As a mum-of-two, I know how stressful it can be worrying about paying the bills and providing for your family. A cancer diagnosis can make that stress even worse. New research from Macmillan Cancer Support shows that the average British family simply wouldn't be able to afford cancer. If a parent was diagnosed with the disease, they would be left with a potential shortfall of £200 a month even if they were to cut out all leisure activities and reduced their spending to bare essentials.
As a Macmillan Cancer Support Finance Expert, I often speak to families struggling to make ends meet when they're hit with a cancer diagnosis. I've written a list of money saving tips to help you cut costs if you're affected by the disease.
1. Get your travel reimbursed
Travelling back and forth to appointments can be expensive. If you have a low weekly income and are on some benefits, you may be able to get some of your travel costs reimbursed. Bring your medical exemption certificate or proof of your benefits entitlement to hospital.
2. Call your energy supplier
If you are going through treatment, you may feel the cold more and need your heating on for longer which can lead to higher fuel bills. Contact your supplier and tell them about your cancer diagnosis - you may be entitled to a reduction in your bill called a "Warm Home discount". If you're an npower customer with cancer and are spending more than 10% of your income on fuel (and have limited savings) you're eligible for a special tariff and you could get assistance with arrears. For more information on the npower Fuel Management Programme or for energy advice call Macmillan on 0808 808 000.
3. Consider your pension options
You can normally retire from the age of 55 but you can retire before this age if you won't work again due to ill health. Some employer's schemes will offer enhancements which may pay more, if you retire on ill health grounds. If you access your pension from the age of 55 you could take up to 25% of your fund as a tax-free lump sum and the remainder either as a lump sum or as an income (both of which are subject to tax). Get guidance before you make a decision on accessing your pension options.
4. Look into changing your mortgage plan
If you're struggling to make your mortgage payments, discuss your options with your lender. You may want to move your mortgage onto an 'interest only' basis, which means that you only pay the interest charged on your mortgage to reduce monthly repayments. Speak to a Macmillan benefits adviser to find out if you are entitled to help.
5. Contact your local authority for a disabled person's pass
If you have difficulty with walking, you may qualify for a disabled person's pass for free travel on buses. Contact your local authority for a claim form and ask a benefits adviser for help.
6.Ask your hospital if they offer free hospital car parking
Ask your hospital if they offer free or reduced parking permits at your initial planning appointment before treatment. If you aren't entitled to that you may qualify for a blue badge so you can park close to where you need to go if you have mobility problems.
7. Use pay as you go mobile deal or Skype
Keeping in touch with family and friends is more important than ever when you're going through cancer but avoid expensive phone bills by using a free videophone service like Skype or Facetime or considering a pay-as-you-go mobile deal.
8. Switch to 0% interest credit card
If you can't pay your credit card off in full consider transferring the balance to another card. Some offer 0 % interest deals for a limited period. You'll need to balance any savings against a balance transfer fee.
9. Access free prescriptions
Anyone who has had a cancer diagnosis can get all their prescriptions free of charge. Get an exemption certificate, which lasts for five years, filling out an exemption certificate and getting your GP or hospital doctor to counter sign it.
10. Apply for a grant
You may be eligible for a Macmillan grant, a small one-off payment which can be used for a variety of things such as extra clothing or to help with heating bills. You may also be able to get help from your local council for specific expenses such as adapting your home to make independent living easier.
11. Get advice on benefits
You may be able to claim benefits to help you in your situation. Get in touch with a Macmillan benefits advice for advice by calling 08088080000.
Macmillan Cancer Support provides a range of services to help cancer patients with money worries including benefits advice, grants and guidance on unlocking insurances and pensions. For financial support visit www.macmillan.org.uk/moneyworries or call 0808 808 00 00.