The cost of managing a serious illness can be crippling, particularly when it means taking time off work or making long-term changes to your lifestyle.
In fact, those battling cancer see their monthly income drop by an average £570 per month – leaving around 72 per cent unable to cope.
The shortfall means most will burn through an average £3,292 savings pot in less than six months, according to research by Canada Life Group Insurance.
Financial strain: Travel costs, changes in your lifestyle and time off work may mean you need extra help
As many as 45 per cent of those who receive a cancer diagnosis say they are taken by surprise by the financial impact cancer can have, according to Macmillan.
The charity estimates that at least 30,000 people with cancer in their 40s and 50s have had to borrow money from their elderly parents in order to stay afloat and 16,000 have had to turn to their children.
But there is a safety net – the benefits system – that could be a much needed support to help you cope with increased costs and a lower income, particularly if your condition means you struggle physically.
Grappling with the benefits monster can be daunting, particularly for those struggling with common side effects such as nausea, fatigue and chemo brain.
But making sure you get the support you need and deserve while you beat your illness is hugely important. Not only will it take a weight off your mind, and your bank balance, but it will help make sure you have enough money to invest in the most important thing – your health.
Don’t be too proud to ask for help
GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR QUESTIONS
At This is Money we want to arm you with the tools you need to manage your money as easily as possible so you can focus your attention on your health and family.
This is the second in our ‘cancer and your finances’ series which will look at how to claim on health insurance, workplace and Government benefits if you’re ill among other things.
If you have a subject you’d like us to include in the series, email firstname.lastname@example.org
For many people, relying on the state will seem alien and this in itself may even prevent some people from claiming valuable financial help.
According to Emma Cross, financial support expert at Macmillan Cancer Support: ‘People with cancer may not apply for benefits because they don’t realise they can, or because they’re daunted by the application process.
‘They may feel it isn’t right for them to get benefits, that they are not ‘ill enough’ or have too much money. But while people may not think they need benefits when they’re first diagnosed with cancer, months later they may struggle financially, so it is best for people to check if they can get help at an early stage. There are a lot of different benefits and it’s important to find out your entitlements based on your own circumstances.’
When it comes to approaching applications, it may be helpful to break it up into those that are assessed according to your income, those that are paid independently of income and those only available at pension age.
|Means tested||Income independent||Over pension age|
|Personal Independence Payment||Income-related Employment Support Allowance||Attendance Allowance|
|Disability Living Allowance (under 16)||Tax Credits||Pension Credit|
|Contribution based Employment Support Allowance||Housing Benefit|
|Council Tax Reduction|
|Support for Mortgage Interest|
|Statutory Sick Pay|
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) pays for 28 weeks off work at a rate of £89.35 per week.
This kicks in if you have been off sick for more than four days and is paid to you by your employer for up to 28 weeks.
Karen Holmes, benefits expert at benefits advice charity EntitledTo, recommends looking at sick pay first.
She says: ‘For any worker in this situation the first relevant benefit is likely to be SSP, you cannot claim Employment and Support Allowance (see below) until your entitlement to SSP comes to an end. This means opening up a dialogue with your employer as SSP is claimed via them.’
We have covered your rights at work and sick pay in more detail in our previous Cancer and your finances guide here.
Find out more about SSP here.
Remember you may still be eligible for some income-assessed benefits even while receiving this such as Tax Credits or Income Support.
Speak to your specialist: Some benefits applications may need supporting letters from your Consultant
Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
According to Holmes, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) should be the next benefit you turn your attention to.
You cannot get this back-dated so make sure you apply at the earliest opportunity.
The benefit replaces the old style Disability Living Allowance for adults (this is still in place for those under the age of 16) and is worth between £22 and £141.10 per week.
It is set up to cover those have difficulty with daily tasks such as managing medicines or preparing meals. It covers both physical and mental capabilities.
PIP is tax-free and you could qualify for this whether you are working through treatment or are unable to, as long as you are between 16-64.
It is divided into the Daily Living (£55.65 or £83.10) and Mobility (£22 or £58) components and the amount you receive will depend on whether you qualify for the standard or enhanced rates.
It’s worth remembering that anyone who has a terminal or non-curable diagnosis will automatically qualify for the enhanced rate. There are also certain rules that will speed up the claims process for you.
Could you qualify?
To qualify you must have been affected for at least three months and expect the situation to continue for at least nine months in the future.
To apply you will need to start your claim over the phone and you will be sent a ‘How Your Disability Affects You’ form to fill out. Citizen’s Advice has a helpful page to help you fill out the form you can find here.
Remember if you are admitted to hospital for longer than 28 days you will need to inform the Department of Work and Pensions. Find out more about PIP here.
