SCOTLAND’S council tax debt mountain has increased since the pandemic with concerns growing that the cost of living crisis will make things worse.

Official analysis seen by the Herald shows that in 2021/22 the amount of council tax that remained outstanding in that year amounted to £115.924m on March 31, 2022.

In 2018/19 before the pandemic hit, the in-year council tax debt stood at just  £96.947m.

But there are concerns that the cost of living crisis and the spectre of council tax rises as local authorities deal with a £450m black hole in budgets, will make things even worse.

The Robertson Trust — the largest independent grant-making body of its kind in Scotland — believes that more than one in 10 of the poorest households are behind on their council tax bills.

It comes as housing regulators forecast that rent arrears are to peak in 2020/23 having hit £169.6m at the end of March, 2022.

The Scottish Housing Regulator said: “The increase projected for 2022/23 reflects the pandemic, more specifically the end of the Job Retention Scheme in October 2021, as well as the cost-of-living crisis. It is noted that these are net figures after a provision for bad debts. ”

Citizens Advice Scotland is warning that the cost of living crisis could lead to soaring levels of council tax debt in 2023 as its figures reveals the “staggering scale of arrears” across the CAB network in Scotland.

Between September 2021 and September 2022, 3,717 CAB clients owed a cumulative £12.7 million to local authorities for unpaid council tax bills.

The average debt for a CAB client is £3,420 – almost three times the average council tax bill in 2022/23 of £1,238.

The charity is warning that the cost of living crisis could lead to people prioritising costs like food, housing and energy and falling even further behind on council tax bills.

Previous research from Citizens Advice Scotland found a large increase in complex debt clients – those with multiple debts – who would take longer to pay off their debts, with one in two clients having no money to pay down their debts after covering essential outgoings.

According to official figures, the local authority with the biggest council tax collection headache remains Aberdeen City, which had failed to collect 7.2% of what was billed in 2021/22 having had a 5.4% rate before the pandemic hit.

They were followed by North Ayrshire (6.7%), Orkney (6.2%), Glasgow City (6.1), Midlothian (5.8%), West Dunbartonshire (5.6%) and North Lanarkshire (5.4%)

Three councils have the best record for collection. Stirling, Perth and Kinross and East Lothian failed to collect 2.3% of billed council tax, followed by Shetland and Angus (2.8%), East Dunbartonshire (2.5%) and East Renfrewshire (3.2%).

CAS financial health spokesperson Myles Fitt said: “Council tax debt is the biggest debt issue the Citizens Advice network deals with and these figures suggest the cost of living crisis could see an explosion in the levels of arrears across the country as people prioritise expenditure for immediate cost of living needs.

“CAB clients owe over £12.7 million in arrears with the average debt being almost three times as much as the average bill. That is the scale of the debt some people are facing while the cost of living continues to soar – it is no wonder people find themselves taking longer and longer to pay off their debt.

“One option people could use is check to see if they are entitled to any savings or exemptions through the Council Tax Reduction scheme. People can go to and see what they are entitled to.

“People feeling worried about their finances can always turn to the Citizens Advice network. Our advice is free, confidential and impartial and can deliver real results. We never charge people for advice and are for everyone, regardless of whether you are working or not.”

It comes as new fears of council tax rises have emerged after the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), the umbrella body which represents councils, said that the Scottish Government had failed to respond in its Budget in any meaningful way to its Save Our Services calls.

It said that means that councils are left at “real financial risk” for the coming year, and that it will be the “people of Scotland and our communities who suffer as a result”.

Councils had asked for £1bn more in funding but were given £550 million leaving them, they say, with a shortfall of £450m.

John Swinney set out plans to give local authorities complete flexibility in council tax, with no cap placed on what local authorities can seek to raise from their constituents.

But following a meeting to consider the draft settlement council leaders hit out on over a “massive real-terms cut in councils’ core funding” which they said would lead to “socially harmful cuts to vital local services and the loss of jobs within local authorities”.

Some council chiefs are already talking about council tax rises.

Council executives in Perth and Kinross have said local taxes could rise again next year but they hoped to avoid an “extremely high” hike.

Councillor Grant Laing, the leader of the local authority, has said his administration was still working on the basis of a 3% council tax rise next year.

Highland Council chiefs have also indicated they are also poised to discuss tax rises to plug a £41m budget gap.

The Roberston Trust has called on Scots ministers to pause collecting arrears until April and to write off the debts of some low-income households — defined as the bottom two-fifths of earners.

Those receiving universal credit should also be removed from paying council tax, it added.