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How to get help with council tax in Scotland

Posted 23 October 2015 by Christine Walsh

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Are you struggling with council tax arrears in Scotland? Learn what the council is allowed to do to recover the money and how you can deal with the arrears

The Citizens Advice Bureau have gone on record to state that the type of debt problem reported to them the most is council tax debt. Worryingly, the rate of council tax arrears is also much higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK. According to the BBC, the average amount Scots owe is £1,534, much higher than the £798 figure for the rest of the UK.

So with this in mind, it’s important that Scottish residents are armed with the knowledge they need to get help, should they find themselves having trouble with this important bill.

Treat it as a priority

You may have found yourself with lots of demands on your money, but council tax is a priority bill and must be one of the first to be paid, if you can. That means even if you have other debts, like loans and credit cards, it’s still sensible to make sure that this bill is paid first and then to think about the others later.

Missing payments

In Scotland, if you miss one payment then the council will write to you and remind you to pay them within seven days. If you miss this reminder deadline (or pay it but miss another payment in the same year) then they may not allow you to pay in instalments anymore and a full year’s council tax is payable.

If you receive a letter stating that you have 14 days to pay the whole year’s worth of council tax, don’t panic, it may still be possible to pay by instalments. But you’d have to arrange it directly with the council. Give them a ring, let them know you're having trouble and see what arrangement you can come to.

Summary Warrant

If 28 days goes by and you don’t pay then the council can apply to the sheriff’s office for a summary warrant. If this is granted you’ll learn about it via post through a letter from the sheriff. The letter will say how much you owe and that you now need to pay this money to the sheriff’s office rather than the council.

It’s in your best interest to try and deal with the issue before this stage, as if a summary warrant is granted then your bill automatically rises by 10% to cover the sheriff fees.

If it has gone to this stage, you should contact the sheriff’s office and see whether you can come to an arrangement to pay the money. You have to be realistic at this stage about what you can afford. Missing another payment will just make things worse in the long run, so choose to pay for a longer period of time rather than committing to payments that are too high.

Charge for payment

Councils have sometimes been known to try and recover the money by taking it directly from wages, but before they are able to do this they have to get a charge for payment from the court as well as a summary warrant.

If, after the summary warrant is granted, you do not make arrangements to pay the outstanding tax, the council may then try and get a charge for payment. The charge for payment normally expires after 14 days at which point the council has the power to begin diligence. This means that they can try to take the money from your earnings or benefits.

You need to remember that when it comes to taking money from certain benefits, the council can apply to take the amount as soon as they have the summary warrant – they do not have to get a charge for payment first.

These are the benefits that the council can deduct from:

·         income support

·         pension credit

·         income-related or contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance,

·         income-based or contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit

Time to Pay Order

If the council has a summary warrant and a charge for payment, you can now apply for something called a time to pay order. A time to pay order makes it okay for you to pay in instalments again, and stops the council taking the money from your wages and benefits.

When you receive the charge for payment through the post there will also be a form called a DSA 2. It’s this form that you need to fill out to apply for the time to pay order.

If you need some more advice about how to fill the form in and deal with council tax arrears in general, visit The Citizen’s Advice Scotland or give them a call.

Help with problem debt

It may be that you’ve just had temporary problems paying your council tax, but if the problem is more long term and you don’t see your debt situation getting any better, it’s probably time to consider a debt solution.

your debts and look forward to a brighter financial future. Our debt advisors are only a phone call away and are more than happy to have a chat through any of the solutions you’d like to know more about. 

by Christine Walsh

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.