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Caithness News Bulletins January 2003

January 2003 Caithness.org News 2002

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The Highland Council is one of seven councils in Scotland, which have been commended by the Accounts Commission for making a notable improvement in their level of collection of the Council Tax. The rate in Highland has risen to 92.2%, an increase of 7.1% since 1996/97, when the Commission began tracking performance information.

To ensure that this progress is maintained, a campaign is being launched in Highland this week to further improve the collection rates of both the Council Tax and Scottish Water service charges and to highlight the benefits that are available to those finding it difficult to pay.

The Highland Council and Scottish Water have joined forces to encourage householders to pay their bills by Direct Debit as it is the simplest and most effective payment method and enables the Council and Scottish Water to provide more quality services.

During the last 12 months, Council staff across the Highlands have been promoting the benefits available to those on low income. This initiative resulted in around 1,000,000 in extra benefit being claimed by families and pensioners in the Council area.

The joint direct debit campaign "Help Us To Help You - Pay your Council Tax and water services charges by Direct Debit" involves radio advertising, which will later be extended to television advertising.

Around 50,000 people in Highland - 50% of households - pay by Direct Debit and the Council and Scottish Water are eager to extend this total and help improve the general collection rate in the year.

The thrust of the message to the public is that payment by Direct Debit benefits the payer. It removes the danger of falling into arrears as payments are deducted in 10 or 12 instalments; it is the most convenient method of payment as customers need only complete a mandate once and the Council will do the rest; it provides customers with a choice of payment date that best suits their circumstances; and it enables the Council and Scottish Water to save on administration costs. Every saved in collecting the tax and water charges is a available for essential services and improved customer care.

Paying by Direct Debit enables customers to choose whether to pay on the 1st, 15th or the 28th of each month. Customers can also pay by 12 monthly instalments, with payment due on or before the first of each month from1 April. Other ways in which Council Tax and water services charges can be paid include at any Council Cash Office or Service Point or at a Post Office.

Dawson Lamont, Head of Exchequer with The Highland Council, said: "If more of our customers pay by Direct Debit, less staff time will be spent on administration and the savings can be reinvested in improved customer services."

"We wish to continue the progress and will be targeting the public via radio and television advertising, which highlights the benefits to the payer and the community at large of paying by Direct Debit. We also want to highlight that there are taxpayers who do not claim the benefits to which they are entitled, and which would ease the financial pressures on their families."

Reg Peat, Scottish Water's Household Billing & Collection Manager, said: "Scottish Water is delighted to work with The Highland Council in this initiative, which should not only benefit the Council and ourselves, but the Highland community in general through improved Council Tax and Water Service Charge collection."

The Highland Council will set its Council Tax on 13 February and Council Tax bills will be arriving on doormats in early March.