A Sunderland city councillor continued to claim thousands of pounds in allowances after being convicted of benefit fraud – despite not attending a single meeting.
Lisa Smiles pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to notify Sunderland City Council of a change in circumstances, when she appeared before city magistrates in September.
She received £2,318 in payments across 12 months, after she did not declare wages and her councillor’s allowance.
She was suspended by the Labour Party, but could not be sacked as a city councillor as she had not been sentenced to at least three months jail, as set out in the Local Government Act 1972.
Smiles, who represented the St Anne’s ward, eventually stood down at the end of January – just days before she faced being booted off the council because she had not attended a single meeting in six months.
But despite attending her last Sunderland City Council meeting on July 24 last year, Smiles continued to claim cash totting up £5,422.99 between her conviction and quitting politics.
The amount is the pro-rata portion during that period, made up of her £8,369 basic allowance, her £6,277 special responsibility allowance as vice chairman of the West Sunderland area Committee, and mobile phone allowance.
Although Smiles has not done anything illegal, she came under fire by members of all political groups on the council.
Conservative Councillor Lee Martin said: “The extra allowance she has claimed is more than the amount she is having to repay for defrauding housing benefit. I’m disgusted.”
Colin Wakefield, leader of the independent group said: “It is incomprehensible that a councillor who has been prosecuted by the council for fraud and thrown out of the Labour group, is still allowed to hold a special responsibility allowance and have her mobile phone bills paid after being effectively ceasing to be a councillor.”
Sunderland Council leader Councillor Paul Watson said: “I wouldn’t condone it at all. I don’t know the reason she hasn’t come in, whether she was just too embarrassed or whatever, I haven’t a clue.
“But if people are not getting the amount of representation the public pay for, it’s the law that needs changing. The law could be expulsion after not attending for a couple of months or a certain number of consecutive meetings. It casts a shadow on all elected members.”
> So all agree it was not a good thing – after the event. Even though it was apparently legal.
What did any of them actually do at the time ? What will any of them do to stop it happening in the future ?
Source – Sunderland Echo, 07 March 2014