People fear having council tax debt over most other debts
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) is sounding the alarm over council tax debt as figures for July reveal demand for advice on the issues has reached record levels.
As a proportion of all debt advice that related to council tax arrears is its highest ever level as of July 2023.
Demand is 35% higher than it was before the pandemic and 25 per cent higher since January.
The average council tax debt for a Scottish CAB client is over £3,420 – close to three times the average council tax bill in 2022/23 of £1,238.
Council tax debt has long been the number one debt issue for the Citizens Advice network, and CAS fears the problem is getting worse due to the cost-of-living crisis.
Research commissioned by the charity found four key factors in council tax debt being such a large issue for people:
- low incomes
- meeting essential daily living costs
- lack of awareness of harsh debt collection practices
- missed repayment opportunities by local authorities
Anonymous interviews with clients found that living costs and incomes were a specific problem.
“First is always the struggle to heat the house and get food. Then comes rent, clothing, gas and electricity. Also WIFI and running the car to get to work. I can catch up with council tax if I fall into arrears, but my WIFI would be cut off and then the kids couldn’t do their schoolwork.”
“I worry about not being able to afford my rent, that’s the key thing, then food, travel to work, electricity and gas, my internet to access my services, and money for myself so I have a wee bit of money to get through to the end of the month and then the tax.”
“Paying my council tax is a worry, but it is juggling it with all the other bills I worry about. If the kids needed shoes or winter jackets or even having the heating on longer, these would have to come first. If I had enough money to pay for everything, then I wouldn’t worry about any of my bills.”
Other people however, prioritise their council tax because of harsh collection policies:
“…I have had to go without food and heating to pay for the council tax. It has happened two or three times. I would rather go without because they are hard with their debt recovery and it’s very hard to contact them as well.”
CAS Financial Health spokesperson Myles Fitt said: “Council tax debt has long been the number one debt issue for the CAB network, and it seems as of the cost-of-living crisis has made it even worse.
“For CABs to be seeing record demand for this issue, and such a big increase since January alone, is really worrying.
“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.
“But people may not realise that the debt collection process for council tax is quicker and harsher than commercial debt like credit cards and that can leave people really struggling.
“We need to see this issue treated as a policy priority. In the meantime, anyone worried about bills or money should check www.moneymap.scot which rounds up all your online options to boost your income and potentially cut costs.”