Understanding Diligence in Scotland: A Guide to Handling Council Tax Debts

If you're living in Scotland, you might have heard about the diligence process related to council tax arrears. It's a growing trend that's impacting the business model of sheriff officers and messengers at arms, the enforcers of civil court orders. In fact, in 2022/23, a staggering 85% of all diligences executed were for council tax arrears, a significant jump from 73% in 2011/12.

The number of diligences in Scotland has surged by 10.82% from 2011/12 to 2022/23, with a more substantial increase in those executed for council tax debt. This rise is largely driven by the increased use of charges for payment, which were not required for council tax debt before 2008. Since then, their use has seen a 30% increase. The question now is, how will the proposed diligence reforms address this growing issue?

Key Takeaways

  • Diligence in Scotland related to council tax referrs to the legal actions taken against individuals who fail to promptly fulfill their council tax obligations.
  • Enforcement of these civil court orders for council tax arrears significantly impacts the business model of sheriff officers and messengers at arms.
  • Council tax arrears made up 85% of all diligences executed in 2022/23, rising from 73% in 2011/12, with a notable increase in the use of charges for payment.
  • The growth in council tax diligence has raised concerns about recovery methods that disproportionately penalise the poorest members of society and has prompted an independent review of Scotland's debt solutions and the law of diligence.
  • Council tax is a local taxation method funding local services, and failure to keep up with payments can lead to council tax arrears. Diligence involves various methods used by authorities to enforce judgement debts, one of which is wage arrestment.
  • There are several types of diligence for debt recovery in Scotland, including Summary Warrant, Wage Arrestment, and Bank Arrestment. Each has its own specifics and challenges for individuals under their scrutiny.
  • To manage council tax arrears, individuals can seek professional advice and negotiate with the Council to arrange practical repayment plans, potentially halting any further actions.



What is Diligence in Scotland for Council Tax?

In Scotland, if you fail to pay your council tax obligation promptly, legal action can be taken against you. This legal action is known as 'diligence'. The heart of this issue lies in the ability of the authorities to enforce civil court orders, a job taken up by sheriff officers and messengers at arms.

Arguably, their business model seems increasingly reliant on diligence related to council tax arrears. In fact, back in 2011/12, diligences for council tax arrears constituted 73% of all diligences executed. Fast forward to 2022/23, this figure leapt to a striking 85%. One method of diligence, in particular, has seen a notable upswing, namely, the use of charges for payment.

Charges for payment have grown significantly since 2008, from constituting 68% of the total in 2011/12 to making up 79% in 2022/23. This trend coincides with an increase in wage arrestments, another form of diligence, from 78% for council tax in 2011/12 to 91% in 2022/23.

To shed some more light on the trend, from 2011/12 to 2022/23, the total number of diligences executed in Scotland jumped from 481,565 to 533,690, representing a 10.82% increase. As for diligences executed for council tax debt specifically, the number climbed from 351,995 in 2011/12 to 454,390 in 2022/23, marking a 29.09% uptick.

This scenario has induced some deep-rooted questions about the private sector model of enforcement and the dominance of council tax debt. Moreover, it also raises the issue of recovery methods that disproportionately penalise the poorest.

The Scottish Government has launched an independent review of Scotland's debt solutions and the law of diligence, marking the onset of prospective reformations. Yet, the pivotal question remains: will these reforms strike the right balance between debtor protection and effectively tackling the climbing rate of council tax arrears? Only time will tell.

Understanding the Basics

In this segment, we'll delve into the crux of two key aspects revolving around this issue: the concept of council tax and the practice of diligence in Scotland.

Definition of Council Tax

Council tax is a local taxation system with domestic rates. Each property is assigned to one of the eight bands (A to H) based on property value, and the tax is set as a fixed amount for each band. This system plays a crucial role in gathering revenue to fund local services provided by municipalities. Council tax arrears occur when you're unable to keep up with your council tax payments. When this happens, your council has the right to take legal action to retrieve the owed money.

Introduction to Diligence in Scotland

In the context of Scottish law, diligence refers to the act of legally enforcing a court order. Specifically, the term 'diligence' is employed to denote various methods utilised by creditors to enforce judgement debts. Council tax debt, when left unremedied, can lead to diligence action. One frequently employed diligence procedure is wage arrestment.

The term wage arrestment implies a legal process which permits the council to directly take money from your earnings to repay your council tax debts. This is done through an Earnings Arrestment Order (EAO) given to your employer, who then deducts a given percentage from your wages. The deducted money is then administered towards the repayment of your council tax debt.

Wage arrestment orders are calculated by parameters. Here are the current net after tax figures:

Paid Frequency

Net After Tax







When you exceed these earnings, a percentage of your income above these figures is sent to pay off your debt.

The repercussions of this enforcement solution shouldn't be understated. While it serves to alleviate your debt, it might put your job at risk, depending on your employment contract and the nature of your work.

