Cancer costs more than just people’s health.
Long periods off sick or working part time means less money coming in, and extra expenses such as higher energy bills to beat the chemo chills or more spent on travel for frequent doctors visits, mean a diagnosis can have a major effect on your finances.
Research from Macmillan last year put the average person battling the disease £570 a month worse off at a time when, let’s face it, you have more pressing things to worry about.
But there is a whole host of little extra ways to help ease the burden from getting control of your bills or help from your bank, to discounts, exemptions and even charity grants.
Prescription lists: Most patients have a medicine cupboard fit to burst by the end of treatment
While we have focused this guide on the help out there specifically for cancer patients, much of the information is relevant to anyone struggling with a serious illness.
Firstly, and probably top of the list is free prescriptions. As a cancer patient you probably have a medicine cupboard big enough to rival the local pharmacy.
Normally in England each item costs £8.80 per item (in Scotland and Wales they are free).
But cancer patients, and those managing after effects, are eligible for a medical exemption certificate.
These valid for five years or until your 60th birthday but you will get a reminder one month before expiration to remind you to reapply if you are still eligible.
Don’t be scared to talk to your bank or lender
If your income has dropped and you are struggling to keep up with repayments or you are falling into financial difficulty then you should speak to your bank or lender.
If you explain the situation and the pressures it is putting on your finances they may be able to help by setting up repayment holidays to help give you some breathing room.
They may also be able to cut the cost of overdrafts and credit card debts with lower interest and reduced fees or freeze charges altogether.
Lloyds Bank and Nationwide have both teamed up with Macmillan to offer dedicated help to customers affected by cancer.
You can reach the Lloyds Bank specialist line on 0800 917 2393. Nationwide customers can call 0808 808 00 00.
However the rest of the banks are not doing enough to help cancer patients, according to leading cancer charity, Macmillan.
If your bank hasn’t offered any measures to help, there may be a few steps you can take yourself to help keep on top of your accounts.
First up, Andrew Hagger, of Moneycomms.co.uk, advises: ‘Make sure to pay your minimum credit card payment by direct debit, it will save you getting hit with £12 late payment fees.’
It may also help to shift existing credit card debts to a specialist card with a temporary interest-free period attached.
While you have to be careful about how you manage these, they allow you to open a new card and shift debt from an old card to an interest-free deal of up to three years.
Freezing the interest on your debt means any repayments you make are focused on clearing the debt rather than paying off interest.
Switching bank accounts may seem like the last thing you want to be worrying about but it is much easier than you think as banks do most of it for you now.
If your bank has hefty interest charges on overdrafts, moving to an account with an interest-free buffer or lower fees may help take the pressure off, and stop you falling further into debt.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an illness and are worried about how you will be able to meet your mortgage payments in the future, then talk to your mortgage lender as soon as possible.
David Hollingworth, from London and Country Mortgages, says: ‘Your lender should be willing to work on a plan of action to help you deal with the payment difficulties.
‘That could involve considering a temporary switch to paying interest only to reduce monthly costs for a period. Lenders should be keen to help and it’s in nobody’s interest to reach a point of repossession.
‘As a result, opening a dialogue with your lender sooner rather than later makes sense and should offer a better chance of finding a solution.’
Exploring whether there are benefits available that may be able to help would also make sense.
The government offers Support for Mortgage Interest, but this has recently changed from being a benefit to a loan. However, it can cover the cost of some or all mortgage interest.
It’s available after 39 weeks of claiming a qualifying benefit and can cover interest on a mortgage of as much as £200,000, calculated at a prescribed rate.
This will now be a loan which does attract interest and is repayable when the property is sold, although it can be repaid sooner if the borrower would like. There’s more info here.
I was forced to downsize and borrow from friends and family to stay afloat
Helping hand: Christine Cairns, 60, wishes she had had more information
Christine Cairns, 60, from Falmouth in Cornwall was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer in 2009.
