Can You Go To Jail For Not Paying Council Tax In Scotland?

Council tax debt has been on the rise since the onset of the pandemic. Despite the fact that councils have allowed relaxed payment schedules and discounts during this period, the fact that mandatory lockdowns caused an average fall in income for many households. Some even faced unemployment. Due to a sharp fall in income levels, many households started being eligible for council tax reduction. This, coupled with increasing council tax debt has led to a fall in council tax collections in Scotland.  

According to an article published on the BBC website Covid in Scotland: Council tax pandemic debt ‘explosion’ feared, economic hardship as a result of the covid-19 pandemic has caused nearly 500,000 households in Scotland to become eligible for council tax reduction. In some cases, many of these households face a constant budget deficit; which means that while they may be allowed a discount on their council tax bills, their incomes do not meet their expenses. 

Can You Go To Jail For Not Paying Council Tax In Scotland?

No, you cannot go to jail for not paying council tax in Scotland. While most of the council tax laws followed in Scotland are similar to those in England, a jail term is not sentenced for council tax debt. However, the building up of this debt not only puts the debtor in severe financial hardship over a period of time.

If someone continues to defer their council tax payments, a 10 per cent charge is added to their bill and a summary warrant is issued to their name. The local council may also contact sheriff officers to recover the debt. The legal fee incurred in the process will be added to the debtor’s dues. This, along with the surcharge, plus the fact that the debtor will now have to pay the yearly amount in full and cannot avail the option of instalments, increases their financial burden.

If someone is unable to pay their council tax bills, they must inform their local council office immediately at Find your local council in Scotland and work out a payment plan with them. If they are eligible for a council tax reduction due to changes in income, the occupancy status of their home or changes in the valuation band of their property, council tax rates may be revised in their favour.

To delve deeper, will explore the following key areas:

  • the options available to someone who has not paid their council tax bill
  • the consequences of not paying council tax bills
  • actions to be taken when the council tax bill is incorrect
  • eligibility criteria for Council Tax Reduction

What Should I Do If I Can’t Pay Council Tax?

Council tax is a mandatory bill paid to local councils by residents above the age of 18 years. If someone is unable to pay their council tax bill they must inform their local council office Organisations and share details.

If the reason for being unable to pay council tax is a fall in wages that classifies the individual as a low-income earner or they are the only adult in the household, they may qualify for a council tax reduction. 

Your local council office will be able to guide you on how to apply for a council tax reduction so that the amounts in your future bills are adjusted accordingly. In some cases, if your situation developed a few months before informing the council tax office, your reduced bill may be applied for all prior months and the previously paid amounts will be adjusted in forthcoming bills.

However, if you miss your council tax payments on purpose, you are in “arrears”. This means that you owe your council some money. 

Who Is Eligible For Council Tax Reduction?

Anyone on low-income or receiving state benefits may be eligible for a reduction on their council tax bill. If an individual fulfils any of the below criteria, they are advised to contact their local council and apply for a council tax reduction on their bill or Get advice from their local Citizens Advice Bureau:

  • the resident is on low income
  • the resident has savings and capital below £16000
  • the resident lives alone
  • the resident is disabled
  • they receive benefits such as Income Support, Job Seeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance
  • they have refugee status or humanitarian protection
  • the property that they live in falls within Bands E to H (valued by the Valuation Office Agency)

Details about Council tax eligibility criteria, exemptions and discounts are available for anyone wanting to learn more before contacting their local council office. 

What Happens When Someone Does Not Pay Their Council Tax Bill?

Council tax may be calculated on an annual basis but it is paid via monthly instalments spread across April to January. There are no payments required from residents in February and March as this is usually the time when councils are chasing arrears or making adjustments to changes in the next year’s bill (where needed).

Local councils will start following up with you for their dues two weeks after the due date has passed by sending you a reminder. You will be asked to clear your dues within the next seven days.

If the recipients clear their dues, they are no longer in arrears and can continue paying their bill in monthly instalments. However, if they don’t clear their dues and continue to miss another payment, a second reminder will be sent with another 7 days time to clear dues. Lack of response to this means that the debtor can no longer avail of instalments. 

They will be sent a letter to clear their council tax arrears, as well as future payments for the year as a lump sum amount. They will also be asked to make their annual payments for public water and sewerage, although these are not part of council tax bills and are paid separately to local councils.

If you choose not to clear your dues, local councils have the authority to exercise any or all of the options for debt recovery:

  • impose the full amount of the remainder of the bill rather than allowing monthly instalments
  • add a 10 per cent charge to your existing bill
  • issue a summary warrant
  • deduction from wages or state benefits

What Happens When Non Payment of Bills Is Due To Incorrect Billing?

If you receive a council tax bill that you don’t agree with, you must inform your local council office stating the reason(s) why you believe the bill (or a part of it) is incorrect and provide relevant evidence to support your claim.

The council may take up to 2 months to review your application and revert with a response. During this time, your must keep paying your monthly council tax instalments. Should the council agree with you and your application gets approved, the extra amount that you have paid will be adjusted in future instalments. A sample appeals letter may be of help to pursue your claim Your A


Council tax debt may not be a criminal offence that could end up in a jail term, however, failure to make timely payments on purpose may lead to an increased financial burden on the debtor. This gives local councils the authority to use certain debt recovery methods; from having the entire yearly amount imposed upon debtors as a one-time payment in full to additional charges, deduction from wages and allowances and a sheriff’s visit to their property.

In case of inability to pay council tax, the best way to proceed is by informing your local office immediately. They may be able to work out an easy to pay for instalment plan or offer a one-time discount. At times, debtors may not be aware that they qualify for a council tax reduction until they contact their local council and share information about changes to their income or living conditions.

FAQs: Can You Go To Jail For Not Paying Council Tax In Scotland?

What happens if you don’t pay council tax in Scotland?

If someone doesn’t pay their council tax in Scotland, they may be reminded by their local council office twice before the option to pay the bill in monthly instalments is taken away and they are asked to pay the yearly tax in full. Local councils may also add a 10 per cent charge on their original dues, claim deductions from their wages or allowances, or even request a sheriff’s visit to the property to claim valuables worth the dues. Any additional charges borne in the process are added to the debtor’s dues.

What happens if you get caught not paying council tax?

If someone does not pay their council tax on purpose, local councils may chase them to clear their dues using all legal power available to them. From deduction in wages and allowances to possession of valuables through a bailiff/sheriff visit to a court hearing, all debt recovery tools may be used when a debtor is able and yet unwilling to pay their council tax dues.

Is it a Criminal Offence to not pay council tax?

While it is not a criminal offence to not pay council tax, it is a mandatory tax based on income and property values in England, Scotland and Wales. Council tax debt is a priority debt that must be paid at the earliest possible to avoid severe legal action by local councils. 

How long can you be chased for council tax debt in Scotland?

Council tax debt may be pursued for 20 years in Scotland. The council is entitled to recover any amount that remains unpaid by using its authority.

Can you be blacklisted for not paying council tax?

No, your council tax debt does not have an impact on your credit score to make you blacklisted for taking future credit. However, you may be chased by the local council office for up to 20 years for clearance of dues and may even be subjected to a sheriff/bailiff’s visit to your property or even be taken to court by the council authorities.


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