Citizens Advice Scotland is sounding the alarm that many low income earners are at risk of falling into more debt this new year. According to the debt advisory service, council tax debt has become the most prevalent form of debt in Scotland with millions of pounds being owed every year. Recent figures from the past tax year revealed that 1,422 Britons went to get help from the Citizens Advice network due to council tax-related debt issues.
Overall, a staggering £4.1million in council tax arrears must be paid for 2021/2022.
For the past year, the average household debt owed was £2,925.84 which is nearly three times the average council tax bill of £1,198.
A breakdown of figures from the first two quarters of 2021 show that this number is rising even higher.
Over this time period, it is believed that households have accumulated an average debt of £3,513.01 with a total debt of over £3.5million.
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Citizens Advice estimates that its clients, all together, have seen a grand total of £7.6million in council tax debt since the beginning of the pandemic.
Due to this, the charity is voicing concerns about the continuing rise in the cost of living which is squeezing the budgets of families up and down the country.
On top of this, households have seen the removal of crucial pandemic-era financial support packages, such as the end to furlough and the £20 uplift to Universal Credit.
There have been calls for the UK Government and devolved Governments to utilise their tax powers to help families in need.
In particular, the Scottish Government’s Council Tax Reduction scheme is being cited by debt experts as it can reduce future payments and offers a backdate of up to six months, for certain people.
Myles Fitt, the Financial Health spokesperson for Citizens Advice Scotland, outlined why the coming months will be the most difficult for low income households who have seen changes to their earnings recently.
Mr Fitt explained: “This winter is set to be really challenging for so many families across Scotland.
“The combination of rising energy bills, the impact on incomes from the end of furlough and the £20 weekly reduction in Universal Credit has created a perfect financial storm for the thousands of households who were already experiencing money problems or who were just managing to get by.
“Council tax debt is the biggest debt issue the Citizens Advice network in Scotland sees, and people racked up millions of pounds in arrears during the pandemic.
“Worryingly, early data for 2021/22 suggests this problem is growing – and that’s before the perfect storm of rising costs and falling incomes hit people.”
As part of his advice, the debt expert encouraged those who are struggling to take action as soon as possible.
Mr Fitt added: “People struggling with money should seek help. We have an online tool www.checkmycounciltax.scot which allows people to check if they are entitled to a Council Tax Reduction.
“Also, www.moneymap.scot rounds up people’s online options to save money and boost their incomes.”
Anyone looking for further information and guidance on paying off their Council Tax bill or debts should contact Citizens Advice immediately for help.
The debt expert said: “People can also seek advice from Citizens Advice in the new year.
“Our advice is completely free and people should understand that they should never have to pay to receive debt advice.
“We are here to help with debt or money worries and will never charge you for that help.”