A Labour MP defrauded her local council out of nearly £64,000 by “dishonestly” obtaining social housing over three years, a court heard.
Apsana Begum appeared at Snaresbrook Crown Court on Wednesday charged with three counts of fraud that allegedly took place over three separate periods between 2013 and 2016.
Ms Begum, who denies all charges, applied to go on Tower Hamlets Council’s social housing register in 2011, claiming she was living in an “overcrowded” property after declaring that she lived in a three-bedroom property with five of her relatives and did not have a bedroom.
By 2013, she had a bedroom to herself at the property, but did not inform the council of the change to her situation, the Old Bailey heard.
This was revealed by a council tax application placed by her mother, which showed that she lived in a four-bedroom house with three other people, all of whom had a room each.
Ms Begum, who was elected MP for the east London constituency of Poplar and Limehouse at the 2019 general election, moved out later in 2013 and went to live with Ehtashamul Haque, her partner at the time, whom she would go on to marry in 2014 without informing the council, the court heard.
She would move back in with her parents in 2015, and once again applied for council accommodation, but did not mention the time that she had spent living with her partner, it was said.
Other residents ‘given accommodation elsewhere’
Tower Hamlets Council, which is bringing the prosecution, alleged the cost to the local authority was £63,928, because someone else on the housing list had to be given accommodation elsewhere.
James Marsland, prosecuting, said: “Over three distinct periods of time, Ms Begum deliberately and dishonestly did not inform the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Housing Options of significant changes in her circumstances… in order to gain a social housing tenancy.”
He highlighted her work with Tower Hamlets Homes (THH) between 2013 and 2016, and claimed it must have given her a “good understanding” of how the social housing system works.
“[She] was aware of the banding system and how she was able to manipulate it to jump the queue,” he told the jury, adding that demand in the area regularly outstrips supply and people can be on waiting lists for a number of years.
Mr Marsland went on to say that while Ms Begum had gained “overcrowded” status by saying that she lived in a cramped three-bedroom house, the property actually had four bedrooms according to a planning application meant by her aunt, who also lived at the house, two years prior.
The court also heard allegations that an investigation into Ms Begum’s office email accounts while working at THH revealed examples of her overseeing matters related to overcrowding and housing supply issues.
Ms Begum pleads not guilty
Ms Begum, 31, only spoke to confirm her name in court. She has pleaded not guilty and previously said that she “viciously contests these malicious and false accusations”.
Overcrowding was described as Tower Hamlets Council’s “most urgent problem” by a Local Government Association report in 2016, at which point it was estimated that at least 1,800 households in the borough are severely overcrowded by at least two bedrooms.
In a previous statement, Tower Hamlets Council said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on any specific allegations, but the public can be confident that any concerns are investigated by an experienced team, in line with our procedures.”
Ms Begum, who was endorsed by the Left-wing organisation Momentum and nominated from an all-woman shortlist, won her seat with a majority of 28,904 in 2019. She is the first Muslim woman MP to wear a hijab, and currently chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence and Abuse.
The trial continues.