Councillors across south Essex given 60 reminders about paying council tax over three years

DOZENS of council tax demands have been sent to elected councillors in south Essex for non and late payments.

New figures revealed a total of 60 reminders had to be sent to councillors ordering them to pay money to the councils they were sitting on.

Freedom of information requests also revealed, between 2015 and 2018, court summons were sent to two councillors.

A spokesman for Castle Point Council said: “Any councillor who has an outstanding council tax bill for more than two months by law cannot take part in a decision on any budget decision of the council.

“However, during the period referred to, it has not been necessary to exclude any councillor from taking a decision on council spending.

“It is important for everyone who is liable to pay their council tax to fund public services.”

Councillor Dave Blackwell added: ““There is no excuse for this. Even if someone works away a lot, they can just set up a direct debit. There is no excuse and I do not condone it at all.”

The freedom of information request also revealed no councillors on Southend, Basildon or Castle Point were refused a vote despite the reminders and summons.

Cllr Ian Gilbert, the leader of Southend Council and the Labour group, said: “The most important thing to note here is to say that the same processes that apply to residents applies to councillors.

“Also when councillors don’t pay, they are not allowed to vote on budgets so they are aware there are serious consequences.”

He added that the reason the data shows no councillors were banned from voting is because “there is a difference between a reminder and failing to pay”.

Tory group leader Tony Cox added: “All our group have paid council tax and that is the key thing. I would not support or advocate councillors setting council tax bands and then not paying.

A spokesman for the council: “Council tax payments can be missed for a variety of reasons, and where this happens, we follow a standard approach, which involves the issuing of reminders for example.

“Only when we have been through this approach of issuing reminders would we take further action to recover the debt, which wasn’t necessary in relation to these specific cases.”

Two now former councillors in south Essex were responsible for 36 of the council tax “reminders”.

Both accepted the payments were regularly paid late due to significant personal reasons but all bills were paid, they maintained their votes and there is no money outstanding.

One councillor, who received a summons and went to court, suffered a distressing change of circumstance and fully paid the outstanding debt.

Another who received a summons claimed to be “testing the council tax system” as part of a political statement but eventually paid all sums.

The late payment reminders for Southend councillors totalled about £500 with reminders to Basildon councillors totalling about £333.

Thurrock Council refused to provide any information claiming it would cost them too much and take too long.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter