Desperate cancer patient Diane Hannaby, 52, was left in debt after waiting two months for enough funds for her son's funeral Cancer patient Diane Hannaby had to fight for funds to bury her son
In brief Diane Hannaby had to leave her son in a morgue while waiting for funeral aid Her benefits were cut just a month before his death She is now £3,000 in debt and facing Christmas alone
When Diane Hannaby was given the devastating news that her son, Ashley, had died suddenly at the age of 34, she was heartbroken. Having battled various forms of cancer for the last six years, she’d suffered her fair share of trauma. But worse news was to come.
The 52-year-old disabled grandmother then discovered that, because of changes to her benefits that saw her moved to Universal Credit, she wouldn’t be able to afford his funeral. For two months Diane had to leave her son’s body in the morgue, sobbing daily because she was desperate to put him to rest but was short of £900 to afford a burial. “It was absolutely awful,” Diane told i. “I couldn’t bear the thought of him lying there all alone with none of his loved ones around him. It prolonged my grief as I couldn’t say goodbye to my son properly.”
Deteriorating health Diane’s ordeal began when she decided to move from her home in Northampton to Weymouth in Dorset in August this year for health reasons. The mother-of-two – who has another son, Connor, 23 – was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and had to give up work as a cleaner supervisor and claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as she underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Only a year later, she was diagnosed with tongue cancer, and in 2014 suffered a major heart attack and was found to have coronary heart disease, a potentially fatal condition in which the arteries of the organ become narrowed. “I had to be signed off work permanently then as I just wasn’t well enough,” Diane said. “I’d worked all my life so it was hard giving up my independence.”
More health problems followed when Diane was diagnosed with neck cancer in 2016 and had to have radiotherapy, then suffered a collapsed lung.
“My doctor basically said that I will probably keep getting one form of cancer or another until one kills me,” explained Diane. “So I decided to move in with my sister in Weymouth, where I was originally from. I thought being near the sea might help prolong my life.” While it was hard moving away from her sons who also lived in Northampton, Diane’s sister helped care for her and she spoke to her sons regularly, going to visit them and her grandchildren Jaydan, 12, and Lewis, 14, whenever she felt well enough. “I missed them a lot and worried about Ashley because he was struggling with alcoholism and I couldn’t be there for him,” Diane recalled. “He had pancreatitis as a result of his drinking so his health wasn’t good either.”
In August this year, Diane decided to live on her own again so her sons and grandchildren could come and stay for visits and was offered a council flat. “I had claimed housing benefit on top of my ESA and PIP before moving in with my sister but hadn’t claimed housing benefit while living with her because I didn’t need it,” Diane said. “But I needed it again now as I couldn’t pay the rent otherwise, which was £475 a month.”
“The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told Diane she would have to switch over from ESA to Universal Credit in order to get help with her housing costs. This meant that instead of receiving ESA and housing benefit separately, both her rent and living expenses would be covered by one payment of UC. Diane says she was told the transition would be “smooth and easy” and all she had to do was answer a few questions over the phone and her benefits would be swapped over.
“I thought I’d get the same amount I was getting before when I lived on my own or even more as my rent was higher in Weymouth,” she said. “But I ended up with less.” Diane said she was left around £130 out of pocket each month and struggling to make ends meet.
“I had to take out a loan for my first rent payment as my Universal Credit payment didn’t come through in time,” Diane said. “It was the first time I’d been in debt for years and I had enough on my plate worrying about my health.” More bad news was on its way, however. On 18 September this year, Diane called Ashley for a chat. “We were very close and he had gone through a rough patch too but was coming out the other side,” Diane recalled. “He was desperate to give up drinking and was waiting for a place on a rehab programme and was feeling positive about the future.”
Ashley had split from his partner but saw his two sons as often as he could. Ashley adored his sons Lewis and Jaydan (Photo: Diane Hannaby)
“He adored his kids and was talking about starting work as a fork lift driver again once he’d been to rehab and getting his life back on track,” Diane said. “I remember him telling me he loved me and would see me soon before he hung up. It was the last thing he ever said to me.” The next day Diane got a phone call from her ex-partner, Ashley’s father. “He told me Ashley had been found dead at his flat,” she said. “I thought I’d misunderstood at first. ‘What are you talking about? I only spoke to him yesterday and he was fine,’ I argued. But it was true. My son was dead.”
