Two Luton councillors have been summoned to court by their OWN authority over non payment of council tax, the Herald & Post can reveal.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by this newspaper has also uncovered that over the last five years Luton Borough Council has sent 13 reminder notices to ten of its own councillors.
LBC has refused to name the representatives who failed to pay their taxes on time, despite a recent Upper Tier Tribunal ruling that local authorities should do so when requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
In recent weeks councils in Thanet, Bolton, Bradford, Grimsby and Bury have followed the ruling and disclosed councillors’ names, but LBC has said: “We do not disclose this type of information in relation to any other council tax payer so we should not do so for councillors.”
The Herald & Post has challenged the decision and reminded LBC of Kate Markus QC’s ruling, which states: “There is a compelling legitimate interest in the public knowing whether a particular councillor has failed to pay the council tax.”
It adds: “The identification of a defaulting councillor involves an intrusion into his/her private life but it is an intrusion that a councillor must be taken to have accepted when taking office.”
The Taxpayers’ Alliance has said that residents in Luton “have every right to be angry that their money is being spent pursuing elected representatives who haven’t paid on time”.
The think tank’s campaign manager, Harry Davis, told the Herald & Post: “Some may be in financial difficulty, in which case they should have the help and support afforded to others.
“But the rest should be leading by example and anyone who has failed to pay what’s due ought to have the guts to own up.
“This episode reveals a contempt for transparency and accountability at the heart of local government.”
LBC’s response to this newspaper’s request was issued more than five weeks after the 20 day deadline prescribed by the FOI Act.
Details of the reminders sent out show that since May 2011 the council has had to chase up its own elected representatives over £2,534.62 in unpaid taxes.
The amounts range from £25.04 up to £354.39 and most of the reminders were issued in 2014 (five out of thirteen).
There are currently no outstanding debts.
In a statement LBC said: “In Luton we treat the collection of debt from councillors in exactly the same way as any other householder.
“If a debtor does not pay on being summonsed, a liability order is sought.
“It is at this point that the names of those subjected to a liability order are made public by the magistrates court.
“Although the FOI Act is currently under review, it has not yet been changed and so we work within the existing law and would normally publish personal information only where appropriate.
“The council ensures under its constitution that no member can vote on budgetary matters if they have a pecuniary or prejudicial interest, which includes being in debt to the council.”