Dealing with Council Tax Arrears

Council Tax Arrears: the debt no-one asks for

Unlike other debts, such as credit cards and loans, Council Tax debt is not a debt you take out or ask for. It’s a local authority charge which we all have to pay when we have a home, unless we are eligible for a reduction, discount or exemption. It is sometimes called an involuntary debt.

This means even if you have avoided taking out other debts, you can still end up with debt if you miss Council Tax instalments and these can quickly build up when things become difficult.

How does Council Tax work?

The way Council Tax works is every year you become become liable for an annual charge. You normally receive your annual bill in March.

Your Council Tax bill is broken down into three parts. First there is the Council Tax charge; then there is the water charge; and third there is the sewage charge.

When you get your Council Tax bill, you get the opportunity to pay your bill in ten monthly instalments.

Why is it important not to ignore Council Tax Arrears?

It is important to not ignore Council Tax debt. In addition to the fact that you accrue it without borrowing, you have to remember you get a new bill every year, so it will continue to grow.

Ultimately, this may mean you could be subject to debt recovery procedures executed by Sheriff Officers or made bankrupt. Where you own your own home, this could mean you may lose it.

Reducing your Council Tax Liability – Discounts and Exemptions

You may be entitled to a 25% discount in certain circumstances. These are:

  • You live on your own; or
  • You have a resident carer who is not your spouse or partner or you only live with your child and they are your full-time carer.

You can also be entitled to a 25% discount if you live with another person, who would be exempt from paying Council Tax if they lived on their own.

Examples of when someone may be exempt for Council Tax, is:

  • They are a full time student and in full time higher education and live on their own, or with other full time students; or
  • They have a severe mental impairment.

A property can also be exempt for Council Tax for a number of other reasons, such as it is empty or was previously occupied by a full-time student.

It is advisable to ask your local authority whether you qualify for an exemption or discount.

Reducing your Council Tax Liability – Council Tax Reduction

You may also be able to reduce your liability for Council Tax by applying for Council Tax Reduction. This is a means tested benefit that is based on your income and can be applied for from your local authority.

You can explore your entitlement to council tax reduction and other benefits by completing a benefit check. To carry out a benefit check, visit our page here.

What happens when you don’t pay your Council Tax?

When you miss a payment to your Council Tax, you will receive a letter from your local council giving you seven days to make your monthly payment.

It will inform you that you have 7 days to make the payment and if you fail to make the payment you will lose your right to pay by instalments and become liable for the full amount.

If you make the payment and then miss another payment later in the year, the next reminder will inform you that if you miss a third payment you will not receive a reminder.

Council Tax Arrears Final Demand

If you fail to respond to the reminder and don’t make the payment, you will receive a final demand giving you 14 days to pay the full amount outstanding.

Many local authorities at this point may still enter into a repayment plan with you, but this has to be individually negotiated with them.

Council Tax and Summary Warrants

If you fail to pay the full amount off within the 14 days the Council can then apply for a Summary Warrant.

Summary warrant are the equivalent of court orders, however, unlike normal court orders, when a local authority applies for a Summary Warrant, there is no court hearing. However, when a Summary Warrant is granted a 10% surcharge is applied to your debt. This is a one off charge and unlike judicial interest that is applied to normal court orders, it is not applied annually.

Local authorities can then use the summary warrant to execute diligence. This is a legal term in Scotland that is used to describe legal procedures that can be used to recover a debt.

Examples of diligence and the most commonly used in Scotland are:

Before a Local Authority can execute any of these types of diligence, it first must serve a Charge for Payment. A Charge for Payment is a formal demand for payment that gives you 14 days to pay your debt. If you fail to pay your debt within 14 days, Local Authorities can then instruct Sheriff Officers to execute any of the above types of diligence.

An expired Charge for Payment also constitutes apparently insolvency, which means where you owe more than £3,000, the Council may be able to petition the court for your bankruptcy.

Where your only income is social security benefits, such as Job Seekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or Universal Credit, the Council may recover the arrears by direct deductions from your benefits.

Council Tax Arrears and Time to Pays

Once a Summary Warrant and a Charge for Payment has been served, there are still options open to you to try and pay the debt back by instalments. This is by using a formal solution that is provided by the Court where you can apply for a Time to Pay Order. This can be applied for after a Charge for Payment has been served.

