A STAFFORD Borough councillor has been fined more than £400 after he admitted claiming almost £8,000 in benefits he was not entitled to – from his own council.
Councillor Ian Hollinshead, 55, pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to notify Stafford Borough Council of a change in circumstances in his household’s employment.
Stafford magistrates heard yesterday that Hollinshead, of Yarlet Croft, incorrectly claimed £7,472 in housing benefit and £381 in council tax benefit between April 2011 and March 2013.
He was fined £605 – reduced to £405 for an early guilty plea – and also ordered to pay £300 in court costs.
Simon Belfield, prosecuting on behalf of the borough council, said that Hollinshead had started claiming the benefits in 2006, when he worked for Tesco, the coHe had urt heard. But he failed to notify the council when he changed jobs and began working for Grass Roots Group on a zero hours contract.
In May 2011 the father of two was elected to Stafford Borough Council as a Labour member for the Littleworth ward and in May 2013 he was elected to Staffordshire County Council represent Stafford North – the same day his wife Sharon won a borough council by-election.
Mr Belfield said that Hollinshead received £53 weekly allowance as a borough council, rising to just over £70 in 2014, and a monthly allowance of £527 from the county council. In May 2013 he also joined Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s board, receiving £214 allowance a month, and ran two small businesses.
But he did not inform the council of these additions to his income, the court heard, despite receiving notifications.
David Green, defending, told the court that Hollinshead’s offences were not a case of dishonesty, but “failure in administration”.
“It is a case of naivety on Mr Hollinshead’s part of how the benefits system operates and how information is shared by the local authority – a man not keeping a close enough eye on the facts and figures of his personal circumstances,” Mr Green said.
“He had been working a set number of hours (at Tesco) and moved to working a zero hours contract. He believed that over time the (new) job would pay him about the same as the job at Tesco. The average was relatively similar; £117 (a week) at Tesco (compared to) £162 (a week) in his new employment.
“This is an administrative failing on his part rather than anything more sinister than that.
“He didn’t notify about the income he was receiving from the local authority or his work for the fire authority; his assumption was because the local authority was paying allowance and the local authority was paying benefits it would recognise the situation and take it into account. Sadly computer systems aren’t that advanced to register those things.
“He has never made any profit from his self-employment – he runs two micro cottage industries. One has made a small profit, one has registered a loss. It has been declared to Inland Revenue.”
When the overpayments came to light, Mr Green added, Hollinshead expressed “significant remorse” and admitted the offences at the earliest opportunity. He has already paid back the cash in full – a rare occurrence in benefits cases - the court heard.
Magistrates were also told of Hollinshead’s work for the community as an elected councillor, which included arranging improvements to roads and pavements to allow better access for disabled residents and the setting up of a residents’ forum. He had “never claimed a penny in expenses on top of the relatively modest allowance”, Mr Green said.
He added: “He appears as a man of good character, with no previous convictions. He loses that good character today as a result of this matter.”