Councillor cleared of benefit fraud

A councillor, who was wrongly accused of benefit fraud, has been cleared of all charges by a court in Manchester.

The Manchester Evening News reports that Nigel Hooley, a member of Trafford Council in Manchester, was accused of wrongly claiming £5,484 in benefits, despite arranging to pay back the sum as soon as his mistaken eligibility was brought to light.

Mr. Hooley first claimed job seeker’s allowance and council tax relief in 2009, after a member of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) told him that the fact that he received a councillor’s allowance “did not matter”, taking this to mean that he did not have to declare it on any claims forms.

As soon as the mistake was brought to Mr. Hooley’s attention, he paid back the sum he owed in council tax and made arrangements to repay the rest of the monies owed. It seems clear that the payments were originally made following a mistake by the DWP, yet the decision was still made to pursue the councillor in court for benefit fraud.

The prosecution’s attempt to portray Mr. Hooley’s actions as dishonest failed, however, as the jury sided with his argument that it was a “genuine mistake”. According to his criminal defence solicitors, Mr. Hooley is not a “dishonest man” and he only acted after making a full disclosure of his situation to the DWP.

Mr. Hooley said, “I am incredibly relieved… it goes to show that the system works, and it has restored my faith in the system”.

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