Normally, the Local Authority would expect the arrears to be repaid within the financial year, before the next years Council Tax is due. However, the Court can allow longer, but you need to bear in mind that when the new financial year comes you will need to be able to make your current year’s monthly instalments in addition to whatever you offer to pay when your apply for the Time To Pay Order.

The Debt Arrangement Scheme and Council Tax

You can also apply for a Debt Payment Programme under the Debt Arrangement Scheme if you have a Summary Warrant granted against you and are worried a local authority may serve on you a Charge for Payment or execute diligence, or even raise a petition to make you bankrupt.

Once a Debt Payment Programme under the Debt Arrangement Scheme is approved, Sheriff Officers cannot execute diligence or serve a Charge for Payment on you. They also cannot raise a petition to make you bankrupt.

Statutory Moratoriums and Council Tax Arrears

If you require time to consider your options, whether that is to apply for a Time to Pay Order or a Debt Payment Programme under the Debt Arrangement Scheme or even whether you want to consider a form of personal insolvency, such as a Protected Trust Deed or bankruptcy, you can use a Statutory Moratorium to give you breathing space.

Statutory Moratoriums give you six weeks protection (currently extended to 6 months under Emergency Coronavirus Legislation) to allow you to consider your options. You can only use a Statutory Moratorium once in any 12 month period (currently this rule has been suspended under Emergency Coronavirus Legislation).

Readers Questions

  1. Elizabeth

    Hi, my dad passed away in Feb. He lived in a council flat on his own. In April I got a letter saying he owed around 2.5k in council tax, I raised an online query with this due to the amount and the fact that as far as I was aware all his bills were up to date. I got a standard reply in August by email with the same as they had sent in the letter, I replied asking for further clarification again. They have replied yesterday saying he owes council tax from the last 20 years over his address and his previous address of varying amounts since 2001. He was on a state pension so no idea as to why they didn’t claim the arrears through this. Is this something they are able to chase the arrears for this as its been over 7 months since he died and should it not have been dealt with by them before now? Do they need to prove he owed this debt as all they have sent me at the moment is each year and the amount outstanding? Thanks in advance for any advice.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Elizabeth

      Council Tax debt can be recovered for up to 20 years, so it may be he has had some bills going back a bit.

      Normally, when someone passes away local authorities will do a search of all amounts outstanding and send the bill to the person winding up the estate. This is because it is the duty of the Executor when winding up the estate to pay any bills still outstanding. However, that is only if there are funds available. So first the funeral expenses have to be paid and if there are funds still left the person winding up the debts should pay what they can from what is left. If you need help with doing this contact your local Citizen Advice Bureau or advice agency who will help you for free.

      If there are no funds left, providing a copy of his bank statement and a copy of the funeral Bill may be sufficient for the Council to write off the debt.

      However, they may also ask if there was any policies. If there is a house involved, you may want to speak to a lawyer.

      My page on Dealing with Debt on Death may help and there are links to Scottish Government webpages that have more information.

  2. Hannah

    Hi, I moved out a flat with fellow students in May 2019. We then in November received a tax letter for June-September. I went into Glasgow Council in person to explain we moved out and was told to not worry about it and it will be sorted now that they know and will contact my landlord. Then April 2020 I got another letter asking us to pay. I phoned and explain and was told the exact same thing as before, it will be sorted out and there’s nothing to worry about. In July I received a letter from a Sheriff, I phoned them and explained and they said to contact the council. Contacted them by email, as no longer phone or person contact was available. Was then asked to provide evidence that we moved out then, I emailed screenshots of the landlord confirming we moved out in May. Received no answer and today (June 22nd, almost a year later) received another letter from a different Sheriff who I called and explained the situation (in anger I sadly told then where I work). I don’t understand why the council hasn’t sorted this when I was told several times they will and even emailed them the evidence which was left unanswered

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Hannah

      I am just wondering whether you should have been exempt as Students?

      Make a formal complaint to the Council, via their website and if they don’t resolve the matter within 8 weeks, escalate it to the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman.

      You need to also be concerned they may try and arrest your Wages,however, as you have told them where you work and if they have a Summary Warrant and served a Charge for Payment, they could do this.

      You may want to consider registering a Statutory Moratorium to protect yourself from this to you get this sorted.

