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Identity of councillor who failed to pay rates revealed

NAMED: Councillor Carol Black. Inset top, Ms Black with the DUP’s Edwin Poots and, above, with former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt

COURT action was taken against a Dromore councillor who amassed a debt of almost £2,000 in unpaid rates, it can be revealed.

Unionist representative Carol Black sits on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

Her name has been made public following a challenge from the Irish News to a Stormont body who initially claimed it should be kept secret.

Public spending campaigners had said there was a "clear public interest" in releasing the names of councillors failing to pay their rates.

However, three other elected representatives who did not pay their bills on time in recent years continue to have their identities hidden.

Independent councillor Ms Black quit the Ulster Unionists in February over then party leader Mike Nesbitt saying he would give the SDLP his second-preference vote in the assembly election.

At the end of 2014/15 she owed rates worth £1,303.02 and in 2015/16 owed £1,896.58.

Court action was taken to secure the debt, but as of the beginning of last December the outstanding balance had still not been paid in full.

In Belfast City Council, two councillors owed £111.60 and £174.64 at the end of 2014/15, and £56.40 and £49.15 at the end of 2015/16.

The outstanding amounts were eventually recovered by their next payments.

In another council area, an elected representative had £392.24 of unpaid rates in 2014/15 and the authorities threatened court action, but the amount was subsequently paid in full.

The details were revealed by The Irish News in April following a series of freedom of information (FOI) requests to Land and Property Services (LPS), the Department of Finance body that collects rates.

LPS had refused to name the councillors involved, regarding it as exempt 'personal information' under the FOI Act.

However, The Irish News argued that the councillor with the largest bill should be named because they had faced court action.

LPS then agreed disclose the councillor's name in a further FOI response.

Asked about the disclosure, Ms Black said LPS was "talking the biggest load of rubbish", before adding: "Just back off from my private life."

The department had initially refused to disclose any information about councillors, but after a complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office it agreed to release some details.

More councillors could also owe rates, as LPS said many of the addresses provided in FOI requests did not match with the councillor names given.

The details emerge a year after a local authority in England was forced to name a councillor who had failed to pay council tax after losing a lengthy legal battle to keep it a secret.

Labour's Ismail Ibrahim, a member of Bolton Council in Greater Manchester, was exposed for unpaid council tax in March last year following a landmark three-year legal battle.

He was sacked from his role as head of a council finance committee after it emerged he had twice failed to pay his council tax on time.

Mr Ibrahim at the time apologised for not disclosing his name sooner.

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