Council to delay tax pay warning

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn.
Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn.
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Falkirk’s council tax collection system has been ‘‘refined’’ following complaints about the warning letters being sent out to late payers.

A top SNP councillor claimed several of the group’s members had been approached by constituents worried after receiving reminders from the authority to settle the bill that talked of surcharges and possible action by sheriff officers to recover the debt.

Like most local authorities across the county, Falkirk Council now collects council tax on the first of the month.

But councillors reported recently that people who wait until the end of the month to pay, perhaps because the receive their salary or pension towards the end of the month, had been sent letters threatening legal action to collect the debt.

Now, while finance bosses have agreed to make changes to the the procedure, council chiefs say residents must contact them when letters are sent out.

Falkirk’s SNP group leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “As it stands, if you do not pay your council tax within 14 days of the first of the month, an automated reminder system kicks in.

“So those who don’t get their benefit or pension until the end of the month and pay the bill then, will always be seen as in arrears.

“This is despite the fact they have consistently paid.”

She went on: “Those who do pay towards the end of the month could reasonably have assumed that because they make the payment, this would have been accepted as them making contact with the service.

“There’s now been some agreement to acknowledge how unfair this practice is and those who pay within the month will not receive a final notice.”

Mrs Meiklejohn added: “Despite this, I would urge the procedure be revised further to include manual checks 
on payments before any action is taken, thus focussing on non-payers rather than targeting those who do 
pay.”

This week, Falkirk’s chief finance officer, Bryan Smail, said: “I have refined part of the process which I know councillors have found problematic.

“This relates to those who pay regularly towards the end of the month rather than the due date which is the first.

“The process as it stands for these cases will, after reminders, move to final notice and then summary warrant, the latter triggering a 10 per cent charge.

“Our reminders strongly encourage the individual to make contact and, if this is done, the process stops.

“Now, regular payers who pay within the month will not be taken beyond a second reminder to final notice and warrant stage.

“This will allow our finite resources to deal with cases meriting more attention.”