Busker who made £500k from Bob the cat book still has rent paid by taxpayer
When James Bowen wrote a heart-warming memoir about a stray cat rescuing him from homelessness and heroin addiction, it became an overnight bestseller.
The former Big Issue salesman and busker has sold more than four million copies of A Street Cat Named Bob and churned out multiple spin offs – earning £500,000 in just three years.
But the Daily Mail can reveal that despite his ample fortune, Bowen, 36, continued to have his rent paid for by housing benefit.
Since 2012 the taxpayer has forked out £15,500 for Bowen – who has a personal accountant – to live in his housing association flat in Haringey, North London.
And while Bowen and his famous cat stay in the social housing flat he was granted in 2010, the many homeless people he talks of helping remain desperate for a roof over their heads.
A former friend of Bowen said: ‘He was fully aware he should not have been getting housing benefit, but failed to stop it. He hasn’t been hurrying to buy his own house either.’
Failing to tell your local council you are no longer entitled to housing benefit can result in criminal prosecution for fraud and jail time. A Haringey Council spokesman said it was the responsibility of claimants to contact them within one month of their income increasing, adding: ‘In this case, we were first informed of a change in circumstances in February 2015.’
Born in Surrey, Bowen was raised in Australia. He returned to England in 1997, becoming a heroin addict and sleeping rough for ten years. He said his life only changed when he found a stray cat on a doorstep in 2007.
Bowen’s account of rescuing Bob, and in turn being rescued by the cat’s loyalty and trust, was published in 2012, spending two years in the UK Top 10 bestseller list. In an interview two years ago Bowen said he was off benefits and saving up to get a mortgage. He added he would use his newfound wealth to help drug and homelessness rehabilitation programmes.
Last night Bowen’s spokesman said he was unaware housing benefit was still paying his rent until December, when it came up in a mortgage application, and has since paid up. He added housing benefit was still being paid last week despite requests for it to stop.
Speaking to the Mail yesterday, Bowen denied responsibility, claiming he told the council about his change of fortunes – but could not say if he had followed the correct procedure. ‘In 2013 I did make calls to the Peabody Trust housing association, the council, and social security and haven’t received benefits since,’ he said.
‘I personally told them I was no longer entitled to housing benefit, and for two years I’ve been trying to pay my £107-a-week rent myself, but the Peabody Trust wouldn’t cash the cheques.’