She was forced to turn to friends and family to help her cope.
Christine explains: ‘I was in the middle of a house move when I was diagnosed and there was a point when I thought – I just can’t cope.
‘I had to withdraw my house from the market and I lost money on the survey I had got for the house I was interested in.
‘Then I received an unexpected bill which I just couldn’t afford so I had to downsize. I left my home and my support network for a smaller house, but the move cost me a lot of money.
‘I felt I had an extra battle on top of my cancer. I didn’t need that additional stress when my focus should’ve been on my recovery.
‘The impact on my finances was immediate and devastating; my good credit record was broken and I felt like I was not being listened to.
‘I needed a loan for a new car to start a job but I was refused the loan and so had to borrow £2,000 from my daughter.
‘I had to borrow money from my friends and family to cover my expenses and pay off other loans. It was exhausting and hard work to ask all of these people for money.
‘I wish I had had more information about what options were available to me at the time. There was a lack of information available about how to resolve my debts.
‘If my bank had offered me a conversation, it would have taken a huge pressure off me. The support you need doesn’t just finish when treatment is over.’
Could you get your student loan written off?
If you become disabled you can get your student loan written off completely, but you must be able to show that you are unfit to work long-term.
To be eligible you must be able to provide evidence of having received disability-related benefits within the past year and a letter from your GP or consultant saying that you are permanently unfit for work.
Help feeling normal: Choosing a wig is a big step in helping people coping with cancer get back to their everyday lives
Getting a free wig
For many getting a wig can help make them feel more normal and can be a hugely important step with coping with their everyday lives during treatment.
If you live in Scotland or Wales synthetic wigs are free but in England they are only free from the NHS if you are an inpatient or if you are under 16, (up to 19 if you are in full-time education).
If not, you can buy one from the NHS for £71.25 for a synthetic wig, £188.70 for a partial human hair wig or £275.95 for a full human hair wig.
You may also be able to get one for free if you receive certain benefits. These include income-related ESA, income support and income-related jobseeker’s allowance.
You can read more about these benefits, and if you may be eligible in our guide to cancer and your benefits.
Alternatively you may be able to apply for the NHS Low Income Scheme to help with costs.
If you have already paid for your wig you can also reclaim the cost by filling out a HC5(W) form.
Hair loss can be incredibly distressing so some people may choose to buy a wig privately to get more choice. If you choose to do this you can reclaim the VAT if you hair loss is caused by cancer, saving 20 per cent.
You do this through the retailer you bought the wig from. Most have a VAT refund form and will repay the VAT back to the card you paid with.
There are also charities which specialise in providing real hair wigs to children including Little Princess Trust.
It’s also worth enquiring about cancer information and support services in your area, at your local hospital. Many run workshops or have Look Good Feel Better sessions to help patients learn makeup techniques and offer freebies to help you feel more normal.
Extra NHS help
Don’t forget if you are getting some benefits you may also qualify for help with other costs.
Some people are eligible for free NHS dental treatments, sight tests, fabric supports including surgical bras for breast cancer patients, help with the costs of glasses or contact lenses and refunds on the cost of travelling to the hospital when receiving NHS treatment.
Some charities out there offer grants to help those struggling the most.
A good place to start is the grants search tool on the Turn2Us website which allows you to search using your postcode.
There are around 3,000 charitable funds and you can search according to your area, family situation and for health-specific grants.
You could also try the disabilitygrants.org search tool which works in a similar way, matching you according to specific illnesses or disabilities.
Specialist cancer charity Macmillan offers grants to those on a low income, which average around £380.
To apply you must have a weekly income below £170 (single person) with less than £6,000 in savings or £289 as a couple with less than £8,000.
You will need to be recommended by a Macmillan or community nurse, health or social worker, hospital social worker or a health professional from another welfare charity and be supported by a short medical report from a second professional such as your doctor, consultant or Macmillan nurse.
