While Covid-19 has undoubtedly meant many households struggling to pay their council tax, arrears levels were already on the rise long before the outbreak. This report explores the problems that persist within the current systems of council tax collection and local Council Tax Support schemes, as arrears levels reach a record breaking £4.4 billion in England alone. Findings are based on new nationwide research conducted by YouGov and the experiences of callers to our advisers at National Debtline and Business Debtline, to provide insight into some of the key issues faced by people struggling to pay their council tax and the urgent reforms needed to help bring arrears levels down and to ensure people who do fall behind are treated fairly.
This research shows that:
- Council tax arrears are reaching a ‘crisis point’. More than 7 million people in Britain (14%) are worried that they won’t be able to afford their council tax bills over the coming year – and £4.4 billion is already owed in unpaid council tax.
- In the decade between 2009 and 2019, the proportion of callers to National Debtline with council tax arrears doubled from 15% to 29%.
- Some vulnerable groups are most at risk of falling behind on their council tax – people with disabilities or long-term health conditions are three times more likely to be in arrears.
- A clear majority of British adults (59%) are supportive of the Government increasing the amount of money given to councils to allow them to help households who are struggling to pay.
Drawing on these findings, we outline a series of key recommendations to Government and local authorities to bring arrears levels down and to ensure that people who do fall behind are treated fairly. These include:
- Calling on the Government to introduce a permanent increase in funding for local authorities to deliver Council Tax Support schemes that cover up to 100% of bills for the most financially vulnerable.
- A Government reform of outdated council tax collection rules to prevent the rapid escalation of debt and ensure people in debt are treated fairly.
- A call for all local authorities to exempt people receiving Council Tax Support from bailiff action in recognition of the fact they have already been identified as vulnerable.
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