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News and Comment February 2012

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8 February (Part 3) - Late payers

A few years ago a Bexley councillor was forced to resign by his fellow Conservatives because he fell a couple of months behind with his council tax payments. That was just an excuse of course, the real reason was that he had embarrassed the other councillors by not claiming his expenses. Perhaps he should have done and paid his tax with it!

A reader who stumbled upon that fact decided to ask Bexley council if they had any recent information about councillors slipping behind with their council tax. He began by asking if any had been sent reminders, just numbers sent you understand, not names. Bexley council refused the request saying the question was personal. An appeal was made against the refusal and despite two ‘chasers’ Bexley council has remained stubbornly silent on the matter, so after four months of that treatment the Information Commissioner has been informed. Why is it that secrecy is paramount in Bexley? What harm could come from an answer such as “six reminders have been sent to 63 councillors in the last five years”? I would think that few would care, but instead Bexley council gives us yet another example of its commitment to as little transparency as possible and its wish to avoid its responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act.

I must confess that I received a council tax reminder last month. I used to pay all my standing orders on the 3rd of each month but Thames Water threatened me with court action if I didn't pay on the 1st. So I switched all my standing orders to the 1st. My last payment to Bexley for the current year was due on 1st January but as most people will know (some don’t!) the 1st is a Bank Holiday. You might have expected the standing orders to be paid on the next working day and most were. However those due to end on the 1st of January were wiped from the system at the end of that day as the computer said they were over and done with when in fact the final payments had not yet been made. When something similar happened to me once before Bexley council wrote an extremely rude letter to me; I am pleased to be able to report that this time their letter was entirely reasonable. Thames Water’s wasn’t.


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