Council tax debt in Scotland
Council tax, as much as we hate it, is something we are requested to pay either each month, or each year. If you can’t pay and the debt mounts up over time, you will eventually be faced with a court summons, which you do not have to attend, but can have repercussions on your credit file and your ability to get credit either now or in the future.
If you’re unlucky enough to live in an area where the council tax band is high and you’re not entitled to any help then you have a problem. If you are faced with mounting council debt, then there are things you need to consider before you do anything else.
Firstly let’s look at the stages you may go through while you’re struggling. If you’ve not been able to pay and you missed payments, you will get a council tax arrears letter which is your first reminder. If you don’t pay the arrears at this stage then you lose your right to pay in monthly instalments, which is how most people choose to pay. If you pay it, then miss a payment again later in the year, then you lose your right to pay by instalments and you’ll get a reminder sent out.
The final notice is not good news; this will be the final reminder telling you that you have to pay the whole outstanding amount, which will include arrears and the rest of what you owe. You may at this point still be able to pay by instalments if you get in touch with the council and tell them your predicament.
Who are Sheriff Officers and what can they do?
Sheriff Officers enforce court orders and you will hear from them when you start falling behind on your council tax payments. Sheriff Officers will issue you with a summary warrant which will detail the amount due and details of where payments are to be made. If you receive a summary warrant you will no doubt have incurred a 10% penalty charge so if you think the figure owed seems larger than it should be then this is why.
Sheriff Officers differ from Bailiffs in England in that they have slightly more jurisdiction to act upon regaining the money owed. They have the right to repossess items from your property to the monetary value of what you owe and more worryingly, Sheriff Officers in Scotland often have the right to enter your home if they hold the required documentation. For this reason alone we recommend that you do not answer the door to Sheriff Officers until you seek advice from Debt Therapy Scotland. We can advise you on the best course of action and may stop you losing your possessions.
If you are contacted by phone from a Sheriff Officer they will usually ask you for the following information.
- Employment details (address and contact details)
- N.I number
- Bank account details
It is important to figure out what you can afford each month and arrange a payment plan that works for you. If you are struggling with your payments and have found yourself in debts beyond just council tax arrears it would definitely not be advisable to give the above information over the phone until you have obtained further advice. If you do, you run the risk of having money taken directly from your bank account to repay arrears in the form of an earnings/wage arrestment.
The next step is a summary warrant which will also come with a charge, they will go to court for a charge of payment before they can recover all you owe to them.
You’ll receive a paper copy through the post. It will tell you what you owe and who to contact. You may now only make payments to the sheriff officers not the council tax department. When you do contact them make sure that whatever payments you agree to make are what you can afford. Don’t let them make you agree to any more than you can reasonably afford, because you’ll find yourself in the same situation again if you’re not careful.
They may want to know what you have coming in and what you have going out. They may also ask you for other details such as your employer’s name and address, your national insurance number, your bank account details and the name and address of any other person who has to pay the council tax with you.
The final step
You may be asking yourself what happens if you still don’t pay it, but may not be voicing it aloud for fear of the answer. The simple answer is that once you’ve had a summary warrant, they will obtain a “charge of payment,” and if you still haven’t paid them by the end of a 14 day period they’ll use other methods, such as arresting your earnings, freezing your bank account, taking money from your account, removing belongings from your home and possibly selling them to get the sums owed.
If you think your bill may be wrong, you can have your account looked at, but you’ll have to keep on paying until the council have sorted this out, or they’ll just take further recovery action against you.
It’s a pretty frightening situation to be in and if you’re struggling then this will add to the stress you’re already feeling.
Everyone in the same boat
If you can take comfort from anything it is the fact that there are nearly 50, 000 people out there who are in a similar position, seeking help from charities with nowhere else to turn. The increase from 2012 to 2013 is nearly 80% and shows that the rest of the UK as well as Scotland are struggling with debt. Living costs have increased and many families are over £100 behind with what they need to meet household bills.
Although he warns that governments, charities and business need to ensure they are patient and allow “breathing space” for those who are struggling, the reality can be quite different. It’s really hard to tell who is taking heed of these warnings from leading charities and who aren’t. The charity encourages local councils to support those who are struggling by giving them a chance to sort out payment strategies and not to resort to bailiffs, which can simply add hundreds of pounds to an already unmanageable debt.
Debt Therapy Scotland can help all individuals struggling with debt so use the "Do I Qualify" form on the right to see your options.
Although council tax debt cannot be written off with a Trust Deed (the council can write it off at their discression), many people use them to ease their outgoings while also making reduced contributions to their outstanding council tax bill.
If a Trust Deed is not a suitable option, there are many other solutions that can help you get out of debt and start living your life without worry again. Fill out the form on the right to see a provisional summary of the options that are available to you in Scotland.