Sinn Féin councillor in housing benefits probe

West Belfast councillor Ciaran Beattie
West Belfast councillor Ciaran Beattie

EXCLUSIVE: A SINN Féin councillor is at the centre of an investigation into payments of housing benefit, The Irish News can reveal.

The living arrangements of west Belfast councillor Ciaran Beattie were examined as part of the benefits probe.

It is understood that Mr Beattie had tenants at a property he owned in Belfast who received housing benefit to go towards rent.

But questions were raised when it emerged that the tenants receiving support were his long-term partner and their children.

The Irish News understands the Housing Executive launched an investigation before later referring the matter to the Social Security Agency (SSA).

On Wednesday night, Sinn Féin said it was unaware of any investigation. A solicitor for Mr Beattie said the councillor strongly denies the "outrageous" allegations.

The Housing Executive (NIHE) is believed to have passed the matter to the SSA in June last year. It is unclear if the case is still being examined.

The investigation is believed to have been launched shortly after Mr Beattie and his partner broke up.

The probe has focused on a house in the Beechmount area of west Belfast.

Mr Beattie has owned the three-bedroom property since 2006, according to Land Registry. His ex-partner is on the electoral roll for the same address.

Recently the property was sold, with estate agent advertisements describing it as an "excellent property" that "offers spacious living accommodation spread over three floors".

The house had been on the market for almost £126,000.

Mr Beattie was co-opted onto Belfast City Council in 2013 and was returned to his seat in the 2014 local government elections.

The 38-year-old, who lost his left hand after being accidentally caught up in an explosion during the Troubles, has also been involved in the Beechmount Residents' Association.

When standing for election in 2014, Mr Beattie gave the Electoral Office an address at Mica Drive in west Belfast.

An average family in a three-bedroom house would receive housing benefits of up to £5,200 a year – more than £50,000 over the course of a decade.

Under housing benefit rules, a claimant can rent from a landlord who is their close relative or partner as long as the landlord does not also reside in the property.

But if the claimant's landlord is a close relative or partner and the landlord also lives at the property, the claimant is not eligible for housing benefits.

If a couple separate and the one remaining in the home, or a new partner, makes payments to the person who has left, they are also not eligible for housing benefits.

In housing benefit applications the applicant is asked about their relationship to their landlord.

The Housing Executive will not pay housing benefit if it thinks the tenancy is a 'contrived tenancy', set up purely to take advantage of the housing benefit rules.

An NIHE spokeswoman said the housing body cannot comment on individual cases.

The SSA spent several days considering detailed information supplied by The Irish News before also declining to comment.

A spokeswoman said: "The Social Security Agency cannot comment on individuals or their personal circumstances."