Sunderland City Council powerless to sack councillor convicted of benefit fraud

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SUNDERLAND City Council has confirmed it has no powers to sack a Labour councillor who was convicted of benefit fraud – having conned the authority out of £2,000.

Coun Lisa Smiles was prosecuted by the authority in September after she failed to declare wages and her councillor’s allowance when claiming housing benefit.

She admitted receiving £2,318 in payments she was not entitled to over a period of 12 months and was fined £150 when she appeared at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.

At a recent full council meeting, Coun Lee Martin submitted a written question, asking the authority to confirm its position in relation to Coun Smiles in the wake of the court case.

He asked: “Can the leader of the council advise on the situation regarding the position of Coun Lisa Smiles since her criminal conviction following legal action by the council?”

Coun Henry Trueman told the meeting at Sunderland Civic Centre: “Coun Smiles is still a member of this council.

“As a matter of law, a councillor remains a member of the council unless clear criteria set out in the Local Government Act 1972 are met, which they are not in the case of Coun Smiles.”

A guidance note issued at the meeting stated: “Disqualification as a member only applies if the sentence was one of at least three months’ imprisonment, whether suspended or not.

“A member may choose to resign or may cease to be a member by virtue of not having attended any meetings for six months.”

Smiles, of Portchester Road, in Pennywell, who was elected in May 2011 with 1,908 votes, represents the St Anne’s Ward.

A Labour North official confirmed the 44-year-old was suspended from the party after the allegations came to light, and that she would be subject to Labour’s internal disciplinary process.

According to the council’s website, Coun Smiles has sat on the education complaints panel, sustainable scrutinies committee and West Sunderland area committee.

The sustainable communities scrutiny committee lists among its responsibilities housing-related issues including: “Housing overview, housing strategy, private housing, housing associations.”

The Echo tried to contact Coun Smiles for a comment but she did not return calls.


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