Sunderland Labour councillor guilty of benefit fraud

Coun Lisa Smiles, of St Anne's ward in Sunderland, who has pleaded guilty to benefit fraud
Coun Lisa Smiles, of St Anne's ward in Sunderland, who has pleaded guilty to benefit fraud
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A LABOUR councillor has been prosecuted for benefit fraud.

Coun Lisa Smiles was brought before the court by Sunderland City Council, after being paid more than £2,000 in Housing Benefit, which she was not entitled to.

A Labour North official confirmed the 44-year-old has been suspended from the party, pending the outcome of the case.

Smiles, who represents the St Anne’s ward, appeared at the city magistrates’ court.

She pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to notify the local authority of a change in circumstances.

The 44-year-old, who was elected in May 2011 with 1,908 votes, received £2,318 in payments across 12 months, after she did not declare wages and her councillor’s allowance.

Investigations revealed the offence took place between March 2011 and April 2012.

Smiles, of Portchester Road in Pennywell, Sunderland, was fined £150 and ordered to pay £120 towards court costs and a £20 victim surcharge.

According to the council’s website, she 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.”

Part 5 of Sunderland City Council’s code of conduct for members states that: “All members and employees have the obligation to help engender a good reputation for the council.”

It further states that members should in particular “avoid criticism of the council when formally representing the council,” and “seek to protect and promote the legitimacy of democratic local government.”

A spokesman for Sunderland City Council said: “Councillors are required to comply with a code of conduct which sets out standards of behaviour.

“Any alleged breaches of this code are considered in accordance with procedures agreed by the city council’s Standards Committee.

“It is not appropriate to comment any further on the matter.”

The council is renewing its advice to benefits claimants to report any change in circumstances as soon as possible.

“If any claimant has a change in circumstances then we would urge them to report it as soon as possible,” a spokesman said.

“The city council works closely with other agencies and prosecutes benefit fraud in appropriate circumstances.

“In the last year, the council has prosecuted 46 cases which identified overpayments to the value of £342,550. This averages at £7,447 per case.”

Coun Smiles did not respond to requests from the Echo for a comment.