      1. Hannah

        Hey,

        I’ve contacted the council by their online chat. They claimed they didn’t receive the email with the evidence of move out day. Which I informed they must have as I received an automated email saying they will get back to me. I emailed it again twice just in case. They said they will put the situation on hold with the sheriff. I also made an complaint on the website, haven’t heard back yet. We were students at the time of living there and were except however the period they are trying to charge us for is after we already moved out.

        1. Scottish Adviser Post author

          Hi

          I am you have proof of your email. Chase thenm up a make sure you get a final decision to your complaint now and within the period they have specified. If you don’t, you can go directly to the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman or appeal to the Scottish Valuation Appeals Committee, who can hear appeals on any CT liability issue.

  3. Ali

    Hi I’ve just been served with warrants for recovery of Council Tax from Scott and Co coming to the sum of £3,258.
    It dates back from 1993 till 2004.
    When I sold my house in 2007, our solicitor paid tax arrears of £2,648 so don’t understand.
    If I actually do still owe anything I am still liable as the debt goes back so long ago??

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Ali

      It’s not going to be possible for me to tell you if you are still in liable. The law that deals with this is called Prescription and normally Council Tax Debt can last 20 years. However, everytime you make a payment the 20 years begins running again.
      Likewise everytime the Council served a Charge for Payment for the debt or carried out any form of Diligence, the 20 years begins running again.
      The best thing to do is speak with your local advice agency and ask if they can make some investigations into your liability. They won’t charge you for this service and may have contacts in the Council debt recovery department.

  4. Terence

    I’m on benefits and I work my money out so that I don’t put myself into poverty and can actually build up savings. I’d prefer to then pay my council tax (GCC) with said savings on a 6 monthly basis as paying it montly can potenially have a bad effect of me going into poverty if events don’t play out as i have planned, eg – unexpected large bills for example – which is why i make sure i put money away for savings.

    Is there a way to avoid the pay monthly and pay it on your own time. Council tax has no idea when I can pay or not and to be honest they should be supportive of the fact that people are doing all they can keeping themsleves out of poverty without them putting people into it. Absoulutly crazy.

    My second question is. How much can they take from DWP as they have been taking £10 off every 2 weeks – as i’m paid fortnightly – I mean even taking that kinda defeats the purpose because my council tax works out at 25 quid a month.

    Be grateful if you can give me some clarity on these issues

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Terence

      Unfortunately, Councils only really allow you to pay in two ways.
      You either have to pay in one lump sum or you have to pay in ten monthly instalments and you then have two months free.
      If you miss a payment they then send you a 14 day letter to make the missed payment or you lose the right to pay in instalments. If you miss that payment they then can send you a letter demanding full payment of the full amount within 7 days.
      If you miss that payment they can then issue a Summary Warrant and add a 10% surcharge based on what you owe and pass the debt to Sheriff Officers. Then can then add more to the debt in recovery fees.
      The way you are paying it, therefore, means the amount you owe is increased.
      One of the ways they can recover it is by 3rd Party deductions from benefits, but this is limited to 5% each month of your standard allowance from Universal Credit. So if you are a single person over 25% that is 5% of £409.89 each month or £20.49 (or £10.24 per fortnight).
      This as you have observed may not be enough to clear your arrears, so what doesn’t get paid will be carried forward to the next year, meaning you are perpetually in arrears.
      You should be getting full Council Tax Reduction Benefit, so you should not have any council tax liability, but what you still will have to pay even as a single person is 75% of the water and sewage charge.
      Unfortunately, it isn’t a good system and even allowing the single person discounts and the reductions available, it isn’t really based on your ability to pay.

