Labour MP Apsana Begum in court for alleged housing fraud

A Labour MP accused of “deliberately and dishonestly” obtaining social housing has faced the first day of her jury trial.

Apsana Begum, 31, is charged with three counts of fraud for failing to disclose information involving council housing applications during three periods between January 2013 and March 2016, Snaresbrook Crown Court heard.

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.

The Poplar and Limehouse MP, who won her seat in the general election in December 2019, wore a blue hijab, red face covering and navy dress with a cream blazer as her trial began on Wednesday.

Prosecutor James Marsland told the court that Begum had applied to go on Tower Hamlets Council’s social housing register on July 22 2011 because she was living in “overcrowded accommodation” with her family – a circumstance which he said changed at three points.

Mr Marsland 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.”

Snaresbrook Crown Court
Apsana Begum is appearing at Snaresbrook Crown Court (John Stillwell/PA).

The counts relate to separate periods between January 18 and May 21 2013, May 21 2013 and March 23 2014, and October 28 2015 and March 31 2016.

Mr Marsland said Begum attempted to gain social housing in the first period by claiming she lived in an overcrowded three-bedroom house with her family and did not have a bedroom of her own, which made her a higher priority in the social housing queue.

However, he said that the property had four bedrooms, according to a social housing application made in 2009 by Begum’s aunt, who also lived in the house.

Mr Marsland said Begum later moved into a different property with her then-partner Ehtashamul Haque on June 2013, without informing the council, where she lived for more than two years.

He added that Begum “must have had a good understanding of the social housing system and how it operated” because she worked for Tower Hamlets Homes (THH), a public organisation set up to work with the council to arrange social housing, between October 28 2013 and August 3 2016.

He said that her work, including a role as a housing adviser, meant she had “significant involvement” with how social housing is allocated.

Since “demand for social housing outstrips supply” in the borough, people can be on the waiting list “for years”, he added.

Begum had previously said she “vigorously contests these malicious and false allegations” and she formally pleaded not guilty to all charges in court on Wednesday.

The MP, who sits on the Commons education committee, entered Parliament with a 28,904 majority in the 2019 election, having beaten five other candidates for her seat.

Tower Hamlets Council previously said in a statement: “The council takes housing fraud very seriously.

“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.”

The trial continues.