Council tax debt is a growing problem in Scotland. If you’re one of the people struggling with council tax debt, you are far from alone. The number of people seeking help for council tax debt has risen over 350% in the past five years. The average amount owed has also increased in that time to nearly £850.1
What is wage arrestment?
Councils who pursue people for unpaid council tax have to follow a series of legally agreed steps to recover the money. Wage arrestment is one of the final steps in the process. Wage arrestment means that money can be taken from your pay packet and paid to your creditor (in this case, the council), until the debt has been cleared.
Anyone who is in employment can have their wages arrested. The only exception to this rule is people serving in the armed forces.
Your wages are defined as the amount you earn, including any commission, bonuses and statutory sick pay. The amount that is taken from your wages is based on a formula. If the amount you earn changes, so will the wage arrestment deductions. It does not take into account any other debts or outgoings. You must always be left with at least 60% of your net income (your income after tax).
When does a wage arrestment for council tax debt happen?
Wage arrestment for council tax debt is one of the final steps a council can take to recover the money owed to them. The stages leading up to it are as follows.
A reminder letter will be sent to you the first two times that you miss a council tax payment. If you miss a third payment in a year – or if you do not pay the previous missed payments within seven days of receiving the reminder letter – you will receive a Final Notice. This states that you have 14 days to repay the total amount of council tax owing for the rest of the year.
If you do not pay the amount you owe, the council will apply to the Sheriff Court for a Summary Warrant. This will be sent to you in the post. It states the amount you owe plus a 10% penalty. From this point onwards you will need to contact a Sheriff Officer about the council tax debt, not the council.
Sheriff Officers are officers of the court in Scotland. It means they have the power to enforce court orders such as Summary Warrants. Sheriff officers can be self-employed or part of a company. They are appointed by councils to collect unpaid council tax debts when a Summary Warrant is granted. Some of the biggest firms in Scotland include Scott and Co, Stirling Park and Walker Love, although there are many others that councils work with.
The details of the Sheriff Officer who has been appointed to recover the amount owed will be given in the Summary Warrant.
When you receive a Summary Warrant you have 14 days to contact the Sheriff Officer to start to arrange a repayment plan. If you get income support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or pension credit, you can ask for payments to be made directly from your benefit.
The role of the Sheriff Officer in wage arrestment for council tax debt
If you do not make contact with the Sheriff Officer within 14 days to arrange a repayment plan, they can ask you for information such as the name and address of your employer, your National Insurance number, your bank account details and the name and address of anyone else who is liable to pay your Council Tax with you. You must provide the information they request within 14 days or you may be fined.
The council will also obtain a charge for payment, which usually lasts for 14 days. It gives the Sheriff Officer the power to take the money you owe.
One of the ways the Sheriff Officer can do this is with wage arrestment. Other ways they can recover the money is by freezing your bank account, taking money from your bank account and removing belongings from your home and selling them.
Where can I go for help to deal with wage arrestment for council tax debt?
If you are struggling with council tax debt or worry that you are at risk of wage arrestment, there are places you can go for help. Council Tax Advisors offers free advice and support to anyone struggling with debt, especially council tax debt. Trained advisors provide information on the options open to you. They can also negotiate with council and Sheriff Officers on your behalf.
If you are worried about wage arrestment or council tax debt, take action today and contact Council Tax Advisors.