News October 2023

Public Debt and Arrears – Policy and practice solutions

Our latest report around Public Debt and Arrears in Scotland has highlighted existing good practice and key actions that can be taken by local authorities to support struggling households.

Building on the existing evidence base around low-income families being pushed into debt and arrears by public bodies, Iota Social Research was commissioned to explore policy and practice solutions at a local level with a particular focus on the role of local authorities and third sector partners. 

Authored by Mandy Littlewood, the report highlights that, despite challenging circumstances, there is clear evidence of action which local authorities can take to make a real difference to households. These include:

  • Having a clear debt policy in place
  • Shifting from enforcement to support when working with individuals, offering flexibility and building trust
  • Providing support at an early stage, including assessment of vulnerability and using discretion to ensure proportionate, person-centred responses with appropriate and affordable payment schedules
  • Developing person-centred approaches which distinguish between 'can't pay' and 'won't pay' customers
  • Ensuring communications focus on encouraging positive engagement
  • Proactively use data insights to better target support
  • Ensure those eligible claim for Council Tax reduction, which is currently significantly under-claimed

Read this call-to-action in more detail here.

Together with Aberlour, The Robertson Trust is calling for a consistent, transparent and person-centred approach to local authority debt. This is in recognition that any commitment to tackling and reducing poverty – child poverty in particular - at a local level requires public debt recovery to be done differently and in a way that doesn’t drive families and households further into poverty.

  • Access the executive summary here
  • Access the full report here
  • Access the evidence review here
  • Access the good practice framework here

If you would like to discuss this work further please contact our Learning Officer, Eleri Birkhead.



Last year, polling commissioned highlighted the devastating impact of debt and arrears on households already struggling on low incomes. 

  • We found that 29% of households in the lowest two income deciles have some level of financial difficulty compared to 9% among the top six income deciles.
  • We also found that public authorities who should be at the forefront of the fight against the crisis can instead actively compound it.  More than four in ten households (42%) in the lowest two income quintiles are worried about meeting council tax payments and those in arrears on council tax are cutting back on essentials.
  • Almost three quarters (71%) have avoided putting the heating on, around half (51%) have had to cut down on meals/portion size and more than two in five (42%) have skipped meals entirely to save money.