Mar 21 2014

Harrow Council Keeps Quiet on Councillors’ Unpaid Council Tax

harrow_council_logoIn February, we asked the Council which Councillors were known to have not paid their Council Tax. Normally, we’d consider this a bit too intrusive, after all, a person’s debt isn’t normally a matter for the public to know about.

However, Council tax debt, where Councillors haven’t paid, is rather more interesting. For example, as we understand it, a Councillor who is behind with their Council Tax probably shouldn’t vote in any decision relating to Council Tax matters – it’s a clear conflict of interest, right?

We were told by a source within the Council that at least one Councillor was behind on their Council Tax payments (note that they may have since rectified this), so we asked the Council if they’d tell us, under the Freedom of Information Act, which Councillors hadn’t paid.

The Council, as expected, refused. It said:

The Council is withholding the names of the relevant individuals because disclosure of this information would lead to the identification of individual Councillors.  The Council is satisfied that information about any individual’s Council tax payments and debts to the Council is the ‘personal data’ (as defined in the DPA) of those individuals. The requested information clearly relates to living individuals who can be identified from that information.  The fact that the individual is a Councillor does not change this position.

It went on (this was an unusually wordy response):

We cannot see any genuine public interest at stake here.  Payment of Council tax by Councillors and debts owed to the Council, as with any other individual, is a private matter and is not connected with the exercise by Councillors of their public functions. 

We disagree.

We asked the Council to just provide the total number of Councillors behind on their Council Tax. A similar response is expected.

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  1. Concerned Harrovian

    What a cheek! They don’t pay their Council tax but are able to vote on how the tax we have paid is spent. There is a clear conflict of interest. They should not be allowed to cast any votes until the debt is paid.

    We may be able to identify the councillors when the bailiffs turn up to seize their goods. Will they be putting hypocrite on there election material?

  2. Harrow Cynic

    A very serious matter. Of course any councillor behind on their Council Tax would be unable to vote on the budget as it affects Council Tax levels. Surely it would be a simple matter to recoup the owed amount by deducting it from the Councillor’s allowance? Simples.

    I know of one serious case from a number of years ago where a councillor was owing several months tax. They are still a councillor today.

  3. jp hobbs

    They should never be allowed to vote again . if true .

  4. Concerned Harrovian

    Wow, I am stunned by your last sentence Harrow Cynic. What a scoundrel! Certainly, a candidate for the website Liars buggers and thieves. Harrow already has two councillors starring on the website namely David Gawn and Brian Gate. Perhaps those Councillors who are up to date with their Council tax should say this on their election material. We could then work it out by a process of elimination.
    It is a shame that Councillors who have paid their Council tax will be viewed with suspicion when they will have done nothing wrong. I will be looking at the Councillor’s pictures on Harrow.gov and trying to guess which ones are the shameless hypocrites.

  5. King David

    Actually Council already deducts if a Cllrs has not paid its Council Tax from his/her/their Cllrs Allowance and Cllrs can not vote on council tax etc if not paid for a period.

    1. j p hobbs

      It should never get to that state , us peasants would probably have had the Bailiffs in .

  6. Concerned Harrovian

    If these councillors cannot manage their personal finances and are inept at keeping out of debt why would we want them involved in any decisions about Council finances, They are obviously not fit to hold the position as councillors.

    They should resign and consider taking remedial classes in mathematics. When they are selected by their political parties they should take a examination to show they have a grasp of basic mathematics. At any future meetings we will be watching to see who is counting on their fingers or using a calculator,It would be interesting to know how many councillors are in rent or mortgage arrrears.

    1. j p hobbs

      A few would have to take their socks off to count over ten .

  7. Harrow Cynic

    Yes, Concerned Harrovian, a shocking state of affairs. The case I am referring to, from about 10 years ago, is probably still an open secret among councillors, certainly in the group of which they were a member. I would love to name the guilty party but fear the repercussions. You would be astounded to know who it was. I am also surprised that it has never been revealed, people must have been very tempted to “let the cat out of the bag” considering all the personal rancour that has been a hallmark of Harrow Council for the last year.

  8. King David

    No one is behind now it seems sice all voted at council tax meeting last month.

    1. j p hobbs

      Maybe that’s because an election is coming up , sait on jamais ? excuse my poor Spanish .

  9. Cllr Willy Stoodley

    I know everything about this-will post full details when I have time.

