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Dealing with Debt: Finding your feet: Advice for you if you are in debt


5 Council tax debt/water charges and other local government debts

Council tax is collected by local authorities to enable them to provide services for their community. Charges owed to Scottish Water for water and sewerage are collected by local authorities in a similar way.

It is very important to remember that if you fall into arrears for a previous year's council tax, and water, you will have to pay back arrears as well as all of the present year's council tax.

The council will send an annual bill explaining what you are due to pay them. Some councils allow you to pay by instalments, by direct debit, or by making payments at a Paypoint terminal. If you do not make the payments on time, the council will write to you and give you the opportunity to bring your payments up to date.

If you miss a payment you will be sent a notice, giving you seven days to make the payment. If you don't pay before seven days are up you lose any right to pay by instalments, and the whole sum for the year becomes due. You will have a further seven days, to make the full payment. If it isn't paid then the council can apply to the sheriff for a summary warrant. This includes a surcharge of 10% on top of the amount of the arrears. You cannot ask the sheriff to grant you time to pay your debt.

If you are in debt to your local council, they will possibly pass the collection of your debt to a recovery agent, or to a sheriff officer, depending on whether a summary warrant has been granted.


Mr Angus has a bill for unpaid council tax of £1,000 payable over 10 months.

1 April

£100 due nothing paid

1 May

£100 due nothing paid

17 May

Reminder/Final notice - must pay in seven days

24 May

If nothing paid Mr Angus loses right to pay by instalments

31 May

£1,000 to be paid - if not paid a summary warrant can be obtained within a short space of time and Mr Angus's debt is now £1,100 to be paid in a lump sum!

A summary warrant differs from a warrant granted after a normal debt action. The council, in seeking to collect and enforce council tax, will have had to give you notice on a number of occasions.

If you do nothing like Mr Angus above in response to the final notice then the council will be able to go to the sheriff (after first giving notice) and ask for a summary warrant. This will then allow the council to enforce the debt.

The granting of a summary warrant is a very serious matter. The council will collect their debts through wage arrestments, bank arrestments or possible sale of your goods. Unlike other forms of diligence, you cannot at present apply to the court for time to pay your debt.

You can, however, try to negotiate some settlement with the council or an agent acting on their behalf. If the council has been granted a summary warrant for your debt you should take immediate action by:

  • making an arrangement with the council for payment; or
  • contacting a money adviser or a solicitor for advice.

Go here for advice agency numbers.

Do you know?

  • You cannot be sent to prison for non-payment of council tax.
  • Most councils will try to negotiate a settlement. They would rather not take you to court. Even if you are taken to court, there is still an opportunity to try to pay your debt, at a rate you can afford.
  • You (or someone else in your household) may be entitled to a reduction in your payments for council tax.
  • A money adviser will be able to help you deal with your local council, and may be able to negotiate a settlement that you can afford.