Types of Diligence

In Scotland, there are several methods used for debt recovery under the umbrella term of "diligence". Let's delve into the specifics of some of these types, specifically Summary Warrant, Wage Arrestment, and Bank Arrestment.

Summary Warrant

Summary Warrant is a process that is primarily used in the enforcement of particular types of debts, such as credit union loans, maintenance orders, and guarantees provided to both business leases and personal tenancies. It's essential to note that Summary Warrant cannot be executed for debts like credit cards, bank loans, or hire-purchase agreements. These are regulated under the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

For instance, if unpaid Council Tax accumulates and after receiving two reminders you haven't made a payment, your local authority can apply to the Sheriff Court for a summary warrant. Upon their success, an additional 10% penalty charge will be added on top of your owed Council Tax.

Wage Arrestment

Wage Arrestment is another common form of diligence used for debt collection in Scotland. It is particularly used in enforcing council tax debts. While beneficial in collecting debts, you must be aware of how it's applied in various situations, especially if you're facing such a scenario.

Under Wage Arrestment, the council is permitted to directly deduct money from your earnings to repay the debts. This method can affect your cash flow, but there's a safety net. The first 566.51 of your net monthly pay is protected and cannot be touched. If you earn between 566.51 and 2047.65, either 19% of your earnings or 15.00 above 566.51, whichever is higher, can be taken.

One point to note is that self-employed individuals, those on state benefits, or serving members of the armed forces are exempt from Wage Arrestment. If faced with an arrestment, turn to a Wage Arrestment Expert to understand your options better.

Also, in case of multiple debts, such as Council Tax and other non-tax debts, conjoined arrestments can be applied. However, rest assured, this doesn't increase the total amount to be paid but divides the debt amount across creditors.

Bank Arrestment

While our focus so far has been on Wage Arrestment, you should also be aware of Bank Arrestment. Here, instead of your wage, the creditors can order an arrestment on your bank account to recover the debt amount.

Each of these methods of diligence, whether the direct action of a Summary Warrant or the deductions through Wage and Bank Arrestment, is designed to aid in the recovery of unpaid debts. However, they also pose significant challenges to individuals under their scrutiny. It's therefore important to understand them clearly and seek expert advice whenever confronted with these situations.

How to Deal with Diligence Scotland Council Tax

As I delve deeper into the various forms of diligence in Scotland, specific methods for dealing with council tax debts emerge, such as wage arrestment. If you're knee-deep in council tax arrears or struggling with payments, understand that there are ways to handle the situation. In this section, I'll touch on seeking professional advice and negotiating with the Council.

Seeking Professional Advice

It's crucial to engage professionals when dealing with severe debt issues like council tax arrears. Scotland's diligence process involves activities such as wage arrestment, where a debtor's earnings are directly deducted to repay their debt. Wage arrestment involves an Earnings Arrestment Order (EAO), which directs your employer to deduct a percentage of your income to be sent to your creditor through the sheriff clerk.

A cool fact you should know about this, wage arrestment calculations depend on how much you earn. If your net earnings exceed figures like £566.51 per month, £130.73 per week, or £18.63 per day, a percentage of your income over these amounts is deducted and forwarded to the creditor.

Net Earnings (Weekly)

Wage Arrestment Deduction

Below £130.73


Between £130.73 and £472.54

£4.00 or 19% of earnings above £130.73, whichever is greater

Between £472.54 and £710.42

£64.94 plus 23% of earnings above £472.54

Above £710.42

£119.66 plus 50% of earnings above £710.42

Reach out to a Wage Arrestment Expert, who can help solve problems concerning this matter. They offer services such as negotiating with your local council and arranging a practical repayment plan. And if a threat of wage arrestment looms over your solution, remember that some employers might be annoyed by the inconvenience of wage deductions, and in some jobs, being indebted can be a disciplinary offence, potentially putting your job at risk.

Negotiating with the Council

More often than not, the Council could be receptive to discussions concerning your debts. If your local authority initiates court actions and applies to the sheriff court for a summary warrant (a part of the diligence process), an extra fee of 10% of the outstanding council tax will be added to your bill. On receiving a letter about council tax court action, seeking advice should be your next step.

They'll send you a charge for payment letter, asking you to pay the amount due within 14 days. Along with the payment charge, they'll also provide a form to ask for a "Time to Pay Order". Fill this form properly, keeping your offer of payment realistic. If the local authority accepts your offer, the payment can further halt further actions.


So, you've learnt about diligence methods in Scotland, particularly as they relate to council tax debts. You've seen how wage arrestment works and the potential impacts it can have on your employment. 

You've also discovered the possibility of negotiating with the Council, and the steps you can take to halt further actions like a "Time to Pay Order". Remember, when you're dealing with council tax arrears, it's critical to seek professional advice. Don't deal with wage arrestment or repayment plans alone - expert assistance can make all the difference. Stay informed, stay proactive, and you'll be well-equipped to handle whatever comes your way.

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