A Highland councillor has called for a council tax ‘holiday’ for people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Andrew Jarvie, leader of the authority’s Conservative Group, says the region will be disproportionately impacted by the virus, due to the “cliff edge drop” in demand in the tourism and entertainment industries.
He has asked council leader Margaret Davidson to consider the move after the Scottish Government said £50 million will be made available to meet an anticipated increase in applications for the existing Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
Councillor Jarvie said coronavirus has come after the authority voted to increase council tax levels by 5% which he said was a “hard pill to swallow”.
He said: “I am calling for the council to look at what it can do to offer payment holidays on Council Tax for people who have lost their jobs or have seen their income drop significantly as a result of the Coronavirus.
“Over the coming weeks, the Highland Council will receive millions from the Government to help it through this time. There is also still £2.5 million additional money unspent from the council budget we just set and the council’s reserves were topped up by a further £2 million.
“Some of this will have to be used to cover costs of staff who are off, but there should still be a healthy sum left over to offer assistance to those who need it most.”
He said most people’s monthly Council Tax bills come to half of what they would receive in statutory sick pay and the council must do all it can to ease that weight at a challenging time.
He also called for people who have already fallen into tax arrears, through no fault of their own, to have the debt cleared, or mutual repayment organised.
Council Leader Margaret Davidson said: “I have passed this on for further discussion, but frankly the last few days there has been no time to discuss it further.”
Graham Leadbitter, leader of Moray Council, said his council have a raft of measures to help people and there are no plans for further action.
“If there is a national change in council tax arrangements that will come from Edinburgh, but we feel we have sufficient safeguards in place to help anyone having difficulty paying their bills.”
Aberdeenshire Council said: “We appreciate that a number of residents will find themselves in a very different financial position than they may be used to. We will respond to individual cases regarding financial hardship on a case by case basis.”
People struggling to pay debts, including Council Tax, should call to arrange a payment plan.
Last week Aberdeen City Council’s Urgent Business Committee said it will consider suspending new recovery activity for unpaid debt, including Council Tax.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our priority is to ensure that those directly impacted by current events are protected and we have asked councils to ensure that recovery proceedings are not initiated in these circumstances.
“The well-established Council Tax Reduction Scheme means nobody has to endure hardship or suffering because they have lost their ability to pay their council tax – including those impacted directly or indirectly by the coronavirus outbreak.”