Seven councillors warned about late payment of their council tax

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

Wigan councillors have been named and shamed on a list of elected members warned about late payment of their council tax.

Seven borough representatives were issued with reminders, four of which were then sent court summonses.

Town hall bosses have said elected members are treated no differently to the public when it comes to missing payments.

The four, revealed after a Freedom of Information request, were Labour duo Couns Keir Stitt and Jim Talbot plus former independent councillors Robert Bleakley and Gareth Fairhurst.

All eventually settled their outstanding bills without the need for court appearances.

They were among 25,287 borough residents who were issued with court summonses during 2015/16.

The other three tardy councillors are not named or the amount owed.

Coun Talbot, who represents Hindley, said: “At that time I wasn’t responsible for paying the bill. As soon as the issue was raised, I rectified it.”

His party colleague Coun Stitt said he missed deadlines when he was away from the borough caring for his late father.

He said: “The year has been a personally difficult time for me when I was confronted with the illness and then death of my father.

“I received a summons for non-payment of council tax in the summer of 2015, however I was away during much of that period due to my father’s inpatient treatment at Warwick Hospital and hadn’t realised that I was in arrears.

“In addition I had previously notified the council of my absence do to my father’s illness with the intention of applying for a discount on the basis that I was away caring for an ill relative.

“The summons was at this point withdrawn as I had cleared the arrears and were not at the address in order to have received the reminder.

“I further missed a payment during the period between my father’s death and funeral, I failed to rectify this matter promptly and was issued with a summons. I made payment and ensured that my council tax account was settled in order to meet my obligations as an elected member. In addition, I paid £65 in costs.

“I regret my oversight on this matter, however I believe that we all have occasions where we are unable to discharge our usual obligations due to personal circumstances.”

Mr Bleakley, who did not contest his Tyldesley seat in May, said his missed payments related to the time last year when he was recovering from suffering a stroke.

He said: “I have always paid my council tax in full and in a timely manner. There may have been one or two occasions when my payments were delayed due to ill health.”

Mr Fairhurst, a Standish Independent who was voted out of his seat this year, did not issue an explanation for his late payments.

Paul McKevitt, Wigan Council’s deputy chief executive, said: “The council tax we collect helps fund essential services for our residents and we are committed to collecting all that is owed to the council in full.

“Councillors are treated no differently to ordinary members of the public and if there are cases of non-payment the council will take action to ensure the amounts owed are repaid.

“If people are experiencing financial difficulties, they can contact us to arrange a re-payment plan.”

The four were revealed following FOI requests by magazine Private Eye to all local authorities across the UK. They showed 243 councils had sent reminder letters to at least one councillor.

The Local Government Finance Act restricts councillors who have not paid their council tax to vote on their council’s annual budget.

The then Coun Bleakley would have been affected by this regulation last year and would have been barred from voting at February’s meeting, however, he missed the meeting due to his ill health.