Be honest about your symptoms – Are you playing them down?
The wording of the questions is incredibly important, according to the experts.
They are aimed at finding out what adjustments you need to make – not just whether you manage to do certain tasks at all.
Entitled To’s Holmes says: ‘It is important that you answer all questions as thoroughly and honestly as possible and be realistic, not optimistic about your capabilities. Think about the bad days, not just the good and if your capabilities vary explain how often and by how much.
Macmillan’s Emma Cross explains that people often write themselves out of their entitlements without realising.
She advises: ‘It can be helpful to make a diary of your week or day to help fill in the forms accurately. Ask yourself what have I stopped doing because it’s too difficult? And think about what you are coping with and how you overcome those challenges.’
GET SOME HELP
There are a whole heap of charities offering help with finding out what benefits you may be eligible for and with the process of applying.
You can also set up a member of your family, a friend or a carer with consent to discuss your claims for you if you are finding it difficult.
This is the best option for most people during treatment when they are struggling with fatigue and chemo brain. It means that you still have control of your own claim, which you will likely prefer in the long run.
The other option is to set up a legal appointee.
This means the person you appoint will have legal responsibility, and will mean they are in charge of making sure your claim is up to date and you never receive over payments etc.
Find out more.
Costly: Don’t forget those with cancer can access free prescriptions
A bit of both
Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
This comes in two parts, the contributory-based Employment Support Allowance (ESA) element and the income-related ESA element.
You can get both of these backdated by up to three months and you can only claim it after your statutory sick pay has finished but it will still pay out if you are receiving work-place sick pay after SSP has finished.
The contribution-related element is paid irrespective of you or your partner’s income and savings. It will be your first port of call, but you will only qualify if you have paid enough National Insurance (see below).
Those receiving this could also be eligible for a top-up through the second element, the income-related element.
If you haven’t paid enough NI to qualify, you may be eligible under the second element.
For the first 13 weeks during an assessment period anyone under 25 gets £57.90 a week, everyone else gets up to £73.10.
Next there is a Work Capability Assessment to sort you into one of two groups – the Work-Related Activity Group or the Support Group.
Those who are unwell or disabled typically qualify for the Support category, which pays a slightly higher rate at up to £109.65 a week and won’t require you to attend any meetings to get you back into work.
There is also an enhanced disability premium of £15.90 a week and a severe disability premium at £62.45 per week under the income-assessed element.
Entitled To’s Holmes adds: ‘If you are entitled to Employment Support Allowance and are wanting to see if you are ready for returning to work you may be able to do so under permitted work rules.
‘Permitted work rules are described here but essentially set an hours and earnings limit which if you stay under your ESA will not be affected.’
The limits are hours of less than 16 hours and earnings of £120 or less per week.
YOU CAN APPEAL
If you don’t agree with a decision about your benefits entitlement, you can appeal.
According to Holmes the first step is to ask for the decision to be looked at again.
She says: ‘This is called ‘mandatory reconsideration’ and must be done within one month of the date of the decision.
‘If you aren’t satisfied with the mandatory reconsideration decision you have a further month from that date to appeal to the independent tribunal who will listen to both sides and make a decision.
‘If you are considering starting along this process it is advisable to seek professional advice.’
Do you qualify?
To qualify for either you must be under state pension age, not be on SSP or statutory maternity pay.
You must also not be in full time work or being paid Job Seekers Allowance.
To receive contribution-based ESA you must have paid (or credited through other benefits) Class 1 or Class 2 levels of National Insurance for 26 weeks during either of the past two years.
For the income-related element there are extra financial conditions which are based on your household income, not just your own.
It depends on both your and your partner’s income, any savings over £6,000 and your pension income.
You won’t qualify for income-related ESA at all if you have savings over £16,000.
Find out more here.
Phasing back to work: There may be some benefits you can still claim with low hours
Means tested benefits
Income Support is an alternative to ESA, which according to Emma Cross will typically only come into play for people still getting statutory sick pay as an alternative to Tax Credits.
The basic amount is £73.10 per week for a single person over 25.
Do you qualify?
You must be between 16 and pension qualifying age, be unable to work because of illness or a disability and on a low income (with savings under £16,000) and working fewer than 16 hours a week.
You can claim over the phone by contacting the Jobcentre Plus.
Find out more here.
In some areas Universal Credit is replacing certain types of income-related benefits including income-related ESA, Housing Benefit and Tax Credits.
Use the online checker to find out if the switch over to Universal Credit will affect you.
The basic level amount is £317.82 for a single person over 25 or £498.89 for a couple per month. On top of that there is an extra amount of £318.76 per month if you have a disability or health condition. Universal credit will also continue to be paid as you get back to work.
