Sunday, January 06, 2008

Lib Dem Councillor disability benefit grants

A Birmingham Liberal Democrat who has claimed incapacity benefit for 25 years because he is too ill to work told a court that he wanted to become a city councillor because it would be an easy life.

Saeed Aehmed admitted only ever holding two jobs, between 1972 and 1982, latterly as a machine operator at a milk factory, before poor health caused him to give up work.

But in 2002 he was selected as Labour candidate for Aston ward, before being dropped by the party after failing to give satisfactory answers about four applications for disability benefit grants.

Before 2002 Mr Aehmed had served as Constituency Labour Party organiser and treasurer, branch campaign co-ordinator, had acted as an election sub-agent and had been a board member of Aston Pride.

He told the court he had telephoned his apologies for non attendance when he felt ill.

He stood in the 2002 election as an Independent Labour candidate before joining the Liberal Democrats, for whom he contested the 2004 and 2007 elections.

An election court has been considering a petition brought by Mr Aehmed claiming that he was beaten in the 2007 election following a Labour smear campaign.

The court heard how Mr Aehmed and his wife claimed four disability improvement grants for their house at 91 Bevington Road Aston from the council over a period of more than ten years. The cash paid for a downstairs bathroom and other improvements including central heating.

The application forms listed a range of illnesses, including arthritis, bronchitis, bad legs, severe back pain, asthma, depression and high blood pressure.

At one stage, Mr Aehmed was said to be so ill that he was drifting in and out of consciousness.

Mr Aehmed's wife was also said to be suffering from depression, bad legs and incontinence.

The court heard that Mrs Aehmed, who does not speak English, does not work and has had no formal education, was able to buy a house in Sutton Coldfield in 2006 for £250,000 with the benefit of a £225,000 mortgage from the Northern Rock bank.

When giving evidence to the court, Mr Aehmed said he remained unfit to work, suffering from asthma, back pain and depression. He said he had no source of income other than incapacity benefit.

Gavin Millar QC, representing the Labour Party, put it to Mr Aehmed that the role of a councillor would be a very demanding job in a place like Aston.

The test of incapacity benefit was that someone was too ill to work for a period of at least 28 weeks, Mr Millar said.

Addressing Mr Aehmed, he said: "You are well enough to serve as a Birmingham city councillor but not well enough to work for the purposes of the incapacity benefit test?"

Mr Aehmed said: "Being a councillor is very easy."

Asked to name the enduring disability which rendered him unable to work, Mr Aehmed said he suffered from asthma and back pain.

The court heard how an application for a £7,136 disability improvement grant was submitted in Mr Aehmed's name in 1998. The request for a downstairs bathroom was for his wife, but signed by Mr Aehmed. It was a similar application to a grant application submitted in 1987 in Mr Aehmed's name, but which was only partly approved, Mr Millar said.

Mr Aehmed told the court he knew nothing about the application until contractors arrived to carry out the work. He denied claims by his daughter that he had been consulted about the application. He also denied any knowledge of a third grant application in 1993.

Letters from social workers questioning the extent of Mrs Aehmed's illness were read out in court, including an admission that there was "no clear record" of how a decision to award the grant came to be made. A condition of the grant was that Mrs Aehmed should continue to live in the property for at least five years.

Almost five years to the day after completion of the work, Mrs Aehmed moved to her house in Sutton Coldfield.

Mr Millar told Mr Aehmed: "You have always been worried that these applications don't look very good and you have been trying to distance yourself from them.

"I am putting it to you that you were heavily involved in trying to get money out of the council in 2000, 1999 and 1998 putting forward you wife's disability to get the bathroom extension that you have always wanted."

The case continues.


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