Kingston Council has handed pay-offs to seven former staff members worth an estimated total of more than £52,500 since January, the Surrey Comet has learned.

In each case, the employee signed a confidentiality agreement forbidding details of the settlement to be made public.

The council was responding to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by this newspaper asking for details on the recent out-of-court settlement between the authority and former planning officer Narinder Lakhan.

An employment tribunal brought by Mr Lakhan, who claimed he was racially discriminated against by Nicola Smith, group manager for development control, was due to be heard in August but cancelled at the last minute.

Kingston Council refused to disclose details of its agreement with Mr Lakhan, claiming such information was exempt from FOI rules except “at the most senior levels” – such as the £128,000 paid to former director of children’s services Duncan Clark.

But it confirmed seven staff had left the council through similar agreements to Mr Lakhan this year – with a “typical” figure of £7,514 each.

A council spokesman said: “Payments where staff leave by mutual agreement are only made where it would be economic to do so and where the net cost to council taxpayers is clearly less than that which would otherwise arise.

“The payments are normally equivalent to other unavoidable costs which would otherwise fall due were the employment to end via another route but over a longer period.

“A typical median level for this year is £7,514.

“The aim is always to reduce, not increase, costs to the council taxpayer.”

The spokesman also confirmed that 22 people had been made redundant by the council in that same period.