If you have a Scottish council tax debt, you are probably wondering what happens next. Will legal action be taken? Will you be sent to prison? We make understanding council tax legislation in Scotland much easier. Stick with us as we discuss everything you need to know about final notices, a Time to Pay Order, the Sheriffs Court and much more.
And choose free debt advice to support you through the process. There are some excellent Scottish debt advice charities waiting to help you!
What does a council tax bill pay for in Scotland?
Council tax payments cover most of the same things they cover in England and Wales, such as road maintenance, schools, fire and rescue and other local services. However, in Scotland, this local authority tax also pays for sewerage work and property water rates. Some properties pay for their water within their tax, while others have water meters in their home and do not.
The amount you have to pay depends on the value of your property, and subsequently which ‘band’ the property is placed in. You can make a lump sum payment for the whole financial year or pay in instalments. You have the right to pay the amount in monthly instalments or more frequent instalments if you have kept up with previous payments.
Some people may be able to claim on the council tax reduction scheme. Their regular payment can be reduced if they:
- Have a low income
- Receive certain benefits
- Live alone or with a non-paying adult (e.g. full-time student)
It is worth looking into to see if you can get a discount. If you have not been claiming the discount you should have, your overpayments can be backdated and you will be due something back.
What happens when you cannot pay your council tax?
If you cannot make your council tax payment, they will write to you within 14 days after you missed the payment. Their reminder will ask you to clear the amount owed within seven days or face court action. Don’t ignore the notice because it won’t go away. You have an opportunity to put things right at this stage and avoid additional fees.
Get in touch with the local authority and see if you can agree on a repayment plan to clear what is owed over time. This will allow you to work towards clearing it while also avoiding financial hardship. Always create a monthly budget to work out what you can realistically afford to repay before accepting any terms. This will prevent debt accumulating elsewhere.
Because Scottish council tax covers sewerage and water rates, you can be asked to pay a separate bill for these things too. This is normal.
If the debt is not paid within the time given a second notice will be sent. The local council can ask you to pay the remaining year’s tax and water payments. At this stage, you lose the right to make payments each month. Your credit score shouldn’t be affected due to these debts as the authority doesn’t report them to the various agencies.
What further court action can be taken?
If you do not make the full year’s payment, local authorities will apply to the Sheriff Court to send a Summary Warrant, which is a demand for payment plus 10% of your debt as an administration cost. For example, if you owe £1,000, the 10% administration cost will be a further £100.
If you are struggling to pay, contact the Sheriff Officers and offer to pay the debt off using an affordable payment arrangement to prevent financial difficulty. The sheriff officer will usually accept reasonable offers to repay the debt. The Sheriff Officers’ contact details can be found on the letter you received.
These officers are known as bailiffs or enforcement officers in other regions of the UK.
If there is no agreement to repay the money, the council can recover the debt by taking it from a benefit payment before it hits your bank account. For example, they could take money from your Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance.
Alternatively, you could receive a Charge for Payment letter from the Sheriff Officers, asking you to repay the debt and their own fees. Citizens Advice Scotland can provide debt advice throughout the process.
Lastly, if you still do not repay the debt after this letter, the Sheriff Officers will recover the debt via one of three ways, including ‘arrestment’:
- By taking money from your wages
- By taking money from your bank accounts
- By taking possessions from your house to repay the debt
Some of the processes above and timescales differed during the pandemic as a way to give debtors more breathing space.
Is there a time limit for paying council tax arrears in Scotland?
How long can you be chased for a council tax debt?
The length of time you can be chased for these debts depends on where you live in the UK. In England and Wales, you can be chased until the debt becomes legally unenforceable as per the Limitations Act 1980. This usually means six years. The reason they become unenforceable after this length of time is to stop the courts becoming overwhelmed with older cases.
But north of Hardian’s Wall things are not exactly the same…
How long can council tax debts be chased in Scotland?
ALT TEXT: pay my council tax
You can be chased for as long as 20 years for your council tax in Scotland. Although debts can become Statute Barred in Scotland (after five years instead of six!) council debts are not included. You can read an example of someone being chased for a decade-old debt of this kind published in The Guardian.
Because you can be chased for so long, it is extremely unlikely that you will avoid the debt until it becomes legally unenforceable. This is another reason to confront the problem and work out a solution at your earliest opportunity.
Can council tax arrears be written off?
You could contact your local council to ask if your debt can be written off. But it is unlikely they will let you off the hook so easily. These debts may be written off in full or in part using Scottish debt solutions, such as a Trust Deed or a DAS.
Can I be sent to jail for not paying council tax in Scotland?
You can be sent to jail for a short time for not paying your council debt. However, these instances are extremely rare and you will not be sent to prison for not paying what you owe if you cannot afford to do so. A short prison sentence is usually reserved for rare cases when the debtor has willfully ignored or rejected making a payment when they have the means to do so. .
At any stage or repaying your debt, always remember that help is available with a debt advice charity. Or stick with us at MoneyNerd to get clear answers to confusing debtor questions. We answer the most frequent questions asked by debtors using the internet so you get all your answers from one trusted place.