Doing the double warning

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

Colin Kelly acquitted of benefit fraud in July, was brought to the attention of councillors in the Causeway Coast and Glens.

Mr Kelly had 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 Cllr 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: “The issue concerns how payments made to local councillors are treated where those individuals make a concurrent claim or are in receipt of social security benefit.

“The rules affecting contribution based and income based benefits are different but the obligation is on the individual to make themselves aware of the conditions of entitlement and to comply with the Department’s requirements even if their circumstances change.

“When making a claim to, or when in receipt of social security benefit, local councillors, as with all other claimants, must satisfy particular conditions relating to the benefit. Specifically, one such condition may be the receipt of earnings or other income. For details of what information is required in any particular case you may find information on the claim form, NI Direct, the Department’s website, a Citizens Advice Bureau or by contacting the local social security office.

“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...and through any period to which the claim relates.”