THERE could be an “explosion” of council tax debt across Helensburgh and Lomond as a result of the pandemic, a charity has warned.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) says local authorities had shown empathy to those struggling with their payments as businesses were forced closed and incomes dropped.

But residents were then building up arrears they would struggle to ever pay back.

CAS officials revealed last week that their offices saw more than 2,200 people nationally in 2019-20 with a complex debt issue involving council tax, owing a cumulative £6.8million in arrears.

The average debt owed was £3,020 - more than double the average council tax bill of £1,201.

READ MORE: Support charity teams up with greengrocer to launch Helensburgh soup kitchen

Myles Fitt, CAS financial health spokesman, said: “Scotland is potentially facing an explosion of council tax debt in 2021.

“The figures before the pandemic are bad enough, but the real fear is that Covid-19 is going to make matters much worse.

“Councils across Scotland showed a real empathetic approach to those who found themselves in council tax payment difficulties, and the payment breaks in the first six months of the pandemic were extremely welcome.

“However this has led to arrears building up, arrears that will be difficult to meet for the many people who have during that period experienced an income drop due to unemployment or reduced working hours.”

He said for others, the problem is yet to come in 2021 when the furlough scheme and payment support measures stop at the end of April.

Mr Fitt urged people to check if they are entitled to council tax savings, reductions, discounts or exemptions - such as the Scottish Government’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTR) - through the charity’s online tool,

READ MORE: Plans for 300 new homes at Helensburgh Golf Club confirmed

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Council Tax Reduction Scheme means nobody has to endure financial difficulties because they have lost their ability to pay their council tax - including those impacted by coronavirus.

"The pandemic and the resulting economic hardship has led to an increase in CTR caseload, with just under 500,000 households now receiving some level of reduction.

"On average, recipients save over £700 a year. We have allocated £25 million to councils to help them meet the increased costs of the CTR scheme in addition to the £351 million we already provide.

“During the pandemic we have asked local authorities to use their powers to backdate CTR applications by up to six months and not to take enforcement action until they are satisfied that the household concerned has not had its income impacted by the pandemic, or would likely be entitled to a reduction.”

Keep up with all the latest local headlines here