Doing the double warning to councillors

Sinn Fein Councillor Colly Kelly.
Sinn Fein Councillor Colly Kelly.

Causeway Coast and Glens councillors have been warned about claiming benefits, following a recent court case involving a Londonderry politician.

The case in question, which seen Derry City and Strabane District Sinn Féin councillor Colin Kelly acquitted of benefit fraud in July, was brought to the attention of Causeway Coast and Glens councillors.

Mr Kelly denied five charges that included making a false declaration to obtain benefit and failure to declare a change of circumstances. It had been alleged the 30-year-old dishonestly obtained more than £19,000 in Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit.

Following councillor Kelly’s case, the Chief Executive of the Social Security Agency has written to councillors across Northern Ireland warning them of “their legal responsibilities”.

A letter sent to the Causeway Coast and Glens council states: “All councillors are reminded that, in the event of social security benefits are claimed, or are in payment, it is a requirement to declare all paid and unpaid work.

“It is a personal responsibility of every individual councillor who claims benefit to make a full and accurate declaration at the outset and through any period to which the claim relates. It is important they understand that earnings or income includes any expenses or allowance they may receive as a councillor.

“Where applicable, such a declaration must include disclosure or all earnings or other income, irrespective of whether the income / earnings are received directly by the individual or whether he or she chooses to have them paid to a third party.

“Failure to give accurate information to obtain a social security benefit and to notify the Department promptly when or if circumstances change may constitute a criminal offence and lead to criminal proceedings.

“I would be obliged if this information could be brought to the attention of all councillors so they are aware of what action they need to take when claiming social security benefits. Compliance with these responsibilities will help to ensure the protection of public funds and to avoid unwanted criticism for individuals, and the local government institutions.”