  5. Piotr

    Hello,

    Quick story about the drama we have with Glasgow City Council.
    We purchased the house in 2018 January – required complete refurbishment. Due to the huge works undertaken we have applied to Council for exemption on refurbishment, however it was rejected because someone else have taken before exemption in this property before we purchased it, so then we applied for empty property exemption which was rejected too with the same reason! Why we have to be penalized because someone else used exemption?? how does the law work backwards?
    In April 2018 there came new law which allows Council to apply Empty property premium to the owners for the past years and we received the letter for new council tax year 2019/2020 with new council tax fees plus additional empty property premium for house being empty before we purchased it! It is like paying fine for speeding a car that you bought from someone else, and this previous owner got fine 2 years ago! would you pay??
    So for 3 full months Instead £600 -full council tax amount without exemptions we have been asked to pay £2300 for 2018/2019 year. We spoke with local MP who helped us to reduce that to 50% for 2018 but the rest we still had to pay.
    They forced us to pay this amount by sheriff court officers and threating letters.
    We paid for the council tax eventually even that we did not received empty property premium and we did not live in the house because of the huge refurbishment and extension being build. We was living in the flat where we were paying full council tax.
    We thought that will be all and we won’t receive any more letters like that, but we were wrong.
    Council sent us letter for new 2019/2020 amount – guess how much? again Full council tax amount + empty property premium= £4300!! again!
    The same story, threatening letters, sheriff court officers visiting our flat and phone calls from debt recovery companies.
    We start to argue with my wife because of that debt, she wanted to pay that all but we did not have budget for that payment, we were refurbishing our dream house which became drama. We split as this overcome our normal days, argument over the money, constant letters and sheriff court visits and threatening that our salaries will be seized. My wife did not want to lose a job because of that and me either.
    I’ve packed my things and moved out. I stayed in our “drama” house which we was refurbishing, I moved out eventually in March 2020 and I start living in the house as the refurbishment and works have been almost complete so I could normally live and do some works in house to speed up completion.
    Because of that constant threatening and my family was broken, I eventually did pay this £4300 again, I thought it will help and it will terminate the bad experience and we will get back together, but guess what, in April 2020 I received new Council tax for the period o 2020/2021 = Council Tax + Empty property premium!! Even if I notified Council about changing the address and providing them evidences that I Live in that property!
    They did not accept any of the evidences I’ve sent them
    – proof of notice of change of address which was applied online,
    – driver license with new address,
    – bank statement with new address,
    – car insurances with new address,
    – employers letter confirming my address,
    – utility annual statement – can not receive monthly statement as we have “pay as you go meter”
    They require receipt of removal company as a proof that I moved out and they moved my furniture – when I’ve sent them Insurance for my VAN – why would I hire removal company for that??
    They require as a proof receipt for new furniture – If I wouldn’t have to pay empty property premium maybe I would be able to pay for new furniture!
    This is a robbery ! anytime I appeal is the same story: ” Please provide more evidences”.
    I have requested number times someone to come to inspect but they excuse is that they can not send anyone due to the fake Covid! but they were able to send Sheriff officers to deliver the sheriff court letter!

    Scam, robbery, theft, plunder and nothing else.

    Who can help me to fight with this robbery Council???

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Piotr

      Thank you for sharing your story. It is an upsetting one to read, especially because of the effect it has had on you and your family.

      Unfortunately, it is far too complex for me to give you any further advice on. Really you require further assistance from an advice agency or your MP, as he has previous involvement.

      You should be able to appeal the decision that says you were not occupying your property when you were. You would do this by making a complaint first and if it isn’t resolved satisfactorily, taking it to appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. They deal with Valuations for Council Tax, but also the refusal to give exemptions and discounts. Your local authority should advise you of how you can do this when they give you a final decision on your complaint.

      Basically, they have to consider all reasonable evidence and to refuse you simply because you cannot provide evidence of a removal van alone is wrong.
      They must consider all the other evidence you have provided.

      If you do require further advice, contact your local advice or law Centre. Their details can be accessed here.

  6. Stewart

    My father in law passed away in 2017. My wife was the executor and concluded his estate in 2019 once his house sold using a solicitor. Included in this , was a payment for council tax (£90). She has now received a final demand for an outstanding council tax balance of over £500 which seems surprising as we were led to believe everything had been settled. Is she still liable for this as it’s now nearly 18 months after everything was wound up and we were led to believe that the solicitor had paid the original debt?

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      I cannot give you a definitive answer, however, the basic principle is executors can be personally liable for the debts owed by an estate if they have not would the estate up properly.
      However, estates do need to be wound up, so there has to be point when debts have to get paid.
      The Local Authority should have submitted a claim on the Estate, and generally, the lawyer should have paid it before distributing funds to beneficiaries.
      I would go back to the lawyer. Did the Council submit a claim, was it paid?
      The debt may exist, but that doesn’t mean your wife is liable for it if everything was done correctly.
      One final point, was the property lying empty for a period. Have you discussed with the Council if there was a period the property may been exempt from Council Tax

  7. Julia

    Hello I am a dual UK Australian citizen who lived and worked in Scotland for many years ( I own a small flat in rural Scotland ) . I am currently in Australia and blocked by Government policy from being able to come back till the end of 2021 it seems . Though I have tried to negotiate with my local council they are still charging me council tax and after one year will charge 200% of this tax as the flat will have been empty for a year but still has a bed and couch in it ( which I couldn’t move out because of the covid lockdown at the time) . I am unemployed with little savings and am very worried I will lose everything . I am not sure what to do or who might help me now that I am so far away and worry I will have to abandon the flat .Its quite old and though I put a lot of money towards doing it up , it is still not suitable for long term rental and I have no money to pay for a home and energy report to consider a sale yet . Can you advise me if any positive steps I might take, or legislation or organisations that might be able to help while I’m so far away during this pandemic?

