Mystery remains over council tax defaulters

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

The identity of two Wigan councillors who paid their tax bills late remains a mystery after the town hall refused requests to unmask them.

Seven councillors from the borough’s 2015/16 cohort were warned about late council tax payments, four of which were later sent court summonses.

Coun Yvonne Klieve

Coun Yvonne Klieve

Those four were revealed as part of an investigation by magazine Private Eye but a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Observer for the other names to be revealed has been partly rejected.

One of the remaining trio’s names has been released; Labour representative for Golborne and Lowton West Yvonne Klieve.

But the other two have been withheld with the council stating there is no “public interest” in releasing them as they are no longer serving councillors.

The Observer asked for the initial decision to be reviewed by a senior officer, which is a legal requirement with FOI refusals, but this appeal was also rejected. The next stage is to lodge a further review to the Information Commissioner.

As a genuine oversight it was once late. It was immediately put on to direct debit to stop it happening again

Coun Yvonne Klieve

As part of the review, we highlighted that the names of two ex-councillors - Gareth Fairhurst and Robert Bleakley - were released as part of the four unveiled for receiving court summonses.

Although they could have been serving councillors when the original request was made, by the time of publication they were no longer elected members.

The response by chief legal officer Peter Hassett was that the decision to withhold that information was “appropriate”.

The original decision notice reads: “After consideration and applying the public interest test we are withholding details of those who are no longer serving councillors.”

Other local authorities across the country have released the information and although the pair are no longer councillors, they may choose to re-stand in the future, in which case their conduct during their terms of office would become a matter of public interest.

The list of former councillors to have left the chamber since last year includes both ruling Labour and opposition representatives. Labour colleagues Coun Jim Talbot and Coun Keir Stitt were the other pair to have received a court summons for late payments.

All four paid off their bills without the need for a court appearance.

Coun Klieve, whose name has only just been released, said her missed payment had been an oversight.

She said: “We used to pay using the reference number on our bill. As a genuine oversight it was once late. It was immediately put on to direct debit to stop it happening again.”