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Fergus will be back on the John Beattie Show on BBC Radio Scotland on Wednesday just after the 1pm news with some great tips to help organise your money and understand your consumer rights. This week he'll be looking at the best way to spring clean your finances at the beginning of a new tax year. Catch up on previous shows here

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I can’t afford my council tax. What are my options?

Friends can give us great advice on where to go on holiday, the latest up and coming restaurant to eat in, even what shops we should use to update our wardrobe, but when it comes to something as important as not paying your council tax then you really need slightly more professional and accurate advice.
Your council tax is deemed to be a priority payment and must be paid regularly, just like your gas and electricity bills and your mortgage or rent payments. Credit card companies are often the first to contact us when they don’t receive monthly payments, but a credit card debt should not be prioritised above your council tax. If you don’t make your council tax payments then the council could instruct debt collectors to write to you, or visit your home, in a bid to recover the money.
If they can’t get any money from you then there a number of steps they can take as Stuart Carmichael from Scottish debt advice charity Debt Support Trust explains. “If the debt collectors are unsuccessful then the council has a number of routes they could take, including writing to your employer to place an earnings arrestment against you. This means your employer will be forced to pay a percentage of your salary directly to the debt. They can only do this once a Charge for Payment has expired. A Charge for Payment is a formal demand for payment and you have 14 days to respond. If you don’t then the local council can take action, through something called diligence like an earnings arrestment, to recover their money.”
If you fail to repay any debt on time it can of course affect your credit rating and can remain on your credit file for six years from the date it’s added. A default being added to your credit file can make it difficult, or more expensive, to obtain further credit since you will be seen as a greater risk.
You said that you’re not paying your share of the council tax debt, but your ex-girlfriend is paying her share. When it comes to joint debts, like council tax, you are both equally responsible for the full amount of the payment. So, despite your ex-partner paying her share, she is still responsible for the remaining balance which you aren’t paying. The expression used is that you have a “joint and several liability”. In other words you both owe the full amount of the council tax, and the council can make a claim against either of you for the full amount.
If you are struggling to meet your council tax payments you can speak to your council to try and make it more affordable. Most local councils divide the yearly council tax over 10 months however you can split your payments over a 12 month period. This will reduce your payments each month, but of course you won’t get two months where you don’t have to pay council tax – usually February and March.
Stuart Carmichael says that it’s important to take advice. “It’s not uncommon for people to think that their council tax isn’t a priority. As a result, people will repay other debts ahead of paying their ongoing council tax liability, but there are options to rectify this problem. Any local council will usually take decisive action to recoup their money, so anybody struggling with paying their council tax should seek debt advice. If you contact your local council about the council tax debt they will usually allow you to repay the debt in a payment plan over a set period of time, so you don’t have to pay all the arrears in one lump sum. I would encourage you to seek debt advice from a registered charity to get help with budgeting and entering a payment plan for any credit card debts that have got out of control.”

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