If 10 WLBC elected members don’t, or can’t, pay their own council tax on time, what does that tell the public who face legal consequences for none payment? WLBC states “If you do not pay you will be sent a reminder. If your payments are arriving late, you will still receive a reminder. You must pay the amount on the reminder notice within seven days to bring your account up to date – and you should continue to pay on time otherwise you may lose the right to pay in instalments. If you receive a final notice then you will have lost the right to pay in instalments. If you do not pay the full amount or reach a satisfactory arrangement then a summons will be issued”.
Having reported about the 10 West Lancashire Borough Council (WLBC) members being pursued to pay their individual council tax while receiving member allowances, I now want to know the names of the 10 members who are in arrears of council tax, the amount of council tax arrears of each of the 10 members, the dates when the arrears commenced for each of the 10 members, what penalties if any has WLBC imposed on each of the 10 members, does WLBC have any legal method of withholding member allowances to be set against individual arrears of council tax, what publicity does WLBC use to enable the public to know if their own elected member(s) are in arrears of council tax, and is WLBC aware of the judgement in “The Upper Tribunal Appeal No. Gia/4597/2014 Administrative Appeals Chamber Before: Upper Tribunal Judge Kate Markus QC in which it was declared, summarised, below?
“Mr Haslam’s interest as a journalist is to publish the information to the wider public. His interest in informing the public elides with that of the public in knowing the identity of the journalist, and both are rooted in the interests of transparency, accountability and efficacy of the democratic process. There is no doubt that the interest is legitimate. The next question is whether disclosure of the identity of the councillor is necessary to the legitimate interest in question. “Necessity” means “more than desirable but less than indispensable or absolute necessity”, and disclosure must be the “least restrictive” means of achieving the legitimate aim.
“Mr Haslam could publish a story that an unidentified councillor has defaulted in payment of council tax and been summoned. But that would not achieve the transparency of the Council’s processes nor the accountability of the councillor to the public which Mr Haslam seeks and which I have decided is an important legitimate interest. In resisting identification of the councillor Mr Knight effectively asks the local electorate to trust in the efficacy of monitoring because they have no means of testing it.
“Moreover, even if these safeguards all work effectively, unless the councillor is identified the electorate is deprived of information which, for reasons I have explained, there is a legitimate interest in their knowing. There is no other effective means of a journalist obtaining this information. It is not realistic for a journalist to be available in the magistrates court during all council tax lists in case a councillor might appear in the list. And, as the Council pointed out, a summons does not necessarily mean that a hearing is held in open court. Reliance on a public list including the name of the councillor and on a journalist happening to be in court when and if the list is read out would mean that whether or not the information could be published would be arbitrary.
“Mr Knight raised, at the hearing, the possibility of the Appellant obtaining court records. This cannot be achieved under FOIA because of the operation of section 32(1). Mr Knight suggested that the records might be obtained under rules of court. He did not say how this could be done. I do not know whether it is possible under the rules of court. But in any event I do not consider that this is a realistic suggestion. It is difficult to see how a journalist would know what lists to obtain. It seems that it may involve a journalist obtaining all lists and scouring them for the names of councillors. On the evidence before me this is not a realistic suggestion.
“I conclude that disclosure of the identity the councillor is necessary to achieve the objectives of transparency and accountability. Finally, I must consider whether disclosing the councillor’s identity is unwarranted by reason of the prejudice to the article 8 rights of the councillor. I have already set out above the ways in which disclosure in this case is likely to interfere with the councillor’s rights. The issue substantially overlaps with that of fairness.
“As explained in the reasons above and in the closed reasons, the prejudice is not unwarranted. I have reached my decision without reference to Article 10 and I do not need to resolve the dispute as to its application in a case such as this. The First-tier Tribunal’s decision was made in error of law and I set it aside. The name of the councillor in Case 5 is not exempt from disclosure under section 40(2) FOIA and the Council is obliged to provide that information to Mr Haslam”.
Ultimately one Bolton councillor was summonsed to court at some point between May 2011 and April 2012 for not paying £936 in council tax. The summons was withdrawn after they paid the bill in full. The councillor was then sent another order to go to court at some point between May 2012 and April 2013 for not paying £1,039.89. The summons was withdrawn after they entered into a payment plan with Bolton Council. As a Bolton tax payer claimed “This is still more secret than the Chilcot report! What is it with all these cover ups?”