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Julia

      Unfortunately, there is not a lot you can do, other than put it up for sale, which as you have said will cost money you don’t have at present.

      Its at a local authority’s discretion how they treat vacant properties after 12 months and they can charge up to 200% council tax, to discourage essentially properties being left empty and force owners to either sell the property or to make it available for rental.

      This is particularly the case in rural areas where there may be a shortage of suitable housing for local people.

      If this is the approach of the local authority of the area where your property is situated there is not alot you can do.

      The only way, however, the local authority can hope to recover the debt at present and force the sale of the property, however, is through sequestration (bankruptcy).

      That however is only possible if you owe enough to them and at present because of Covid emergency laws that amount has been increased to £10,000 (it was £3,000 and may return to that after March – or next September, if they extend the laws again).

      I would imagine it will be no where near this at this point, so it is likely your property is not at imminent risk at present, and hopefully you will be able to return next year and get things sorted.

  8. stevie

    Dear Scottish advisor,

    I would like to know if the “minimum protected balance” applies with council tax arrears?

    So, if I have any less than £529.90 in my bank account at any one time, then my account cannot be touched. Is this correct?

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Stevie

      The Minimum Protected Balance applies to Bank Account Arrestments (legally known as Actions of Arrestment and Furthcoming).

      It doesn’t matter what type of debt the Arrestment is used for: if your account has £529.90 or less in it, it is protected. However, the protection may not apply where you have multiple bank accounts with the same bank and although none of the balances are more than £529.90, as a whole they are.

      Equally, it does not mean the Sheriff Officers cannot still try to execute a bank arrestment (even if it fails). This may mean you get Sheriff Officer fees added to your debt for this. Also if a bank arrestment fails, this does not stop your bank adding a £25 admin fee to your account, as the Minimum Protected Balance doesn’t apply to this. You can ask your bank to waive the fees.

      You should also bear in mind that Sheriff Officers may attempt to recover the funds using other procedures, such as Wage Arrestments and Attachments.

      The Council may also apply for direct deductions to be taken from your benefits, if you are in receipt of any, to recover Council Tax Arrears

      If you are worried about any Sheriff Officer action and want protection whilst you seek advice and assistance, you can do this by applying for a Statutory Moratorium. This gives you 6 months protection and stops all Diligence, including Bank Arrestments.
      Also check if you were entitled to any reduction to your bill doing a
      Benefit Calculation online.

  9. Pamela

    Hi
    I got a letter saying that I have to pay £92.05 by the 3rd of Augus. I did not remember getting any letters in March saying this, but they said I did they are wanting £28 a month. I told they them that I can not afford that much as I am on Universal credit. Someone told me that if I offer to pay it back at £10 a month they have to accept that offer. I just want to ken if this is true ? Any advice you could give would be very helpful

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Pamela

      There are two things here. The first is arrears and then there is your current liability for Council Tax.

      You should be getting full Council Tax Reduction if your only income is Universal Credit and also possibly a 25% Single Person Reduction.

      However, you are also liable for Water and Sewage, so although you may not have any liability for Council Tax, you are still liable for Water and Sewage. Everyone has to pay this, even if you are in receipt of Universal Credit, although you may be entitled to a 25% reduction if you are a single person.

      This sounds like, what the £28 per month is.

      I am not sure what the £92 is. It could be arrears for the months you have not paid since April.

      Councils will not normally accept an offer as low as £10 per month towards arreara as they can deduct more from your Univeral Credit for arrears.

      It may be if you have arrears, they may accept somewhere in the region of £10 per week (towards your arrears and current liability). They may also extend your payments to February and March to allow you to catch up (as you normally only pay between April to January – 10 months). This may mean you can pay a bit less.

      If your not sure you should speak to your local advice agency who can help you negotiate with the Council.

      You can also do an online benefit calculation to see if there is anything else you can claim.

  10. Ronnie

    Hi Alan

    I found myself around 5 years ago, out of the blue being taken to court about historic council tax debts in properties that were HMO, and I found myself liable for others debts which I just had to accept. However, I was in a payment scheme already with Scott and Co, and they refused my increases and I was taken to court instead and given an Inhibition order on our home.

    I have saved a fair amount and got in touch to ask what the amount was, only to find that i was also liable for £2,222 worth of interest too, which then put settling the debt out of my reach again totally.

    I feel trapped. Was it legal to take me to court in the first place, as I had never missed any payments with Scott and Co? Can i have the interest payments stopped too???

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Ronnie

      It is unusual to be taken to Court for Council Tax, in the sense it’s a traditional action for payment of money and a date for a hearing is set. Normally Local Authorities will issue a Summary Warrant, which although it is issued by the Court, is an automated process and doesn’t involve a hearing.

      Both methods are competent, however, and it’s the Local Authority’s choice.

      The reason I think it’s the former traditional process that is being used is:

      A) they are adding judicial interest of 8%, which you cannot do if the Summary Warrant procedure is used; and

      B) They have registered an Inhibition. This is not competent with a Summary Warrant.

      There is, however, nothing untoward or wrong about what the Council has done, but unusual.

      They also would not have bound themselves into not taking Court Action when they entered into a repayment plan.

      In essence, the debt is recoverable and the interest can still be added daily (8% per year). You can also be liable for any fees incurred by Scott and Co for any Dilgience they execute.

      In terms of stopping the interest, unless they agree to it, the only way you can prevent them from doing so is by entering the Debt Arrangement Scheme. This may be worth considering as it will also protect you from Bankruptcy and other Diligences being executed.

      It may, however, also affect your credit rating.

      You can find out more about DAS here and also visit my page about obtaining free advice in Scotland, though no-one can charge you a private management fee in Scotland for entering this, so you can use a public, private or third sector organisation.

  11. Alan

    Hello,
    The Highland Council has very recently imposed a deduction to my Universal Credit for a Council Tax Bill from 1993! (£ 186.18).
    I feel that this is very much past history and should be written off. Secondly, I would have thought they could of at least waited until I found full-time work. (FYI, I lived and worked abroad for over 20 Years and only returned to my home Town, Inverness 2 years ago)
    Is there not a time limitation for this?

    Thank You,

    Alan

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Alan

      There are what’s called Prescription rules.

      Read more about them here (When Does Debt Become Statute Barred?)

      Basic principal for Council Tax is if you have not paid anything for 20 years and they have not made a relevant claim, such as a wage arrestment etc in 20 years, it is prescribed.

      Write to them and ask for a statement of all payments for that year. If there is a 20 year gap, ask them if it is prescribed and if not why not. Every time a payment is made the 20 years begins again.

  12. Philip

    Hi,
    I have received a Summary Warrant regarding council tax for a property I once owned – but for a period that I didn’t own it. The amount asked for (over £4000) relates for a period from 2004 to 2008. I sold the property in 2006. This, can be verified on the ROS Web site, but the council apparently are unable to look up this information. They have never chased me for this debt before now – this is the first communication I have received (although I have moved multiple times so it’s possible any letters never reached me). How do I prove I sold a property 14 years ago if the ROS Web service isn’t good enough? And how do I stop them applying for a bank arrestment or whatever in the meantime. I also dispute the amount being demanded for the time I WAS there, but that’s another issue

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Philip

      I would seek to make a formal complaint and provide as much evidence as possible to show not only you didn’t own the property,but you didn’t live there, as liability can arise not just from ownership, but residency.
      This could be legal paperwork, an extract from the Land Registry and also proof of you living elsewhere.
      If the Council don’t update your complaint and amend their accounts, appeal their decision to the Valuation Tribunal. You can also complain to the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman.

  13. Drew

    Hi.

    My divorced mother, who lives alone, was recently granted Council Tax exemption due to mental health issues. She still however has an outstanding four figure balance which was only discovered upon a sibling, who had resided with her all his life until 5 years, ago moved out. I have subsequently been awarded POA to look after my mother’s affairs. My mother has no owings since the time of my siblings departure and has been paying a modest amount of the owed sum each month. Upon her death would my sibling be responsible for mum’s outstanding council tax debt? Would it be myself? Or would there be a chance the council would write this off? Your advice would be most welcome.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Drew

      Thanks for your question and I will do my best to answer it as simply as I can.

