Scotland politics

Scottish councils voice concerns about new law to end poll tax debt collections

Poll tax demonstration
Image caption The poll tax sparked demonstrations when it was introduced in the early 1990s by the then Tory government

Council body Cosla has voiced worries that plans to end the collection of historic poll tax debt could encourage non-payment of outstanding council tax.

Spokesman Kevin Keenan told MSPs that people who are struggling financially may think they can "walk away" from paying into the current system.

The controversial tax was abolished in 1993 leaving £425m in debts.

The Scottish government argued that after two decades it was time to stop chasing poll tax arrears.

It introduced the Community Charge Debt (Scotland) Bill to Holyrood to stop councils from pursuing the debt after several said they would use the details of people who registered for the independence referendum vote to recover outstanding cash.

Some councils are opposed to the legislation, while others are supportive.

Councillor Keenan told Holyrood's finance committee: "There is a lot of reason to believe that people are struggling (financially), and I think with that in itself, people may be of the opinion that [council tax] may be one they can walk away from.

Poll tax in Scotland


Introduced in Scotland


Replaced by council tax

  • £425m Total uncollected poll tax debt

  • £1.3m Poll tax debt collected in 2009-10

  • £396,000 Poll tax debt collected in 2013

"Hence the reason we believe that there could be a level of consequential loss to councils should that be the case."

The committee also heard from Dundee and Glasgow city councils, who have both chosen to focus on collecting current council tax arrears, and "breaking the cycle of debt", rather than pursuing historic community charge debts.

Gregory Colgan, of Dundee City Council, said: "The concern the council would have with the Bill should it go through, is that individuals may think it is acceptable not to pay historic council tax debt and something similar (such as writing off that debt) may happen in the future."

Local authorities are to share a "final once-and-for-all settlement" of £869,000 based on the amount of poll tax debt which they estimate should have been recovered from existing recovery arrangements.

The amount of arrears collected by councils across Scotland fell to £327,000 in 2013-14 and some local authorities have already ceased recovery of the debts.

Councillor Keenan said: "There seemed to be an acceptance that if there was an unforeseen circumstance, we would be back round the table on some level for negotiations as to the way forward, if (the proposals) had a negative on the collection of current council tax."

Related Topics

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites