People seeking help over council tax from Citizens Advice Scotland owed £6.9 million to local authorities last year, new figures show.
The organisation helped 2,250 people with the issue in 2019, with an average debt of £3,102.46 each, almost three times the average council tax bill of £1,147.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) is now launching a two-week Council Tax: Check To Save campaign which urges people to check if they are entitled to exemptions, reductions and discounts, and highlights the support the CAS network can offer.
The number of people claiming Council Tax Reduction (CTR) has fallen by over 80,000 since the new system was introduced in 2013, CAS said.
The campaign launch comes after Edinburgh’s SNP-Labour coalition voted to increase council tax by 4.79% this year while Glasgow’s SNP-administration approved a rise of 4.64%.
CAS Financial Health spokesman Myles Fitt said: “Over recent years, council tax debt has grown to be the number one debt issue that people bring to Citizens Advice Bureaux.
“People coming to us for help last year owed a total of £6.9 million to their local authorities. That works out to around £3,000 per person on average, three times the average council tax bill in Scotland.
“The campaign we are launching today is all about helping people who find themselves in council tax debt or who are struggling to pay their council tax bill.
“Across the country, most councils are set to increase council tax rates. We think local authorities should be do everything they can to ensure more people access these savings to help those least able to pay higher council tax bills.
“We know that over 80,000 fewer people in Scotland are claiming council tax reduction than when the system was introduced seven years ago, and we fear that lots of families are missing out on savings they are entitled to.”
CAS staff member Catherine Henry discovered that her own father, who has MS, was in line for an exemption while trying out an online tool to check for entitlements.
She said: “A few weeks ago my colleagues were developing the tool and asked a group of us in the office to help them test it.
“I decided to enter in my dad’s details, as I know he already has some council tax exemptions due to his long-term illness (MS), so I thought it would be good to see if the tool confirmed that.
“What actually happened was that the tool pointed out that he was in fact entitled to a full exemption, so he has been wrongly paying council tax for nine years.
“When we took this information to the council they agreed to exempt him going forward and to repay his council tax payments since 2011 in full. All we needed was a doctor’s signature confirming his condition.
“It’s a significant sum of money so we are obviously very pleased, and it will be a great help to the family finances. But that experience just makes me really keen to get the message out there to people: try this thing out.
“You’ve got nothing to lose, and you could have hundreds or even thousands to gain.”