      First, if your Mum lived with your sibling when she got the Severe Mental Impairment (SMI) exemption, it would only have been for 25%, as she lived with your sibling. If she lived on her own, or from the point she lived on her own, it would have been 100% exemption.

      We should, therefore, break this into two periods. The first is her Council Tax liability for the period before she got her SMI and the period afterwards.

      In terms of the period before (and you should check the SMI could not be backdated till the point she had a qualifying benefit, like Attendance Allowance, Disability Allowance or Personal Independence Payment), normally a sibling wouldn’t be liable with their Mum.

      She would normally be liable on her own, unless the house they lived in was jointly owned by both them or there was a joint tenancy. If not, it would normally be your Mum who was liable for the Council Tax.

      If the house was jointly owned or there was a joint tenancy, they may be jointly liable for it. So if one cannot pay, the Council can pursue the other for the full amount. This is known as the Council Tax Liabilty Hierarchy. So normally the owner of the property is liable, or the tenant is liable, or where people co-habit as husband and wife they are joint and several liable. Children living in the family home are not usually joint and several liable, unless they are joint owners or tenants with their parents.

      Now for the period after the SMI was awarded, your Mum could not normally be held liable, even if it was only a 25% discount that was applied (as she didn’t live alone), as she has a SMI.

      It is likely in such a case, your Sibling was liable (working down the Council Tax Liability Hierarchy, as your Mum couldn’t be liable)

      The Council would then pursue your sibling for these arrears.

      However, it may be that for this period your sibling may have been entitled to a discount themselves as a resident carer for your Mum, this in total would mean a 50% discount (SMI plus Resident Carer). This would need to be applied for.

      Look on your local Council website and search for resident carer discount. They will normally have information about this on their site.

      Now what happens on the death of your Mum is different again.

      First her estate can only be held liable for the debts she was liable for, so that is why it is important to work out what she is liable for.

      I would argue she cannot be liable for any Council Tax debt from the point she was awarded an SMI, but she could be solely liable, or jointly for any arrears from before that period.

      If you live with her now you could be liable for the Council Tax (less her discount), but you may be entitled to a Resident Carer Discount.

      However, on her passing the Council can only claim against her estate for the debt she owed.

      It may be worth reading my page on What Happens to your Debts when you Die.

      If you are appointed her Executor, you have to wind up the estate properly and if she owns her home you may need to employ a solicitor. Also if her estate is worth more than £35,000 you normally have to employ a solicitor.

      The basic rules are the funeral costs must be paid first and then your Mum’s debts. You cannot be held liable for her debts, unless as Executor, you don’t wind up the Estate properly.

      So if there are funds to pay her debts, you must do this, or they can pursue you. If there is no money to pay her debts, then you cannot be held liable. If there is only enough to pay them partially, then you should take legal advice as you may need to bankrupt her estate.

      If your Sibling is jointly liable for any of the Council Tax debt and your Mum’s Estate cannot pay it off in full, then they may pursue your Sibling.

      If he isn’t jointly liable and there isn’t enough to pay the debt off, they will then write it off (unless the estate is made bankrupt and they think they can make a claim on the bankruptcy).

      Again to emphasise, your Mum cannot be held liable for any period she had the SMI.

      It may be worth contacting your local Citizen Advice Bureau or Local Authority Money Advice Service to ask if they can help your work out what your Mum is liable for and what she is not liable for.

      This will make it a lot easier for you to work out.

  14. Peter

    I recently moved after my wife died when the council found out they stopped my council tax reductions and are demanding I give them bank statements and the bill for my wife’s funeral her headstone costs the purchase and selling price of the property and any purchases for furniture and fittings for my new home can they do this

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Peter

      Can I offer my condolences first on the passing of your wife.

      They can ask for the information they have requested.

      Basically you and your wife will have been joint and several liable for your Council Tax and any arrears.

      As such the Council, as a Creditor, have a right to make a claim on your wife’s estate.

      Paying all her debts is one of the responsibilities of her Executor.

      So asking for evidence of her funeral expenses, is to help establish what was left in her estate to pay her debts, as these costs need to be deducted first.

      You can find out more about dealing with debts on the death of someone from my page on What Happens to your Debts when you Die.

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