STATEMENT | Freedom of Information request about Councillors and non-payment of Council Tax
Liverpool City Council received a request under the Freedom of Information Act, to identify and name serving councillors who received a summons for non- or late payment of Council Tax.
As required by the Act, we have carefully considered the balance between the public interest to know this information, and the rights to privacy over tax matters for the individuals concerned.
Following a review, we have confirmed our view that the balance of public interest in these specific cases is for non-disclosure. We can also confirm that no Councillor has breached their obligation not to vote on a Council Tax motion whilst in arrears.
However, we do recognise that this matter raises important issues of principle with wider implications for local government.
The Council has therefore written to the Information Commissioner to highlight the issues raised in this case, and to ask them to review the position and provide further guidance. The Council will fully cooperate with the Information Commissioner, and abide by their judgement in this case.
COPY OF LETTER TO THE ICO
I am writing to you following a request we have received from the Liverpool Echo under the Freedom of Information Act. The journalist, Liam Thorp, is asking us to release the names of sitting City Councillors who have received a court summons for council tax arrears. We have released the fact that this applies to two councillors. However, having carefully weighed up the personal circumstances which applied in these two cases, we have reached the conclusion that the balance of public interest is that the names should not be released. This conclusion was confirmed at stage two of our procedures. We have also issued a public reassurance that no councillor has breached their obligation not to vote on a council tax motion whilst in arrears.
Mr Thorp has stated that he will apply to the ICO, and if necessary to the court, to secure the withheld information. We support his rights to do this and recognise that this case raises important issues of principle, in balancing the right to information, against the reasonable expectations of individuals to privacy in their tax affairs. We therefore felt it important to draw this to your attention, and we will of course make all the relevant documents available to your team.
Following past failures in governance, Liverpool City Council is working hard to enact best practice in transparency. If, after considering the issues that apply in this case, you believe the public interest is best served by disclosure, we will of course comply with any ruling made by your office. We would also welcome any further guidance you can offer on how councils should balance the public interest in these cases.
Andrew Lewis, Chief Executive, Liverpool City Council