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Background Info

Currently, 22 councils (69%) offer this choice, representing 71% of the population. However 10 councils (31%), representing 29% of the population do not, and other than Fife council have no plans to change this.

At the start of gathering my data Fife council had no plans to change their payment options, and my aim in gathering data was to put together a case to put to Fife council to try to get them to implement the option of paying over 12 months. Before I had completed putting together my case Fife council were in touch to say they now hope to offer this option for next year and are just checking that their computer system can handle the change. This is obviously great news for both myself and other eligible households in Fife.

It does not however help those households in the 9 other council areas who do not have this option. Furthermore it is unlikely that simply making their case to the council would have much of an impact due to the fact that several of the councils who do not offer payment over 12 months say the reason they do not offer this option is because legislation does not allow it.

The legislation in Scotland in regards to council tax is not very clear. Paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the 1992 Regulations stipulates that the maximum number of instalment payments is 10. However reg 21(4) permits councils to enter into agreements to pay council tax, and when doing so, sched 1 does not apply. This provision was designed to allow councils the discretion to enter into voluntary agreements with debtors who have built up arrears, but it can, in principle, be used to allow payment over a period of 12 months for all debtors. This is why 22 councils are currently able to offer the 12 month payment option as standard, yet other councils are not keen to introduce payment options based on the principle of a sentence not designed to apply to all debtors.

In England, the council tax legislation was amended so that from April 2013, all eligible households had the right to pay over 12 months if they wished to do so. The legislation is simple and easy to understand and I would like Scotland to follow suit.

All the councils who offer payment over 12 months have found the option to be a good one with none showing any regrets. At a time of recession and financial insecurity, being able to spread out payments cannot be anything other than helpful, especially for those on low incomes. For budgeting purposes, it is far easier to budget a certain amount coming out of your income every month rather than having 10 months of payments and 2 months of no payments. Of course, some households may prefer payment over 10 months or even paying in one lump sum, and I would not want to take away this option for them, I simply wish to add another option. Feedback from the councils who offer payment over 12 months shows that all councils have shown an increase in direct debit payment. Whilst this cannot solely be attributed to the change in allowing payment over 12 months it is likely that this played a role. In addition, some councils also found the following :

  • Introducing such flexibility reduced the cost of collection and maximised in-year payment.
  • Customers who paid by standing order no longer had to cancel and restart their standing orders each year.
  • An icrease in customers maintaining arrangements with the Corporate Debt team when switching to 12 monthly payments
  • Allows customers to reduce monthly payments

From my perspective, it seems that allowing payment over 12 months cannot be anything other than a win-win situation. Customers get more flexibility and easier to budget payments, while councils maximise the money they bring in and minimise costs spent on debt collection, thus making them more money for no extra work (other than the initial change to the computer system which by all accounts is straightforward).

Details of my findings from all local authorities can be seen in a separate document which is provided below.

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