If a councillor is in arrears with their Council Tax payments is it a purely personal matter or something of wider public interest? The Government believe it should be the latter as this Written Answer demonstrates.
Mr Burley: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what guidance has he issued to local councils on naming councillors who are barred from voting in council meetings due to failing to pay their council tax.
Brandon Lewis: Section 106 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 makes it an offence for a councillor in council tax arrears (with at least two months unpaid bills) to vote at a meeting of the council, a committee or of the council’s executive where financial matters relating to council tax are being considered. It is also an offence if any such councillor present, who is aware of the arrears, fails to disclose that they are in arrears of council tax.
I am aware that, in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, it is common for local authorities to refuse to name individual councillors in council tax arrears, citing ‘data protection’. While noting that individual tax affairs are a personal matter, Ministers believe that there is a strong public interest in the names of councillors who are barred from voting being accessible to the wider public.
If an individual councillor is unable to represent their electorate and undertake their duties because of this statutory prohibition, then it is reasonable that this fact is open to legitimate public scrutiny, especially given the legal duty to declare it at a meeting at which they are present, and given this relates to their public life not their private life.
A Yorkshire Post investigation in November found that five Bradford councillors were in arrears – plus one in York, one in Kirklees and one in East Riding.
The basic allowance paid to councillors in Bradford is over £13,000. A large majority of them are also paid a Special Responsibility Allowance for somethng or another. This is extra money on top of their main jobs. Perhaps those who are in financial difficulties might have regard for their residents who are expected to find the money for their Council Tax bills withoout the benefit of this financial cushion.
They might also reflect that those who go into Council Tax arrears increase the cost to others due to the additional administrative burden.
This new guidance on disclosure is welcome.