If you are getting help with housing costs you have a £192 monthly buffer before your benefit is affected. Anyone else has a £397 buffer, after that for every £1 you earn, your benefit reduces by 63p.
Find out more.
You can claim Housing Benefit to help with the cost of rented accommodation if you are on a low income or claiming benefits. It can be back-dated between three and six months.
There is no amount set; how much you will receive will be assessed according reasonable rental rates in your area, and other factors such as your income including savings, pensions and benefits.
If you’re single and under 35, you can only get Housing Benefit for bed-sit accommodation or a single room in shared accommodation.
If you live with a partner, only one of you can get Housing Benefit. You also won’t be eligible under Universal Credit.
If you are claiming other benefits you can speak to your local Jobcentre Plus, who will contact your council for you.
Find out more here.
Support for Mortgage Interest
This benefit is paid directly to your lender to help cover your mortgage interest if you are receiving Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit.
It can also be used to cover interest on loans taken out cover the cost of any adaptations you may need to make to your home. It lasts up to 39 weeks.
It is worth noting that mortgage protection insurance could cover home loan payments if you are unwell or lose your job for up to two years. Some policies also cover your bills so make sure to check your policies.
You will usually claim this through an existing benefit channel for example you use the Jobcentre Plus for income-related ESA, the Pension Service for pension credit or Universal Credit helpline for Universal Credit.
Find out more here.
Council tax reduction
For help with council tax payments you will need to contact your local council. Often they offer a discount to those classed as disabled if you need extra space because of your condition or if you are on a low income.
This can be back-dated to the date you started receiving other benefits such as income-related ESA, Pension Credit and Universal Credit.
You can also inform them of your intention to claim (and ask for it to be back-dated to this point) before you actually make one, as long as you follow it up within a month.
You can find out what your local council offers using the postcode checker here.
INFORMATION YOU MAY NEED TO MAKE A BENEFITS CLAIM
- National Insurance number
- Medical certificate
- GP’s address and phone number
- Home and mobile telephone numbers
- Mortgage or landlord details
- Council tax bill
- Employer’s address and telephone number and dates of employment or last day worked
- Bank account details details of any other money you are getting, such as benefits or sick pay
As an adult over 25, Working Tax Credits can top-up your income if you are working (usually 16 hours a week or more) and have a low income or you work and have a disability.
You can also claim in advance if you know your income will drop below a certain level.
However, according to the Citizens Advice website, there may be some instances where claiming these could make you worse off.
To check before applying, you can use a benefits calculator such as the Turn2Us one here.
You may however also be able to claim this in some instances while you are phasing back to work or working part time according to Entitled To’s benefits expert, Karen Holmes.
The basic amount is £1,960 per year, but if you fit into certain categories it could be worth more and those with a disability get an extra £3,000 per year.
Holmes explains: ‘You must be at a disadvantage in the workplace due to disability; for initial claims as a disabled worker this can include undergoing a period of rehabilitation as a result of an illness, this can qualify you for the remainder of the tax year in which the claim is made.
‘This is a complex area of tax credit entitlement and there are other criteria that may be relevant for you, it is best to seek advice if you think you may qualify.’
You can find out more about whether you qualify here.
You can start your claim online or over the phone by answering a few questions. Then you will be sent a claim form to fill in.
Find out more here.
You won’t be eligible if you live in an area where universal credit is being phased in or you are getting pension credit.
It is a means tested benefit, the limit for a single person is £13,100 or less a year (approximately) and if you’re in a couple and your household income is £18,000 or less a year.
Retirement: Once you hit state pension age the benefits you can receive change
Over state pension age?
Attendance Allowance (AA)
If you are over 65 the alternative to PIP is Attendance Allowance (AA). It is worth either £55.65 or £83.10 per week.
To be eligible you must have a physical disability or illness which requires extra help to look after yourself.
Receiving AA could mean you are entitled to extra help – Pension Credit, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction.
To apply you will need to fill out a form to post back. You can find the form here.
After that you will be sent information about an assessment to check your eligibility. You will need to bring proof of identity.
This is paid to those over the age of 65 dependent on your income, and again is divided into two halves.
The Guarantee Credit part is a basic rate to top up your income to a minimum threshold of £159.35 for single people and £243.25 (for couples).
Savings Credit is paid to those who have saved towards their retirement, if they or their partner reached state pension age before April 6 2016. It is worth an extra £13.20 per week for single people and £14.90 for a couple.
You can find out how much you could be eligible for here.
Anyone with a severe disability, certain housing costs or who is a carer may be eligible for a higher rate.
You can claim by phone or with a paper application. Find our more here.
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