Woman took own life after struggling to cope with bedroom tax, inquest hears


A foster mother took her own life after struggling to cope with bedroom tax debts, an inquest has found.

The body of Margaret Blenman, 48, was discovered by a fisherman near Brighton Marina, days after she was evicted from her home due to spiralling debts caused by the tax.

She had threatened to kill herself following the eviction, having struggled with her rent after paying bedroom tax when her spare room for children she fostered became vacant.

An inquest at Brighton and Hove Coroner’s Court heard she had told housing officers on the day of her eviction they were “lucky not to find a dead body”, before she was pulled out the sea in Brighton two days later on 19 November last year.

The court heard the foster carer was made to pay bedroom tax on the spare room in her two-bedroom home in Streatham Hill, London, while she was not looking after children.

She had started to build up rent arrears in May 2014, due to the 14 per cent cut in her housing benefit, despite having discretionary housing payments. By 17 November 2017, her housing association had evicted her from the estate.

Housing provider Optivo’s head of area Jackie Pauley told the court: “When housing officers and bailiffs arrived she said they were lucky to find her and not a dead body. 

“It isn’t uncommon for people to say things like that. After that she was quite upset when officers entered with the bailiff. She said she didn’t know how things had got that far.”

She added: ”She became incredibly calm and left. When the housing officers came back to the office they said something didn’t feel right. They called her to ask her if she had managed to get to the council [for emergency housing] but there was no answer to their calls.” 

The court heard following the encounter there were no more sightings of Ms Blenman, who had left the estate with a small suitcase, until her body was spotted by fisherman around 6.30am half a mile south of Brighton Marina on 19 November.

The coastguard helicopter was called to locate her, before she was retrieved fully clothed and pronounced dead. She was only identified when officers traced her name from her Morrison’s loyalty card on her key ring.

Her family told the court she used to come to Brighton to clear her head, and had withdrawn from the family after they had expressed worry about her mood.

She had also struggled with eczema and excessive sweating, and had once been issued with a not fit for work certificate, the court heard.

Senior coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley recorded an open verdict, explaining she had very little information about Ms Blenman’s time in Brighton upon which to base a conclusion.

Speaking outside court, Ms Blenham’s sister, named only as Wendy, said: “Optivo need to make sure when they are evicting tenants their welfare is looked after, and if there are any concerns they ask questions. 

“If they see these signs it would be nice if they spend a bit of time with them to see if they can support them emotionally.” 

Paying tribute, her family described her as “loving, caring and kind”, adding that she loved reading and listening to music, but liked her own space. They said they were comforted Ms Blenman’s final moments were in Brighton.

Wendy added: “My sister used to come here to find solace and peace in her head, so I think that’s the reason why she decided to come here. It is a peaceful, nice place and now it is a special place for us as a family.”

Ms Blenman’s family are appealing to hotels or guest houses who could help locate her suitcase or give any information about her time in Brighton in the days before her death.

Additional reporting by agencies

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