TWO councillors who were summonsed to court after they failed to pay their council tax for two years in a row can keep their names secret - because their excuses for not paying on time were good enough, a watchdog has ruled.
Last year, The Bolton News revealed that two elected members of Bolton Council — one Labour and one Conservative — were threatened with legal action by Bolton Council after failing to stump a total of £4,660 of council tax on time.
Bolton Council’s chief executive, Sean Harriss, said councillors are entitled to the same level of privacy as everyone else.
He said: “Councillors are treated exactly the same as other residents with regards to council tax collection across the borough.
“They are provided with two reminders for outstanding arrears and if they do not respond to either reminder, are summoned to court.
“However, they can still make arrangements to repay any arrears or set up a payment plan up until the date they are due to appear in court.
“We are unable to provide the names of individual councillors who are in arrears under data protection laws and this decision has been upheld by the ICO.”
Both councillors received reminders for their unpaid council tax through the post and, after ignoring them, were summonsed to court.
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But they avoided being named — and banned from being able to vote on the local authority’s annual budget, which determines how much council tax Bolton residents must pay — after they agreed to pay before their court cases could take place.
Both councillors have now paid their arrears in full.
The Bolton News obtained the information with a freedom of information request.
The council refused to name them, citing data protection laws.
After an appeal against the decision failed, The Bolton News contacted the information commissioner's office (ICO), which has the power to force the council to reveal the names.
The ICO has now found in favour of the council.
In a written ruling, ICO principal adviser, Gerrard Tracey, said the commissioner disagreed with the local authority’s view that councillors should expect the same level of privacy as everyone else.
But he said these particular councillors gave good reasons for late payment and should expect anonymity.
The ruling said: “In the commissioner’s opinion, it is reasonable for councillors to expect recent failure to pay council tax in a private capacity is likely to impact on public perceptions and confidence (in them).
“Therefore, the commissioner is of the view that councillors should have a reasonable expectation that they may be identified as having failed to pay their council tax on time.
“However, the commissioner appreciates each case needs to be considered on its own merits.
“In particular, he acknowledges there may well be mitigating circumstances (for non payment).
“The council has provided the commissioner with submissions which explain why the late payment occurred.
“This would significantly and, moreover legitimately, raise their expectation that they would not be publicly named.
“This is to the extent that, in the commissioner’s view, disclosure of the names would be so contrary to their legitimate expectations that disclosure (of their names) would be unfair.”
Mr Tracey added that the ICO could not reveal the excuses because they might identify the councillors.
No Bolton councillors are currently in council tax arrears.