More than 35,000 people across the Highlands and Islands have had to apply for council tax exemption due to financial troubles – up by 2,500 on the previous year.
With the Covid pandemic adding further pressures on families, north MSP Rhoda Grant has called for action to help those “staring down the barrel at a cost of living crisis”.
The figure across all of the local authorities within the Highlands and Islands region is 35,280 for people who have applied for council tax exemption.
It is an increase of 2,530 people which is equivalent to a 7.72%.
Scottish Government statistics reveal, as of last November, 497,170 people in Scotland were receiving council tax exemption due to financial pressures.
Of the 35,280 people across the Highlands and Islands, half were from the Highland Council area, with 17,700 seeking exemption.
This is up 1,300 on the 12 months previously.
In Orkney, as many as 1,410 have been forced to apply for council tax exemption, up from 1,240 from the previous year.
The Shetland Islands has seen 1,180 applications, compared to 1,060 in the year up to November 2019.
In Moray the figures show 5,780, up from 5,430, and in the Western Isles they were exactly the same, sitting at 2,120 for each year.
Local Labour MSP Rhoda Grant is challenging the SNP to take action to support thousands of families facing a “cost of living crisis” due to collapsing earnings and spiralling costs.
MSP Rhoda Grant said: “The economic shockwaves of this pandemic have rocked families and households in the Highlands and islands, with many thousands facing falling earnings and rising costs.
“Make no mistake, the people of the Highlands and islands are facing a cost of living crisis. It is simply unacceptable.
“It’s time to put households and families across the Highlands at the heart of our economic recovery.”
She claimed that , on top of the pressures of council tax and personal debt, millions of Scots are set to be hit by inflation-busting water prices – despite Scottish Water and its subsidiaries holding reserves of over half a billion pounds.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have committed over £500 million of additional investment to support people and communities impacted by the Covid pandemic.
“Additional funding has been allocated to local councils to tackle financial insecurity, provide the self-isolation support service and to help people impacted by restrictions.
“This includes a £100 Winter Hardship Payment for children in receipt of free school meals, a further £5m of funding for children’s charities and £23m for services supporting vulnerable children.
“We have also made £40m available to support community and third sector organisations through our new recovery programme.
“From next month we will commence payments of the new Scottish Child Payment for children from low income households under six – worth £10 per child per week.”