"I'd rather starve than claim benefits" - Forest mum
"I WOULD rather starve than claim benefits."
So says a mum who was dragged before a court because she said she didn't know the benefits system.
Gaye Williams' benefits were paid into a joint account with her then-estranged husband, so they were guilty of "keeping a common household" – even though they were barely on speaking terms and he did not withdraw any money from that account, she said.
"It's like if you know the system, you're fine," said Gaye, of Cannop in the Forest of Dean. "But I was green to all this. I needed to claim benefits and never gave this a thought."
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Her husband Glynn, who also pleaded guilty, was earning £1,500 a week.
"He was earning good money and he had forgotten about the account," said Gaye.
They reunited in August 2009 and she's not claimed benefits since – even though she has two heart defects and finds it a struggle to climb the stairs.
After they split in 2007, she was out of work and claimed various state incomes, but when they got back together and lived in rented accommodation near Newent, both of them worked and did not claim.
After a 6am call by the Department for Work and Pensions and police on January 26 2010, they were illegally evicted the same day by their landlord, who was later fined £200 in court for doing so.
Their son Harry's only dog vanished the same day they were locked out of their home. They couldn't get their possessions back, including keepsakes of their baby son Alfie, who died in 2001.
"Harry was distraught," said Gaye. "The police looked really hard for his dog but no trace was ever found. Then we were told to go to court by the DWP.
"We were advised to take it to crown court because they could see everything we had been through and we pleaded not guilty.
"The second time we were in court, although we had not been living together, because the benefits had been paid into an account with Glynn's name on it, in the eyes of the law we were keeping a common household."
In February last year, at Gloucester Crown Court, she admitted obtaining benefits by dishonestly failing to disclose her husband was living with her. Glynn admitted three offences of possessing criminal property – benefit money.
She was sentenced to 180 hours of unpaid work, but because of ill health and two heart operations, she couldn't complete it, so that was changed to a three-month curfew earlier this month. He was given 125 hours' unpaid work and told to repay £2,500 to the DWP.
She said claims they were living a luxury lifestyle were wide of the mark – Harry's school fees were paid by her mum and Glynn drove a 13-year-old 4x4.
"It was just a nightmare. I would rather starve than claim benefits now," she said.