What is a Summary Warrant?

A Summary Warrant is a type of court order and is granted by the Sheriff Court for certain types of debts that are owed to local authorities and HMRC.

They are issued to recover taxes and water and sewage charges and authorise Sheriff Officers to carry out formal legal debt recovery.

Once a Summary Warrant has been issued, HMRC and local authorities may serve on you a Charge for Payment that gives you 14 days’ notice to pay your debts in full. This allows them to legally recover the debt.

Once they have served the Charge for Payment, if you have still not paid, they can use certain types of formal debt recovery processes to recover the debt. These are:

They cannot be used to execute what are known as land diligences, like inhibitions or Adjudications for Debt; although local authorities and HMRC can use the normal court process to use these procedures.

Unlike other court orders, Summary Warrants do not involve a court hearing , so you do not receive a court summons and cannot state a defence.

However, unlike other court orders that are awarded for non-payment of debts, there is no judicial interest applied to Summary Warrant debts (normally this is 8% per annum). Instead there is a one off 10% surcharge applied to the debt.

Time to Pay

When the debt owed is owed to a local authority, you can ask for time to pay, even after a Summary Warrant has been granted, by applying for a Time to Pays Direction. This is a court procedure that can protect you from enforcement action from Sheriff Officers. Time to Pays cannot be used with HMRC debts, but HMRC do have their own rules about payment arrangements.

Alternatively, if you are concerned you will get a Bank Arrestment or Earning Arrestment, you can use the Debt Arrangement Scheme, which can be used with HMRC and Local Authority Debt.

Council Tax Arrears and Summary Warrants

Local Authorities can use the Summary Warrant procedure, but only for council tax, business rates and water and sewage charges. They cannot use it for other debts, such as rent arrears.

You can find out more about how the Summary Warrant procedure is used to recover Council Tax Arrears here.

Can Summary Warrants be used for HMRC Debts?

HMRC can also use the Summary Warrant procedure to recover taxes that are due. They must give you 14 days’ notice before using the summary warrant procedure to allow you a chance to pay the debt or enter into an agreement with them.

Comments

  1. Harri

    Possibly dumb question, but how can the warrant be granted without giving the defendant a chance to defend themselves? I was under the impression that the right to representation was valid in all court proceedings.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Harri

      Thanks. It is not a dumb question at all and what you are saying is generally correct.

      However, if you don’t believe you are liable for a Council Tax debt, how you appeal depends on why you think you are not liable.

      If it is because you believe you were entitled to Council Tax Reduction, you should apply for Council Tax Reduction. If you are refused or you disagree with how much they say you are entitled to you appeal that decision.

      If it is because you think you were entitled to a Council Tax Exemption, or Discount you should apply for that exemption or discount. If it is refused you should make a written compliant to the Council and explain why you don’t agree with the decision. If you are not happy with the outcome of that complaint, you appeal the decision to the Valuation Tribunal.

      So although you don’t get a chance to defend the Summary Warrant, there are other ways to defend a Council Tax debt.

      This is the justification for why there is not a court hearing when the Summary Warrant is applied for.

      1. Harri

        In my case, my issue is that I received no communication from my council before the summary warrant, and was therefore unable to pay my bill. Despite this, their appeals process is proving difficult – despite council officials admitting that I was unable to pay.

        Also, while the warrant is currently on hold, that is a temporary state of affairs, and so I am the one facing a deadline despite the fact that the council is the party who needs to re-examine it’s case. I feel like if this had been conducted in the usual way, either the council would have been unable to provide a reasonable argument in their favour, or I would have been able to state my case in a very clear manner, and the outcome would be based on justice, not council procedure.

        In short, had the warrant been held to the same standards of evidence of any other court proceedings, I find it hard it difficult to believe it would have been granted, and if that’s the case, the process feels like an overreach of power with a lack of accountability.

        1. Scottish Adviser Post author

          Hi Harri

          I take your point.

          The problem is the Summary Warrant procedure is a legal one and enacted under UK Government Legislation and now falls under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament.

          From the Council’s point of view that same legislation forced them to do what they are doing.

