Counting the cost of cancer

Robert Watkins works as part of Macmillan Cancer Support’s Financial Guidance Service, a specialist team that offers financial support to people affected by cancer.

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, money should be the last thing on your mind. But costs like higher household bills or travelling to hospital appointments combined with the fact that many people need to give up work means that those diagnosed with cancer are on average an additional £570 worse off a month.

Money worries aren’t something people automatically associate with having cancer, however people are 25 times more likely to call our Support Line about their finances than death or dying. My team takes between 40 and 50 calls every day from new clients who are worried about their finances after a cancer diagnosis. The conversations can be heartbreaking and people can be quite panicked by the time they call me, it can be quite difficult and upsetting. Whereas I deal with financial support people can often require a referral to other areas of Macmillan’s Support Line for other specialist help; for example benefits or energy advice, cancer specific nursing advice or access to a Macmillan grant.

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is: ‘I’m off work following my cancer diagnosis and on a much reduced income. How am I going to cope with my mortgage payments?’ It’s my job to help people work through these problems and give guidance on a wide range of issues from mortgage difficulties or accessing pension funds to budgeting and debt management.

Cancer can be frightening, tiring and expensive so any guidance and help we can give will hopefully improve our people’s quality of life. As more people are living with and beyond cancer it’s important people have access to the right financial support so they can make informed decisions about their finances and get help before they reach critical point.

I became a Macmillan Financial Guide after taking time out from work to recover from major back surgery. I have worked as an Independent Financial Advisor for most of my life, but having been touched by cancer, when I saw the job advert for the new Macmillan service in 2011 and I knew I had to apply. It’s the best work decision I have ever made.

I think the best part of the job is the satisfaction derived from establishing a relationship with someone affected by cancer over the telephone in a relatively short time, and then being able to provide good quality financial guidance which will empower that person to take action to change their financial lives and, as a result, improve their overall quality of life at a particularly difficult time.

My most memorable moment of the job was securing a serious ill health tax free lump sum payment of over £1m for a terminally ill customer. This was important to me not just because of the size of the payout but later because of the amazing fundraising work his wife did for Macmillan after her husband sadly passed away.

This is just one of many cases I’ve dealt with – the Financial Guidance Service team helped over 5,100 people in 2015 and has helped over 17,000 since it was set up five years ago. We have also secured over £16m for customers in the form of insurance policies identified, overturned insurance claims, charges refunded, ill health retirement pensions and lump sum payouts.

It is not always easy though, and it can be really difficult navigating financial institutions that do not always understand the severe financial, physical and emotional difficulties a cancer diagnosis can present.

It is, however, good to see the gradual change in this attitude, partly due to the work our financial guides have done working with our Policy team. This is reflected in our work with Nationwide, who we worked with to set up a Specialist Support Service enabling Nationwide to provide tailored one-to-one support for customers affected by cancer. So far the service has helped over 750 people, with 200 of whom were referred on the Macmillan’s Financial Guidance Service, enabling my team to help these people receive just under £140,000 in additional benefits and grants as a result.

I really love my job and the fact that I help people every day. It’s good to know that when people are already going through what can be an incredibly tough time, I’m able to help alleviate some of their worries

To speak to a Macmillan financial guide call free* on 0808 808 00 00, Monday to Friday 9am–8pm or visit

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