  10. Linda Robinson

    One reason why I might not be paying my council tax is because, with a week to go before it’s due to be paid, I still haven’t seen my bill. I’ve received an email telling me I can view my bill online via MyHarrow account, but I can’t actually see my bill there. All I can find is a statement showing how much I owe but not what it’s for or how it’s been calculated. I can see I’m expected to pay in twelve instalments, but there’s no explanation about the reason for this changing from the ten instalments that it always used to be split into.

    I’m interested to know if others have failed to receive their paper council tax bill yet, and if everybody’s gets divided into twelve monthly instalments these days.

    You may have seen an article from the Harrow Times,
    about Royal Mail being awarded the contract to deliver Harrow’s mail including “council tax letters”, but my contacts at Royal Mail tell me that these bills are actually being entrusted to TNT to deliver. My recent experience is that correspondence from the council via TNT can take over three weeks to arrive if at all. Apparently, piles of undelivered council tax bills have been seen left lying around outside blocks of flats in completely different streets to the addressees’. I fear that lots of people won’t be receiving their bills, and that whatever savings the council thinks they’ve made by using TNT will be wiped out by people not paying up on time or trying to query where their bill is.

    I just called the number on last year’s bill, and after waiting half an hour listening to music, I spoke to an extremely unhelpful and condescending individual who seemed to assume I was an idiot, couldn’t actually confirm when or if my bill had already been sent, didn’t know why it’s now in twelve instalments or change it back to ten, couldn’t tell me anything about my bill or whether it really is viewable online anywhere, and could only to advise me to send an email if I wanted answers to my questions or to give my views. In the end she was very rude and put the phone down on me, as if I was the one being rude to her when I was trying to be as patient and understanding as I could. She was clearly under a lot of stress from all the calls from residents without bills wanting to know how much they’re supposed to pay next week, and she just kept going on and on about herself and her job, not listening to me at all.

    If anyone in a position of authority at the council reads this, please note that I will not be paying my council tax until I see my bill, that I am not impressed with TNT delivering things, and that I couldn’t be more disappointed with the response I got from Access Harrow to what should have been a simple telephone enquiry.

  11. Susan Hall

    Linda, I shall look into this and apologise for the situation. I am not aware of issues at the moment and thank you for highlighting this

  12. Cllr Willy Stoodley

    Paul – I replied to this with a full explanation – are you going to publish?!

  13. Harrow Dude

    So another Council outsource fails. Well do Susie sterling work.

    The ironic thing is a source at the Council has told me that the amount of junk mail now been dumped in the borough has increased. Maybe it is just coincidental that TNT are now delivering mail in the borough, nonetheless Harrow Council or should I say we the residents of Harrow will no doubt bear the cost of the clean up and no one will be held accountable.
    Way to go Susie you keep leading from the front…

    I would like to ask Susie whether she actually sought advice from other London boroughs before engaging the services of TNT or was it a purely case of Harrow’s finances are so bad that Susie just had to go with the cheaper option.

    According to the LGA I’m going with the latter.
    What is it to be Susie, confirm, clarify or deny?

  14. Susan Hall

    We do not contract directly with TNT. Instead we use a company called DSI who are responsible for the provision of printing and enveloping bulk batches of Council Tax Bills and Notices.

    In 2012, the Labour administration in Harrow started using TNT for Council Tax & Business Rates mailings via an agreement with DSI which gave access to TNT. This was due to Royal Mail increasing postage costs for second class postage and there being no budget to pay for such an increase. At the time TNT did not do end to end (door to door) delivery, so whilst TNT sorted the mail they then handed it to Royal Mail who then delivered it door to door.

    This year TNT have extended their end to end delivery service to Harrow and were therefore in a position to deliver the bills themselves. DSI had informed us this would not start until later in 2014/15 and would not therefore affect Council Tax Bills. We subsequently found that this was not the case and that TNT were delivering the Council Tax Bills.

    We have had high level discussions with DSI and with TNT, both to get to the bottom of what was causing the delays and to ensure the Council received compensation for the poor level of service.

    Going forward we will be reviewing the entire process to ensure this does not happen again, that will include a review of whether Royal Mail instead of TNT should be delivering future bills and notices.

  15. Concerned Harrovian

    Is there any risk of identity theft with the dumped mail that TNT seems to have abandoned?

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