If you are in arrears with your Council Tax, do you need to tell Sheriff Officers who your employer is?
The simple answer is no, but you will have to tell the local authority if they issue you with the correct notification that requests the information.
You may choose to tell Sheriff Officers where you work, but be aware they are gathering that information so they can take legal recovery action against you. This is even the case if you do it when entering a repayment plan with them, as if you miss a payment, they may use the information at that point.
When can a Local Authority ask for your personal details?
Local authority’s can issue you with a formal notification that requires you to provide them with certain information which they can use to recover council tax arrears from you.
To do this, they first must apply for a Summary Warrant from the courts. Summary Warrants are equivalent to a Court Order.
To issue a Summary Warrant the Council must first issue you with a 7 day reminder when you miss a payment to your council tax. If you don’t make the payment within 7 days of receiving the reminder, you will become liable for the full council tax for the year.
If you do make the payment and then miss another payment you will receive another reminder that will tell you if you miss a third payment, you will not receive another reminder.
If you ignore any of the reminders, you will then receive a 14 day final demand to pay the full amount outstanding, although most local authorities will still enter a repayment plan with you at this point.
Summary Warrants and Diligence
If you don’t enter an agreement with the Council or pay the full amount outstanding within the 14 days, they can then apply to the Sheriff Court for a Summary Warrant.
A Summary Warrant is the equivalent of a Court Order. When it is granted, 10% of the amount you owe is added onto the debt.
The local authority can then give the Summary Warrant to Sheriff Officers to recover the debt you owe using legal debt recover procedures. This means:
- Serve a Charge for Payment;
- Execute a Wage Arrestment;
- Freeze a bank account;
- Execute an Attachment Order on property outside your home; or
- An Exceptional Attachment Order on property kept in your home.
Once a Summary Warrant is issued, Local Authorities are also allowed to formally request certain information off you, that they can share with the Sheriff Officers to help recover the debt that you owe, using the above procedures.
What Information can Local Authorities request from you?
The type of information that Councils can request from you, is contained in The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) (Scotland) Regulations 1992, s31.
They can request:
- The name and address of your employer and your place of work, or your employer’s place of business;
- Your national insurance number;
- The name of your bank account and your account number;
- The name and address of any other person or persons who is jointly and severally liable for the council tax debt in respect of which the warrant or decree was granted.
How does the Council request the Information?
To request the information, the Local Authority must serve you a notification in writing. It must specify the information that they want you to provide from the information they are allowed to request.
They must also give you 14 days to provide the information.
If you fail to provide the information within the specified period, they can then give you a £50 penalty. This is not a criminal penalty, but a civil fine.
They can then serve you a further 14 day notification.
If you fail to provide the information again within 14 days, the local authority can give you a £200 penalty this time.
They can then apply £200 penalties every time you fail to respond to a notification.
Can you Appeal the Penalty?
You can appeal a penalty if you feel it was wrongly applied. Appeals are to a Valuation Tribunal and the Local Authority should notify you of how to do this when they award the penalty.
Grounds you may use to appeal against a notification may be:
- You did not receive the formal notification from the Local Authority;
- You did not have access to the information that they requested;
- You provided the information that was requested; or
- The notification you received did not specify the information that they told you they were penalising you for not providing.
What if you give the Local Authority the Information they requested?
If you receive a notification and provide the information that is requested, the Local Authority may pass that information to their Sheriff Officers, who could take the action specified above.
If you don’t have an agreement in place, you may wish to think about seeking advice and applying for a Statutory Moratorium. This is a temporary legal remedy that protects you from legal diligence for 42 days until you can seek advice and look at possible remedies that may be available to you.
If you have an agreement in place, no further action should take place, but if you miss a payment, then the Sheriff Officers may take action that is specified above.
Time To Pay and the Debt Arrangement Scheme
Two options you may have are to apply for are a Time to Pay Direction from the Courts or a Debt Payment Programme under the Debt Arrangement Scheme.
Both of these options will provide you with protection, even though you have provided the local authority the information they requested.
Also, just because you miss a payment, unlike with an informal agreement, this does not mean Sheriff Officers can take any of the action specified above, so you have greater protection.
A Time to Pay Direction does not fail unless you miss a payment, whilst other missed payments equal two missed monthly instalments.
Under the Debt Arrangement Scheme, a Debt Payment Programme does not fail until it is revoked.
This cannot be applied for unless you miss payments to your current council tax, or you miss a payment whilst owing the equivalent of two previous payments.
Even when a revocation is applied for you can still make representations as to why your Debt Payment Programme should not be revoked.
If the reason you are struggling to make payments are you have become unemployed, or suffered a drop in income, you may be able to apply for a payment break that can be for up to six months. You remain protected during that period.
Points to Remember
- Sheriff Officers do not have the power to issue a notification or issue a fine. It must be done by your local authority;
- If you receive a notification, you must comply with it within 14 days or risk a penalty of £50; and £200 thereafter for each further time you ignore a notification;
- You can appeal against a penalty to the Valuations Committee if you think you have grounds;
- If you have to provide the information, you can apply for a Statutory Moratorium to allow you time to seek advice;
- Time to Pay Directions and the Debt Arrangement Scheme offer greater protection than voluntary repayment plans and are more forgiving of missed payments.
If you require further advice you should contact your local Citizen Advice Bureau or your local council and ask for contact information on your local money advice service.