          However, by placing the Warrant on hold whilst they investigate your complaint is the correct course of action for them to take.

          Even if they don’t respond to your complaint within two months, you don’t have to wait till they do. You can then go directly to the Valuation Tribunal to appeal their decision on your liability, or if you want to complain about wider issues, you can ask the Scottish Public service Ombudsman to investigate.

          From my understanding, if you go to the Valuation Tribunal, a date will be set and the hearing will be heard by a Tribunal judge.

          1. Harri

            I appreciate the practical advice, and I’ll certainly look into this options.

            On a more theoretical level though – legal or not, does the granting of a summary warrant without a need for a case not violate both the principal of innocent until proven guilty and the right to a defence? I would think both of those are parts of the fundamental right to a fair trial, and surely such a fundamental right cannot be waived by mere legislation?

            1. Scottish Adviser Post author

              Possibly, but until someone challenges it in the Inner House Of the Court of Session, it is the law.
              However, it could be argued it is a civil matter so it not about guilt and the legal obligation is to be given the right to a fair hearing, which you have if you want to appeal it to the Valuation Tribunal.
              So like all legal points, Judges may not always take the point of view you think they will, as on the other hand this is about the effective administration of justice and collection of taxes and if every case had to appear in front of a Sheriff and everyone had a chance to defend it, the Courts could grind to a halt.
              I personally think it would be held to be legal and if anyone wanted to object, they would be told they can appeal.

  2. Mark

    Thank you.

    In my case a summary warrant was issued despite not receiving any correspondence from the council advising that a debt was due.

    I immediately challenged this in writing, asking for a breakdown of said debt and copied in WalkerLove (in essence appealing the warrant on this basis).

    I heard nothing back from the council for 4 weeks… Before receiving their response, I received a charge for payment from WalkerLove (despite appealing within 14 days of receipt of warrant).

    I actually agreed with the council’s explanation of the makeup of the outstanding debt and duly made an immediate payment to them.

    However, WalkerLove are continuing to chase me for their fees, which I believe is grossly unfair as the warrant and payment charge were challenged and ultimately issued unnecessarily.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Mark

      If you don’t believe the Council followed the correct procedure you should complain.

      Ultimately, you can take your complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

      You should have received a Council Tax Bill just before the beginning of the new financial year, or when you moved in, if that was later.

      When a payment that was due was missed, you should have received a 7 day letter telling you to make the Payment.

      If the Payment was not received, they should have sent you a 14 day demand for Payment for the full amount.

      If you failed to make the full payment, they would then have applied for and issued the Summary Warrant applying a 10% surcharge.

      After that the debt would have went to Walker Love for recovery, who can issue a Charge for Payment. Their fees are then added to the debt.

      If your position is the Local Authority didn’t take some of these steps, then your course of action is to complain.

      If they don’t uphold your complaint, the Summary Warrant, the surcharge and the Charge for Payment (and the cost of executing it) stand.

      You can complain to the Ombudsman, see above, but until he upholds your complaint, the Council and the Sheriff Officers will continue to recover the debt.

      This could include taking further Diligence, like executing a wage arrestment or bank arrestment.

  3. Mark

    Hi, as summary warrants are granted without a court hearing, what is the mechanism for appealing them if you feel that the local authority has acted improperly/unfairly? Should a formal complaint be raised with them directly? Thank you.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Mark

      It depends really why you want to appeal.

      If you want to appeal as you think the Bill should be reduced because you were entitled to Council Tax Reduction, then you appeal against the decision not to award Council Tax Reduction.

      You should do this by first requesting the Council review their decision.

      If you are still not happy, you can appeal the decision to the Council Tax Reduction Review Panel.

      If you want to appeal as you don’t think you are the liable person, or because you believe a discount or an exemption should have applied, or you think your property is in the wrong band, you should complain to the Council first.

      They should write back to you within two months. If they don’t write back to you, or your don’t agree with their response, you can appeal to the valuation Appeals Tribunal.

      Either way if you want to appeal, you must do so within 4 months of writing your complaint to the Council.

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