From ‘This is Staffordshire’ comes the story of Kathy Purton, a mother of three with serious disabilities, who has been convicted for fraud of £77,040.52. That is a large amount, covering benefits over four years, when she had been making false declarations for four years while living with her husband. The court also heard, however, that if she had claimed the benefits was entitled to, she would have received £75,891.84 instead.
The cohabitation rule – the assessment of whether two people are ‘living together as man and wife’ – is there because couples are not treated like two single people. It affects lots of benefits, changing the way that household income is assessed, the allowances for housing (including the ‘bedroom tax’), the process of claiming and the level of benefit awarded.
People don’t always tell the truth about their partners, however, and many do get caught out. There are different morals that could be drawn. One is the view that people who lie to keep their benefits have to expect a hammering. Another was put by the judge in Ms Purton’s case, who advised that ‘honesty is the best policy’. And a third view might be that there is something wrong with a benefits system that depends so heavily on solemn declarations about who sleeps with whom.