COUNCIL chiefs have begun to track down Scots who signed up to vote for the first time in years because of the referendum to see if they owe poll tax.
Tommy Sheridan led away to do his six months in prison [NEWSQUEST]
Officials have begun analysing the electoral register to see if anyone listed is in arrears, 21 years after the tax was scrapped.
Scots councils are still owed £365million by the tax dodgers. More than 4.2 million people registered for the referendum – the largest Scottish electorate ever.
Leading the move are the councils for Aberdeenshire and Edinburgh and staff in the authorities are cross-checking the thousands who signed up against debt records.
Other cash-strapped councils are expected to follow suit and try to recoup charges from the poll tax and its successor, the council tax.
Local government umbrella body Cosla last night confirmed that all councils had an obligation to collect outstanding money.
Aberdeenshire Council leader Jim Gifford said a search had begun. He said: “We don’t ever give up on the money we are owed.
“Any money we don’t get from people is being paid for by everyone else.”
A City of Edinburgh Council spokeswoman confirmed new voting registration information would be used to chase all debts. The spokeswoman said: “The council uses all the data available in order to collect outstanding debts.”
The so-called Community Charge was designed to make sure everyone contributed to local spending. But it caused fury in Scotland when Margaret Thatcher brought it into force on April 1, 1989 – a year before England.
We have heard about the so-called missing million who decided to register to vote in the independence referendum
Tommy Sheridan was the first person in Britain jailed over the tax. The former Scottish Socialist Party leader was sentenced to six months in jail in 1992 for trying to stop the sale of a
debtor’s property to recoup a poll tax debt.
By the end of 1990, more than one million Scots had refused to pay and many came off the voting register to avoid detection. The charge was axed on March 31, 1993.
In Scots Law, a debt cannot be chased further if no attempt to recover the money has been made for 20 years.
But if efforts have been made since 1993, the 20-year rule is extended, to 20 years since the last attempt was made.
Councillor Alan Donnelly, a Conservative on Aberdeen City Council, urged his authority to track down the estimated 1,000 poll tax evaders in its area.
He said the income could provide a welcome boost for cash-strapped authorities faced with an ongoing council tax freeze imposed by the Scottish Government.
He said: “We have heard about the so-called missing million who decided to register to vote in the independence referendum. Many of these people fell off the register because of the community charge, the so-called poll tax.
“We could be talking about a significant amount of money, perhaps up to £250,000.”
But the council’s SNP group leader Callum McCaig said: “We are in dangerous territory here. Clearly, there is a duty on local authorities to pursue debts, but the fear that will be there for some folk, keeping them from exercising their vote, is bad for democracy and ultimately bad for government at all levels.”
Fraserburgh SNP councillor Brian Topping acknowledged councils had a “duty” to make sure rent and taxes were paid, but said it was “outrageous” to use interest in the referendum in such a way.
But a Cosla spokesman said councils were “fully within their rights”.
He added: “It is a matter for each council to determine the appropriate sources of information to assist their debt recovery.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Collection of local domestic taxes is a matter for local authorities.”