Bill shock: The first step should always be to speak to your existing provider to see if they can help
Feeling the cold more is a common side effect of cancer and chemotherapy treatment but turning the thermostat up adds around £177 per year to bills according to Macmillan’s figures.
The last thing you want to worry about when you are coping with the side effects of your treatment is how much it’s going to cost you to get comfortable. The good news is there are a few ways to cut your bills, so you don’t have to.
Call your provider as early as possible
Telling your energy or bill providers as early as possible is a good idea.
Make sure to tell them about your situation and if you receive any benefits as there may be extra help you can get and it means that, should you fall behind on your payments as a result of financial pressure, they are likely to be more sympathetic.
Your energy provider will be able to put you on the Priority Services Register which puts you into a category of people who may need extra help, including pushing you to the top of the list for help in an emergency.
They may also help switch you to a cheaper tariff. Some offer special deals at reduced rates.
Npower, which has a partnership with Macmillan, says if you tell the provider you have cancer and are struggling with your bills it may be able to cap them or even write off any debt you have built up.
British Gas works specifically with Clic Sargent advisers which specialises in help for cancer patients under 25 years old.
There are several providers which have charity funds you can apply for help with household bills.
Anglian Water, British Gas, EDF, and Eon all have charitable trusts which offer grants to help clear household bill debt or fund energy efficiency improvements for vulnerable customers. Most require that you are a customer, but British Gas offers help even if it is not your supplier.
Make sure you are on the cheapest tariff
You may be able to pay less automatically by switching to a cheaper deal or changing how you manage your account. These are general bits of advice we give to all our readers, it may seem like a hassle but it can cut your bills by £100s.
Andrew Hagger, of Moneycomms.co.uk, advises: ‘Try to get your bills paid by direct debit – this can be helpful if you have to face prolonged periods in hospital and are not at home to deal with your post.’
Paying by direct debit and switching your bills to managing them online will also help you avoid any shock bills at the end of winter and will typically get you a discount.
If you haven’t switched energy tariff for a while you will likely have been moved to your provider’s most expensive tariff, the standard variable rate deal.
If you are on one of these tariffs a quick phone call could save you hundreds.
You could also consider changing provider completely. This is easier than you think. You can read more about how to do this in our guide here.
Do you qualify for the Warm Home Discount?
The Warm Home Discount scheme offers £140 off your energy bill to help with costs during the colder months.
If you are on a low income you can apply to your energy provider directly, if you qualify through the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit you should receive a letter.
Help getting around
Having a disabled badge can be lifeline for those going through difficult treatment. It means that you can park close to the hospital and can often sidestep expensive parking charges.
It also qualifies you for free parking in some areas, which can help you save a fair bit of cash, particularly for those living in London.
If you get certain benefits, such as the personal independence payment (PIP) or old-style disability living allowance (DLA), you qualify automatically for a blue badge. (You can find out more about PIPhere.)
If not, you can apply online here, or speak to your local council for more information.
If you live in London and are registered disabled you can also apply for a freedom pass which means you can travel on tubes, buses and the overground for free.
Car parks at major hospitals are often run by outside companies which charge extortionate amounts. It’s always worth asking if there are discounts for cancer patients as some hospitals can waive charges.
These tend not to be openly advertised though so make sure you ask the question.
Grab a cab for less
With appointments often running late, patients are never quite sure how long they may be stuck in hospital. Organizing a taxi can often be more convenient.
Many authorities run discounts for those with mobility issues on taxi fares. Again there are criteria you must fulfill.
London, for example, has a Taxicard service which gives you a certain number of subsidised journeys while Surrey and Manchester have voucher schemes. So make sure to ask your local authority.
Apply for your licence early
If you are 16 and receiving PIP or DLA you can apply to take your driving test one year early. You can find out more here.
The Motability scheme
This scheme allows you to exchange the motability element of your benefits to lease a car, scooter or powered wheelchair.
It includes insurance, breakdown assistance, servicing and maintenance. You can find our more here.