisis in living memory and people are understandably prioritising essential costs like food, energy and housing and may skip their council tax payments as a result.

“People don’t see immediate tangible consequences of not paying their council tax, the bins still get emptied and street lights stay on, in the way that they do if food cannot be bought or energy bills are left unpaid.

“It’s understandable that some people may put council tax payments out of their line of sight but that carries real risks.

“Debt collection process for council tax is quicker and harsher than commercial debt like credit cards, such as arresting bank accounts that can include benefit payments.

“We are encouraging people to keep focused on council tax payments amidst other bills, and to see it as an essential living cost.

“We would encourage local authorities to ensure that their collection practices take into an account a person’s ability to pay.

“Meanwhile anyone who is worried about their ability to pay council tax or other essential bills can check to see how they could boost increase their income or reduce their outgoings.”

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