Two North Herts councillors sent council tax summons

Cllr Juan Cowells (Conservative) and Cllr Sam Collins (Lib Dem)

Cllr Juan Cowells (Conservative) and Cllr Sam Collins (Lib Dem) - Credit: North Hertfordshire District Council

Two councillors in North Hertfordshire received court summons for unpaid council tax bills last year.

North Hertfordshire Council revealed Baldock East Councillor Juan Cowell (Conservative) and Hitchin Highbury Councillor Sam Collins (Lib Dem) both received the summons from the council in 2021.

Under the Local Government Finance Act, councillors who have been in arrears for two months or more at the time of the meeting cannot vote on the council’s budget, which will be considered next month.

Cllr Cowell owed £3,059 at the time of the summons and as of December 16 still owed £1,866.94.

Cllr Collins owed £1,415.12 and this balance was paid immediately after receiving the summons, with the account now in credit.

Cllr Cowell said the missed payments were a result of losing work during the pandemic, and the arrears are being addressed.

He said: “I don’t mind being quite open about this; as with many other people as a result of the pandemic over the past couple of years, I found myself without a job and therefore source of income.

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“In addition, with so many others in my industry in a similar situation, securing a new position became a real challenge.

“Becoming a part of the masses who also faced real issues with day to day bills was clearly very serious; I’m sure that no-one actually enjoys being in debt.

“I received a reduction in council tax, from [North Herts Council] but it was obviously not free and the backlog built over time. 

“However, as you have noted, the outstanding amount has been significantly reduced in recent months and will continue to be so until it has been cleared. 

“I certainly appreciate the staff at NHC and the way that they have been very helpful with me to get this outstanding amount addressed and cleared.”

Cllr Collins said: "There is not much to this, I pay my bill annually, I thought I had paid it already but I had not, when I received a letter about it I paid it in full right away."

Council staff can work with residents who are in arrears to ensure council tax is paid, without having to go to court – saving extra costs for both parties.

This can include arranging a payment plan to allow for payments over 12 months instead of the usual 10 months, or residents may be entitled to a discount depending on their circumstances.

According to information revealed following a Freedom of Information request, in 2020 two reminder notices were issued by the district council but no summons were sent to councillors. 

A North Herts Council spokesperson said: “The council cannot comment on individual cases. Legislation states that councillors who are more than two months in arrears with their council tax are not able to vote on the approval of the council’s budget.

“The council has a process in place to review the position of all councillors’ council tax in advance of the council budget meeting in February.”

Elsewhere in the county, two councillors in Watford received warning letters during the 2020/21 financial year.

Three councillors at Stevenage Borough Council received warning letters for unpaid council tax.

No other district council in Hertfordshire sent any warning letters or summons to councillors.

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