A debt-ridden single dad of three who had waited weeks for Universal Credit took his own life — with just £4.61 left in his bank account.
Phillip Herron, 34, was trying to feed and clothe his family while out of work, falling behind with rent and trying to repay £20,000 debts — including payday loans of over 1,000 per cent interest.
He applied for government help but the month-long wait for Universal Credit drove him deeper into debt.
“That was the final nail in his coffin,” said his grieving mum Sheena Derbyshire, 54.
Phillip’s final act as he sat in his car on a quiet country lane on March 18 was to upload a picture of himself crying to social media.
Minutes later he was dead.
“In his suicide note he said his family would be better off if he wasn’t there any more,” Sheena added.
“He was a single dad. He was responsible. He always had money before and the kids had the best of everything.
“But Phillip had quit his job as a factory worker recently to look after his young kids and he got in to debt, which must have been difficult for him.
“To suddenly have no money for them must have been very hard. He was wait- ing for Universal Credit and had just £4.61 when he died.
“When people turn to the Government for help they’re already desperate. To make them wait so long for payments is dangerous.
“There’s no reason it should take so long. Phillip already had problems but I think this was the final straw.”
Universal Credit – brought in by the Coalition Government 2013 and rolled out nationwide since – was meant to replace a series of benefits with just one.
But it is paid monthly in arrears, meaning an average wait of five weeks for the first payment.
Labour claims the delay drives families into debt, poverty and eviction and aims to reform it.
Like many people, Phillip Herron was deeply in debt when, without telling his family, he applied for Universal Credit.
“His death came as a complete shock,” Sheena said. “I couldn’t understand why he’d do this.”
It was only later that Sheena pieced together what had happened.
Papers in his home showed he owed around £20,000 to banks, utility firms and payday lenders with, Sheena said, “1,000 per cent interest rates”.
She also found an eviction notice sent to him by the Bernicia Homes housing association.
And she discovered from his children that things got so bad at Christmas “Santa had not come”.
But worse was to come when, after weeks of trying, she worked out the code to unlock his phone. Mum-of-six Sheena trawled through emails and listened to months of calls he had recorded.
“I was trying to knit his life together,” she said. “You could hear him changing so much over those final months.
“He used to be very quietly spoken but in his recent calls and messages he was often screaming.
“He loved his kids but he started shouting at them. And you can hear him sobbing in calls. I heard him talking about suicide to other people.
“I wish he’d told us how he was feeling but we never knew.
“Listening to those last few months of calls I started asking myself, ‘Who is this person?’ He’d changed so much so very quickly.
“If we didn’t have his phone and his computer we wouldn’t have known what had been going on for him. It was like walking backwards through his life. It’s the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever done.”
Sheena has been haunted by guilt since Phillip’s death.
“I’ll never be OK,” she said. “There’s not a second in the day I don’t miss him.
“Every morning I wake up and wish I didn’t have to face another day without him, but I keep going for the kids.
“His youngest daughter is totally lost. She misses her dad so much.
“She had a dream the other night that he came to her. She said, ‘I asked him not to leave again. But when I woke up he wasn’t there’.
“They haven’t even been offered counselling,” Sheena added.
The system failed Phillip – now it’s failing his ex-partner and their children too.”
Sheena hopes the evidence she found will be used at a full inquest into Phillip’s death, at Sacriston, Co Durham, and expose the failings of Universal Credit.
She believes talking about his suicide and its impact on his family can help others too.
Sheena said: “You don’t just go out one day and take your own life. There’s a build-up.
“So please, please talk to someone. Don’t let another family go through this. If you can’t talk to family or friends, there are people like Samaritans.”
Last night a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Herron’s family.
“Suicide is a very complex issue, so it would be wrong to link it solely to someone’s benefit claim.
“We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and keep guidance under constant review to provide the highest standard of protection.”
A Bernicia spokesperson said when tenants face difficulties “our approach is to seek to work with them to help overcome these.
“A small number of cases could ultimately end in residents losing their home but this is a long process and we see this as a last resort.
“Help and support is available at every stage. We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr Herron’s family.”
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