Labour party to discipline Sunderland councillor after benefit fraud case

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 COUNCILLOR who admitted benefit fraud is to be disciplined by her own party.

Labour 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 and would now be subject to disciplinary procedures.

This could result in her being expelled from the Labour Party, which could ultimately lead to a by-election in Coun Smiles’ ward.

However, the Labour Party could not force her to step down as a councillor and a decision would have to be taken by the city council.

As revealed in the Echo, above, Smiles, who represents the St Anne’s, pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to notify the local authority of a change in circumstances.

She 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.

She was elected in May 2011 with 1,908 votes and according to the council’s website, has sat on the Education Complaints Panel, Sustainable Scrutinies Committee and West Sunderland Area Committee.

Labour North spokesperson said: “The Labour Party expects the highest level of conduct from our elected representatives and it is clear that Councillor Smiles conduct has fallen well below those levels.

“Councillor Smiles is currently suspended from Labour Party and now that legal process is over, she will be subject to the party’s own disciplinary procedures.”

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.