Councils hit out at poll tax debt settlement

Anti-Poll Tax demonstrators in Edinburgh in 1989. Picture: TSPL
Anti-Poll Tax demonstrators in Edinburgh in 1989. Picture: TSPL
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COUNCILS have raised concerns about the financial settlement being offered by the Scottish Government as it seeks to outlaw collection of historic poll tax debts.

The Community Charge Debt (Scotland) Bill blocks councils from pursuing people for the tax.

The legislation was brought forward to stop the practice after several local authorities said they would use the details of people who registered to vote in September’s independence referendum to recover outstanding cash from the controversial charge.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond: ‘All poll tax debts to be written off’

The Government said councils would be given “a final once-and-for-all settlement” based on the amount of debt which they estimate should have been recovered from existing recovery arrangements, put at £869,000 - 0.2% of the £425 million which remains uncollected.

The amount of arrears collected by councils across Scotland fell to £327,000 in 2013-14 and some local authorities have already ceased recovery of the debts.

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Some councils are opposed to the Bill, while others are supportive.

In submissions to Holyrood’s Finance Committee, some local authorities said that the settlement does not take account of potential new payment arrangements that might arise in future.

North Lanarkshire Council states: “It is suggested that the collection of the outstanding debt using information from electoral registers is inappropriate.

“The collecting authority, in this case local authorities, should be empowered to use all available information and means to seek collection.

READ MORE: Poll tax debt plan ‘may affect frontline services’

“This ensures that the tax is fair to all as it is due and payable by all. The Bill seeks to inhibit this collection at the very point where additional resources could be recovered from these debtors.

“The financial settlement should be based on a reasonable projection of what resources (i.e. recovery from debtors) could be expected based on the current levels of recovery, adjusted for the improvement based on the new information now available, for a reasonable collection period.

“The level of financial settlement proposed does not adequately provide for this.”

The committee is due to take evidence today from North Lanarkshire, Dundee City and Glasgow City councils and local authority group Cosla, followed by Finance Secretary John Swinney.

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