Ashley’s lifeless body had been found at his flat crouched on the floor with his head leaning against the sofa by his friend, Nikki. “I spoke to her and she told me she hadn’t seen him for a few days so had gone round to check on him. When she got there his front door had been left open and he was slumped on the floor. She called an ambulance but it was too late,” said Diane. Distraught, Diane went to Northampton to be with her family and find out what had happened. “But the police couldn’t tell me anything – only that there were no suspicious circumstances,” she said. “I was racking my brains as to what might have happened. Did he fall and hit his head? He’d been suffering from pancreatitis, had that killed him?”
‘I felt financially and emotionally broken’ Diane Hannaby Diane was told that the cause of death wouldn’t be given until Ashley’s inquest, due to take place in the next few weeks. So she had to focus on putting her son to rest and set about arranging his funeral. Devastating time With no money to pay for it and now struggling on Universal Credit, she had to apply for a Funeral Expenses Payment, which is meant to help those who can’t afford to pay for a funeral with burial or cremation fees, travel to and from the funeral, the cost of moving the body, death certificates and up to £700 for other expenses such as the coffin.
Dianne during happier times with her sons Ashley and Connor (Photo: Diane Hannaby)
But Diane was told by the DWP that she would have to wait between six to eight weeks before she would be allocated any funds. And even then, she was only given £1,499 – leaving her with a £900 deficit to pay herself. “The cheapest place I could find that would arrange the funeral charged £2,399 – most places charged between £3,000 and £4,000,” Diane recalled. “I chose the most basic coffin and only wanted a few flowers – nothing fancy. “Because I’d only had one payment of Universal Credit by then, I was classed as being newly on benefits, even though I’d claimed ESA previously for years. It meant I had to wait until after my next payout to claim for the funeral costs – eight weeks in total for them to make a decision and unable to bury Ashley all that time. I was financially broke by then and emotionally broken too,” Dianne added.
“I was staying at Ashley’s ex’s house in Northampton as I didn’t want to leave the grandchildren, who were devastated. I also didn’t want to be too far away from Ashley. It felt like I’d be abandoning him if I went home and left him in that morgue but waiting around and not being able to give my son a funeral only prolonged my grief.” Read more on funeral costs: Funeral price war intensifies as Co-op launches “price beating” pledge After finally being granted £1,499, Diane had to borrow money from friends and relatives to scrape together the remaining £900 she needed. “It wasn’t easy but I managed it and eventually, we had the funeral on 16 November,” she said. “It helped to finally say goodbye to Ashley but I felt so angry that I’d had to leave him for so long. At least now he can rest in peace.” But the stress of the ordeal has taken a further toll on Diane’s health. She’s developed several ear infections and fears she could suffer another heart attack. “I am in about £3,000 debt in total,” Diane explained. “I had to borrow £950 for a deposit on my council flat, which I have to pay back to the council, then my first month’s rent, then another £900 for the funeral costs and apparently I need to pay back some of my ESA too. I have no idea how I’m ever going to pay it off.
“I don’t find it easy to get around because of my heart condition so have to pay for help with the cleaning and chores. I can’t walk very far either so have to use taxis to get to hospital appointments and, as you can imagine, I have a lot of them.”
Diane faces Christmas alone (Photo: Diane Hannaby)
Diane hasn’t seen her grandchildren since the funeral because she isn’t well enough to travel and can’t afford it. “I have just about enough for food and heating but nothing left over for Christmas presents. I am even going to be spending Christmas alone at home this year because I can’t afford to see my family.” Her friend Sharon Black, who has set up a justgiving appeal to raise funds to help Diane pay off some of her debts, told i: “It’s appalling that a woman who has suffered so much should have this kind of thing hanging over her. She’s lost her son and has chronic illnesses. She didn’t choose to be on benefits. It’s not right.”
A spokesman for Northamptonshire police said: “At this stage we are aware of the death of Mr Jakeman and the case is currently in the hands of HM Coroner. An officer will be able to provide the deceased’s mother with a progress report in the coming days.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Universal Credit targets support to those that need it most – when it’s fully rolled out many disabled people will get £100 a month more on average than they did with ESA. People can receive Personal Independence Payments alongside Universal Credit, to help with the extra costs of being disabled. “We are committed to supporting people during bereavement and people can apply for a Funeral Expenses Payment while they are waiting to hear about their Universal Credit claim.”