Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said it has had to help more than 2200 people in the last year with a complex debt issue involving council tax, owing a cumulative £6.8m in arrears to their local authorities.
The organisation said it had delivered £2.3 million in savings to people seeking help, with an average saving of £393, but that worryingly, the average debt owed was over £3,000 – almost three times the average council tax bill of £1,201.
Now, CAS is warning there will be people, even if they benefit from a planned freeze on council tax increases, who will struggle to pay because of Covid-related financial pressures and is encouraging people to check if they could be entitled to a saving.
The Scottish Government’s finance minister Kate Forbes announced a £90 million incentive council tax freeze incentive when she laid out the Scottish budget in January, saying it would be enough to make up for a three per cent rise in bills.
CAS financial health spokesperson Myles Fitt said: “As we emerge from the pandemic many people are facing a cliff edge when it comes meeting the cost of living and one of these is paying council tax.
“Council tax debt is the number one debt issue the Citizens Advice network sees, and while there may be some respite for those that get a council tax freeze, the reality is in the months to come people will be really struggling to make ends meet as furlough and various payment support schemes wind down.
“That’s why we’re encouraging people to see if they could be entitled to reductions, discounts or exemptions from their council tax bill, last year alone the Citizens Advice network helped people save an average of almost £400 for a total of £2.3m."
He added: “Councils across Scotland showed a real empathetic approach to those who found themselves in council tax payment difficulties, and the payment breaks in the first six months of the pandemic were extremely welcome. However this has led to arrears building up, arrears that will be difficult to meet for the many people who have during that period experienced an income drop due to unemployment or reduced working hours.
“The levels of council tax debt the network sees are absolutely eye-watering – £6.8m in total, with average debts of more than £3,000 almost three times the average council tax bill.
“With the pandemic biting people’s finances, it’s never been more important to check to save.”
CAS has an online tool at www.checkmycounciltax.scot which, he said, can guide people through the process and shows if they could be entitled to any savings, discounts or exemptions while www.moneymap.scot can provide other options to boost incomes and reduce other living costs.
Mr Fitt said people should also make use of the Scottish Government’s Council Tax Reduction scheme which can help reduce future payments. “For some people, it can also offer a backdate of up to six months in certain circumstances,” he said.