Tower Hamlets councillor admits another case of benefit fraud

A Tower Hamlets councillor has today admitted fraudulently claiming benefits for a second home that she did not live at.

Cllr Shelina Akhtar, an independent for Spitalfields and Banglatown ward, pleaded guilty to three counts of dishonestly claiming housing and council tax benefits for a property in Blackwall Way, Poplar.

She was actually living somewhere else during the time of the offences - which ran for two periods between November 2009 and September 2010 - and sub-letting the first property.

This is the second time the 33-year-old has committed an offence of this nature.

During today’s hearing at Snaresbrook Crown Court, His Honour Judge J Platt indicated that her sentence could be tougher than would normally the case because of her past actions.

He told her: “I make you no promises today. This is the second time you have committed fraud against the state regarding benefits to which you are not entitled. The court needs to know more before deciding on the appropriate sentence.”

Akhtar, of Blackwall Way, was handed 100 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay �250 costs after being found guilty of falsely claiming jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit during a case at Thames Magistrates’ Court in July 2010.

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Prosecutor Michelle Fawcett said: “She is a local councillor and the case, therefore, was more serious. This defendant has previous convictions for identical matters.”

The housing benefit falsely claimed totalled �1,085 and the council tax benefit �29.

The independent councillor won her seat in the May 2010 elections, where she originally stood as a Labour candidate but later defected to become an independent to work alongside mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman.

Earlier in the day a warrant was issued for Akhtar’s arrest after she failed to turn up at court.

She submitted a doctor’s letter saying she was unwell and therefore unfit to stand trial but the first judge hearing the case threw it out and threatened to issue a warrant for her arrest if she did not turn up by the afternoon.

The warrant was later withdrawn when Akhtar surrendered herself.

Her sister, Hazera Akhtar, 22, of Glasshouse Fields, Shadwell, faced similar charges but they were all dropped.

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 is down to Tower Hamlets Council to decide what action will be taken against Akhtar.

She has been bailed and is due to be sentenced on February 6.