Benefit fraud councillor still serving on Tower Hamlets
PUBLISHED: 18:00 17 November 2010 | UPDATED: 09:41 18 November 2010
A COUNCILLOR convicted of benefit fraud in July is still serving on Tower Hamlets council.
Cllr Shelina Akhtar, who represents Spitalfields and Banglatown ward, was found guilty of claiming Jobseeker’s allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit while working, during the case at Thames Magistrates’ Court on July 27.
The councillor - who defected from the Labour party to become an independent - was handed 100 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £250 costs for the fraud between September 2008 and March 2009.
In a separate incident, Ms Aktar was arrested on November 9 on suspicion of sub-letting her housing association property.
But she denies any wrongdoing, telling the Advertiser: “I’m clean. Let’s wait until the investigation.”
Ms Akhtar has been bailed to appear at an east London police station on December 7.
Another person has also been arrested in relation to the inquiry.
An investigation into her conduct is currently taking place and mayor Lutfur Rahman has insisted he wants an “open and transparent council”.
He added: “I understand there are ongoing investigations into the affairs of a councillor.
“Everyone who seeks to represent the interests of this community must abide by the highest standards of personal conduct.”
A council spokesperson added: “There is an ongoing police investigation and at this stage we have nothing further to add.”
Electoral Commission rules state that a councillor will only be automatically barred from office if they are sentenced to three months in jail or more. It’s down to Tower Hamlets’ own code of conduct to decide what action will be taken against Cllr Akhtar.
Their rules state councillors must not behave “in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or the authority into disrepute”.
Matthew Sinclair, director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers will be furious that they are still being represented by this fraudster.
“It shouldn’t take a three month jail term to have a councillor breaking the rules kicked off the council.”
Ms Akhtar originally won her seat as a Labour candidate in May’s local elections.
She was one of eight councillors to leave the party in September, in protest at Mr Rahman being suspended as mayoral candidate.
Labour leader Helal Abbas insisted he had no idea about Ms Akhtar’s conviction when she was still a Labour councillor.
Conservative leader Cllr Peter Golds is now calling for the councillor to be thrown out.
He said: “It’s outrageous. What a slap in the face to the hard working people of Tower Hamlets who haven’t fiddled their benefits. If she has the decency she’ll resign.”