Tory councillor Patrick Warner, who it was revealed this week had been taken to court for not paying his council tax, has defended his actions.
The member for Sovereign ward on Eastbourne Borough Council has twice had court proceedings issued against him for not paying council tax on his home in the town.
In a statement Mr Warner said he had struggled financially since becoming unemployed when his business collapsed owing tens of thousands of pounds to local creditors but had made arrangements with the council to pay his council tax before the end of the year.
He said in the statement, “Since becoming unemployed in August 2012, I along with many other thousands of people throughout the country have struggled to find work during these difficult economic times. During this time I have not once attempted to claim benefits or expected anyone else to take responsibility for my situation.
“I have undertaken a variety of sporadic short term work for which I have been paid on a weekly basis. From the beginning of 2013 this work has become more sporadic and has lead to difficulty keeping on top of routine payments and at times I have had to prioritise which bills are paid first in order to continue providing a home for my family and food for them to eat.
“This led to me reaching agreement with Eastbourne Borough Council to spread a small amount of arrears from the 2012/2013 financial year over the months of January, February and March to bring my council tax account up to date by the year end. In order to try and prevent a repeat of this situation, I have continued to search for work that enabled me to meet my commitments more reliably and during the end of April I managed to get some more regular work which meant that I went from being paid sporadically on a weekly basis to monthly paid with my first full new payment due at the end of May.
“On April 26 I was sent to what I believe to be an automatically generated letter by Eastbourne Borough Council stating that I owed the value of two months council tax. As this was sent during April, I assumed that the automated process had not picked up the final payment on the previous year made by me in March and had added the two amounts together. Whilst I accept that I should have challenged this immediately, I assumed that this would filter through the system and correct itself within a few days.
“Towards the end of May I received a far more serious letter advising me that the council intended to proceed with court action to recover the debt. I sent an e-mail on May 22 clarifying the position, explaining the reason for the short term difficulty in making the April payment and offering to pay both the April and May payments by the end of May when I received my first payment from the new employer.
“On May 28 I received a response advising me this would not be acceptable and suggesting I agree to pay the entire year’s council tax payments plus the court costs for a liability order which was proceeded with on May 24 regardless of my previous email, on new higher monthly payments between June 25 and November 25.
“I have agreed to this and made the first payment due on June 25 ten days before it was due and have committed to continue to make the remaining payments as requested which will see me finish paying my council tax several months before other members of the public if they pay on a monthly direct debit arrangement.
“Whilst I have asked a number of questions about this process because I believe my case was escalated unnecessarily when my offer could have been accepted which would have seen my account brought up to date by the end of May without the need for court action, I am staggered to learn that circa 1300 other residents have been treated similarly and I wonder how many of these had offered similar sensible and workable payment arrangements that would have prevented the council waiting longer for council tax payments, lead to less stress being suffered by the individuals concerned and unnecessary court action being taken which will have damaged their credit records.
“Whilst I accept that there will be some people who will assume that all politicians are the same and have little sympathy for my plight, I would seek to point out that we are not all the stereotypical out of touch politicians who bring in large allowances on top of a large salary. Some of us have to work long hours like ordinary people to provide for their families and then put in many more hours each week to put something back into their community. I would urge you to consider, if you want a Town Hall full of remote individuals who don’t know what many go through on a day to day basis or if actually you think that a more balanced selection of individuals with real life experience might make for a better run and challenged council.”