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Ministers aim to prevent historic poll tax collection

2 October 2014

Councils will be prevented from pursuing people for historic community charge, or "poll tax" debts, under a new measure to be introduced by the Scottish Government, First Minister Alex Salmond confirmed today.

The community charge was levied on individuals in Scotland from 1989 to 1993, following the abolition of domestic rates. A controversial and unpopular policy, it was replaced by the current council tax. 

Many individuals declined to pay, and attempted enforcement by sheriff officers was often met by mass protests. Some people decided not to register on the electoral roll in order to make it harder to trace where they were. However the large number of people who registered for the first time or re-registered in order to vote in the independence referendum are believed to include some who still owe arrears of council tax, and some local authorities have declared their intention to continue to pursue outstanding debts where those liable can be traced.

The existence of an outstanding warrant for payment would prevent the liability to pay the community charge lapsing after 20 years, as would otherwise be the case.

Under the legislation announced today, which will be included in the Scottish Government’s forthcoming legislation programme, councils will no longer have the ability to collect community charge arrears, but will be compensated for outstanding amounts in line with current collection rates. A total of around £396,000 was collected in the last financial year, down from £1.3m in 2009-10.

Describing the poll tax as "a hugely discredited tax" that had been "rightly consigned to history", the First Minister said: “It is therefore not appropriate for councils to use current electoral records to chase arrears from decades ago. The electoral register should not be used to collect debts from a defunct tax – something which is even more important given the unprecedentedly high levels of democratic engagement we have seen recently."

He added: “It is, of course, quite proper for councils to use current information to assess current council tax liability. Unlike the long dead, discredited poll tax, the council tax is a live levy which forms a key part of local authorities’ finances."

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