If you or a loved one are suffering from cancer then it probably feels like you've got enough on your plate without worrying about your finances – but it really is worth checking out whether you could be entitled to support in the form of benefits or concessions and where you stand with commitments such as your mortgage.
If you are unable to work because of your illness, you may be entitled to statutory sick pay – which is £87.55 per week and lasts up to 28 weeks. Your employer is responsible for making these payments. You may be entitled to occupational or company sick pay on top of this – and your company's HR department will inform you further on this matter. If you are self-employed – and have been paying National Insurance – you could be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance.
This is also available to those unable to work through illness or disability and pays a basic rate of £72.40 for the first 13 weeks of a claim. After that time a work capability assessment is carried out and if people are still deemed unable to work they are placed in one of two groups, getting the basic rate plus an additional sum of just less than half the amount.
Disability Living Allowance has now been replaced by Personal Independence Payment for new claimants (apart from in Northern Ireland at the time of writing) – and those wishing to receive it must be assessed by a health professional.
Based on how the disability affects you, it is split into two parts – a daily living component to help with preparing food, bathing and dressing and a mobility component which is intended to help you get around. The former provides £55.10 or £82.30 per week and the latter £21.80 or £57.45 per week.
Attendance Allowance may also be available for those over 65 and having trouble looking after themselves. This comes at a rate of £54.45 a week for those who need help during the day or at night – and at a higher rate of £81.30 per week for those who need help around the clock.
Terminally ill patients can get access to this benefit more quickly than normal.
Help with your home
If you are on a low income then you may be able to claim housing benefit to help with the cost of rent, if you are in a rented home. Your local authority administers this. You may also be able to claim Council Tax Support. There is also help available with your energy bills in the form of a cold weather payment of £25 per week, a winter fuel payment for those over the state pension age and some energy suppliers may offer a partial refund. If your home needs adapting as a result of your illness then your local authority may be able to help with the cost. The Disabled Living Foundation can provide useful information about aids and equipment which may be useful to you.
If you have a mortgage and are diagnosed with cancer then you are under no responsibility to inform your lender of this news. However if you are likely to have trouble meeting the repayments then it is best to inform the lender ASAP – and they will usually try their best to help you with suspended or reduced repayments and possibly an extended term.
Help with childcare
Those with children in full-time education may be able to claim Child Tax Credit, which is means-tested. The benefit is gradually being replaced with Universal Credit in England, Scotland and Wales.
A new benefit being rolled out now, with a target of replacing existing benefits by 2017.
It is paid in place of Income based Job Seekers Allowance, Income related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.
Citizens in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don't pay prescription charges anyway – and cancer patients in England do not have to pay prescription charges for medicines used to treat cancer, to treat the effects of cancer or to treat the effects of cancer treatment.
Cancer patients can find themselves making frequent visits to hospital, where car parking charges can come to more than £20 per visit in London. The Department of Health has issued guidelines to hospital trusts that those with disabilities such as cancer should get free or reduced parking – and most appear to be making some concessions. Parking is free at hospitals in Scotland and Wales, while most Northern Ireland hospitals do not charge patients with cancer.
Income tax refund
If you are forced to stop working, you may be entitled to an income tax refund, if your earnings for the year are lower than had been estimated when you were being taxed. Your employer may sort this out for you, or you can contact HMRC direct for help.
Do you have any advice for cancer patients worried about their finances? Leave a comment below...