You’ll be better off if your husband is unemployed, civil servants tell terminally-ill campaigner Debbie Purdy

Debbie Purdy
Debbie Purdy
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A terminally-ill campaigner being prosecuted for failing to pay council tax has spoken of her outrage after she was told she would be better off if her husband stopped working.

Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, said benefits officials had told her at least five times that she would receive more money if her musician husband, Omar Puente, gave up his job.

Calling for the system to be overhauled, she revealed her situation was so desperate that she feared losing her home and had been forced to choose between paying her council tax or buying food.

Ms Purdy yesterday attended Bradford Magistrates’ Court, where she was summoned after Bradford Council began legal proceedings to reclaim the unpaid money.

She said she received disability living allowance and incapacity benefit, but would be entitled to further benefits including free council tax, free prescriptions and help paying the interest on her mortgage if Mr Puente was unemployed.

“It is outrageous,” she added. “The benefits system is supposed to be a safety net, not a hangman’s noose.

“We have been given the advice five or six times over the last few months that he should quit work, but he has always believed that the right thing to do is to work. If you can work, you should work.

“Why do we make it so hard for people to try to find work and then be surprised when our young people grow up thinking it isn’t worth it?

“We would rather have three and sixpence a week and not have money to do things than have Omar sign on and not be able to work as a musician.

I am not saying that state benefits should be any higher. I just think they should be more fairly allocated.”

The court case was deferred while the euthanasia campaigner, who won a fight to clarify the law, on assisted suicide, sought further advice from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

She said the couple stopped paying council tax almost a year ago. They owe £690.19 in unpaid bills, plus £55 court costs.

They are also being pursued for £2,000 they received in error when their income support was overpaid.

Ms Purdy said: “We are borrowing money, using credit cards and so on because we do not want the house taken away.

“I am terrified that if I don’t pay the mortgage it could be repossessed.”

The chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Matthew Elliott, said: “This is further evidence of the perverse incentives created by the current welfare system.

“DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) staff shouldn’t suggest people or their families quit perfectly good work so that they can claim more benefits at a greater cost to taxpayers.”

A Bradford Council spokeswoman said: “Ms Purdy’s case is on hold until the DWP sorts out her benefits and entitlements.”

A spokeswoman for the DWP said “We know that benefits system is broken and that is why we are reforming it,” she added. “Universal credit will simplify the tangled existing system.”