Published: 00:01, 27 April 2016
The leader of Thanet District Council was taken to court after falling behind with his own council tax payments, we can reveal.
Cllr Chris Wells (Ukip), who became council leader in May, fell into arrears last year after missing two monthly payments.
He said he was unable to pay because he was not getting much work as a self-employed management consultant and was owed money.
The arrears, totalling close to £2,600, were finally settled in November, according to a freedom of information request.
Cllr Wells, who has 12 children and lives in Broadstairs, insisted this week the council’s action was a technical issue because he had been making some payments but on an irregular basis.
He said: “I’d been self-employed for some years and, as everyone knows, there are occasions when you are not paid for contracts as quickly as they might be.
“That is what happened to me and money I should have had wasn’t there. I had to make decisions about what were the vital things for budgeting and what were the things that could be deferred.”
He said the council had taken action because although he was paying off some of the outstanding bill, he could not make regular monthly payments.
Cllr Wells said: “I couldn’t guarantee when payments would be made. The system is geared to your ability to pay a certain sum of money a week or month. I couldn’t guarantee specific dates when this money could be paid.
“The council did what it was required to do by law and issued a liability order to reserve its position if payments were not made.”
Cllr Wells, who represents Cliftonville East ward, said he was prepared to be questioned about his own competence to lead the council.
He said: “I’m sure that is something that will be said. But to put things in context, the council tax was paid. Yes it was late, but it was paid in full. It is an embarrassment to me, but not to the council.”
“I was treated no differently to any other council taxpayer and people should understand no law has been broken. Councillors have no special privileges.”
He said he had not breached the law that councillors who had fallen behind with their council tax should not vote on the budget or council tax levels. The arrears covered a period that was outside the council’s budget meeting in 2015 and the debt had been settled by last November, before this year’s meeting.
The arrears date back to March last year and the council issued a final reminder to Cllr Wells in May, just at the time he took over as leader, for a payment totalling £2,579.10.
He was then issued with a court summons on June 22.
One month later, the council was granted a liability order by a magistrates’ court to recover the arrears and its costs, which together amounted to £2,679.10. Cllr Wells eventually settled the debt in full in November, before the council set its budget for 2016-17. The former Conservative defected to Ukip in October 2014.
At the time, the local Conservative association said it was disappointed as it had helped Cllr Wells through a period of personal financial difficulty. It did not say what those difficulties were.
Cllr Wells was first elected to the council in 2003.
He was also a county councillor for four years for Margate and Cliftonville and became a cabinet member for education.
Cllr Wells said he wanted to make the council the “most boring” in the world.
However, the ongoing saga of the future of Manston Airport, along with defections which saw Ukip lose overall control, has ensured it has remained in the public spotlight.
Former Ukip councillor Konnor Collins also faced action over council tax arrears.
Mr Collins, who left Ukip to become an independent councillor last year, was issued with a reminder notice in August over an outstanding payment of £5.
That was followed by a final notice issued in September for £35.
The arrears have been paid.