Reminders, final demands and even a court summons have been sent to Blackpool councillors...for failing to pay their council tax.
Figures uncovered using the Freedom of Information Act show seven councillors were sent letters – including a summons to court – for failing to cough up their council tax on time in the last financial year.
The members, who have not been named, were today criticised for not leading by example, with one taxpayers’ group asking whether rates were simply too high if even elected members are missing payment deadlines.
Council chiefs said all seven councillors, who have been identified only as councillors A-G, have now paid up their arrears, which totalled £2,795.
In one case a summons was issued to a councillor for more than £1,185 in unpaid tax.
It comes as figures also reveal the council, which is set to shed 300 jobs and slash budgets because of savage Government spending cuts, is chasing more than £3m in unpaid council tax from 2013/14.
I’m surprised councillors aren’t leading by example and setting up a direct debit to pay their council taxLib Dem councillor Douglas Green
John O’Connell, director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers will question why councillors, who are responsible for setting the rate and raising tax, are themselves receiving notices and summons for non-payment.”
He added: “If local politicians are struggling to pay up, then they should ask themselves if the rates are too high and fight for tax cuts for hard-pressed families.
“In the meantime, it’s important to ensure that those playing by the rules do not pay higher taxes to make up for those who aren’t.”
Ken Cridland, chairman of Blackpool Against The Cuts, said: “If councillors have the money, then like everyone else, they should be paying on time and I am surprised seven had to be sent reminders.
“But if they are one of those people who are unemployed then they may be in that group of people who just don’t have the money.
“One of the problems is people on benefits are now expected to pay 27 per cent of the council tax, whereas in the past they were exempt from the charge.
“So the council tax is being charged on people who have no income to pay it in some cases.
“I suspect the council is chasing people who don’t have any money.
“We know of one person who had a letter saying they may be taken to the magistrates court for non-payment of council tax, which was quite scary because they are unemployed and were struggling.
“But when it came to the crunch, the council was understanding and tried to look at other means to help them pay.”
Meanwhile one council boss said he is shocked at the level of council tax still owed to the authority, with total arrears standing at around £3m.
Conservative group leader Coun Tony Williams added: “Even councillors need a gentle nudge as we can see reminders have recently had to be sent out although they have all now paid up.
“We don’t know who these councillors were but when they got a nudge, they met their obligations.
“The amount of arrears is high and there are many reasons why people may have struggled to pay their council tax.
“Times are hard but not all of it will be down to people who cannot afford to pay. The council needs to make sure it is doing all it can to collect the council tax, and to help people meet their payments.”
Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, said: “£3m is a huge amount of money and residents can be reassured that this money is not lost.
“The council continues to pursue payment through every option available, I know we are still recovering money owed to us from four, five and even six years ago.
“There will always be some that we have to write-off, for example when someone is declared bankrupt or dies without leaving an estate.
“When setting our budget we can predict how much we expect to collect on time and therefore there is not a direct impact on services.
“It would be impossible to collect 100 per cent and I do not know of any council in the country that has ever achieved that.
“Despite the current economic climate making it harder than ever I still expect us to collect at least 98 per cent of what is owed. Of course it would be better if everyone paid their council tax without the need for a reminder to be sent but unfortunately that does not always happen.
“I do not know who the councillors are that needed reminding nor do I know the circumstances that led to that happening. I think what is important to note is that all the necessary payments were made and no-one owes the council any money.”
Lib Dem councillor Douglas Green said: “I’m surprised councillors aren’t leading by example and setting up a direct debit to pay their council tax.
“There’s no excuse whatsoever for not paying your council tax – except for poverty.”
And he said if people are struggling to pay their tax bills they should reconsider whether they should have the “luxury” of being a councillor.
He added: “You are paid as a councillor so they should pay up or be named and shamed.”