The money worries caused by cancer can be huge, and since 2010 Macmillan Wales has helped people affected by cancer to access over £75 million in financial support.
Bethan Davies, a Macmillan welfare benefits adviser, explains how we can help.
What are the main money worries caused by cancer?
For people diagnosed with cancer, and their families, the financial pressures caused by cancer can be really frightening – what if I can’t work during treatment? How am I going to afford such a massive change in my circumstances? How am I going to pay my rent or mortgage? How can I afford the costs caused by cancer like increased heating bills or travel expenses?
Being diagnosed with cancer isn’t something people plan or budget for, so our job is to offer people the financial information and expertise they need.
How can people who need support get in touch?
There are Macmillan benefits advisers like me based across Wales.
People affected by cancer can contact us directly, or they can be referred to us through a health practitioner such as their cancer nurse, consultant or GP.
My own patch is in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.
I provide benefits advice surgeries in the sarcoma and head-and-neck clinics at Morriston Hospital in Swansea, the Macmillan information pod in the radiotherapy department of Singleton Hospital and in Y Bwthyn Newydd at the Princess of Wales Hospital.
I also run a drop-in surgery every month in the Bridgend Carers Centre, which means I can offer welfare advice to cancer patients and their carers.
What kind of help and advice can you offer people with cancer?
Our service is free and confidential not only for people with cancer, but also their families.
We offer advice and information on benefits, tax credits, grants and loans to help people make informed choices on their finances and any benefits they may be entitled to.
Everyone who comes to us has different needs, and we can advise and assist with applications on a wide range of health-related welfare benefits. We are whizzes at form filling.
We cover means tested income related benefits, as well as non-means tested benefits such as Personal Independence Payments and Attendance Allowance.
Quite often we help with housing costs – things like housing benefit, discretionary housing payments and advice on mortgage interest payments – so cancer patients and their families don’t have to worry about how to keep a roof over their heads.
We can apply for Macmillan grants, and other sources of funding to help with the additional costs of cancer like increased heating bills, petrol expenses and the extra clothing people find they need as their weight fluctuates during treatment.
Not everything is straight-forward, so we work closely with people for as long as they need, including appealing decisions and attending tribunals on their behalf to make sure they receive the benefits they are entitled to because of their illness.
We also advise people who may be looking after someone diagnosed with cancer, and who may have experienced reductions in their income because of their new and demanding responsibilities as a carer.
Our service is here for people of all ages and all personal situations.
Tell us about when you’ve made a difference?
It can be a tough and emotional job. One of my clients was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer at just 40 years of age, and passed away within three months of being diagnosed.
It was not an easy situation, but I was able to set his benefit entitlement up promptly and advise a man, who had never claimed a benefit in his life, on what was available to him because of his illness.
He was gravely ill, and it was an obvious relief to him and a huge weight off his mind to know that at least some of his finances had been put in order.
Later, I also provided financial guidance and support to his wife and three young children, and helped them with their worries about how to pay the rent and ensure they did not lose their home.
There was no escaping the fact that this was a heart-breaking time for the family, but there was also a very real sense of relief that at least some of the pressure had been taken off by having their finances put in order.
What advice would you give to someone diagnosed with cancer?
Get financial advice at the earliest opportunity. Money worries only get worse if nothing is done about them.
Lots of people tell me they had no idea about what finances were available, and because of that find themselves struggling with money worries at the same time they are trying to deal with the emotional and physical impacts of their treatment.
For many it can simply be that the form filling-in looks daunting when you may never have claimed a benefit in your life.
Whether you think you qualify or not, I would recommend that anyone affected by cancer gets in touch.
No matter what it is, whether you think it is big or small, we are on hand to help support, advise and signpost you in the right direction.
If you need financial support please visit www.macmillan.org.uk where you can search for your local welfare benefits services, or call the Macmillan Support line on 0808 808 00 00.