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Holyrood bid to end collection of 'unfair' tax bills

Scottish Councils are pursuing thousands of Scots for tax bills that are up to 15 years old – even if the bill has been paid.

MSPs are now to be asked to pass a law that will put a stop to this, and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) are encouraging all CABs and other advice agencies to back the campaign by responding to the consultation on the bill (you can do so via the link below).

The bill is being proposed by SNP backbencher John Wilson MSP, with the full backing of CAS, who were present with Mr Wilson as he launched the consultation at Holyrood today.

At the launch, Susan McPhee, Head of Social Policy at CAS, said,

“We are supporting this bill because we have clear evidence that these are significant problems, which are affecting many people in Scotland - and which could technically affect anyone.

 “Citizens Advice Bureaux across Scotland regularly report to us that they deal with clients who have faced sudden demands from their Council for local tax bills which were due maybe five, ten or even fifteen years ago. Hardly anyone keeps their bank statements and financial records going back that far, and yet they are expected to prove that they have paid this bill, or that they were exempt at the time from doing so - and if they cannot they are liable to pay it again in full.

 “With so many people suffering hardship already due to the recession, this is an additional burden that few can cope with. Where people have already paid the bill it is very unfair that they have to pay it again. And even in cases where they have not, we think it makes little sense to pursue the money after such a long period. 

“Now that the consultation period has begun, we strongly urge all individual bureaux also to submit their own response to the consultation (see below), and to lobby their MSPs to back the bill.”

Mr Wilson said,

“This bill would put right an unfair anomaly that is causing real financial upheaval and misery to a lot of people in Scotland – many of whom are suffering already due to the recession.

 “People are suddenly being forced to face up to very old debts – or else provide proof of payment which is often impossible so many years down the line.

 “This bill is designed to kill off one of the most unfair aspects of the local tax system in Scotland. We want to reduce the period in which a Council can pursue a local tax debt from 20 years to 5 years, , which will lead to greater efficiency for councils, and will help people manage their debts better. I hope this will gain all-party support, so that people in Scotland will get the protection they deserve.”

 The situation at the moment is that Scottish Councils can demand payment for Community Charge Tax or Council Tax for a period of 20 years after the year in question, and that once they have made the demand they then have another 20 years in which to pursue collection.

Mr Wilson’s proposed bill calls for two changes:

Reduce the collection period from 20 years to 5 years (bringing it into line with other types of debt)

Change the formal way councils collect this tax that will give a debtor more opportunity to challenge the amount owing

More details can be seen in the prescriptive periods briefing in the publications section.

Please consider responding to the consultation on this bill, which can be found here: Prescriptive periods consultation. The deadline for responses to the consultation is 10 June 2010.

For further information, please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010.