Providing financial advice to people affected by cancer

As manager of the Edinburgh Macmillan Welfare Rights Partnership, I manage a team of six advisors helping people affected by cancer in the city to maximise their income.

We do this by carrying out a welfare benefits check to make sure people are getting everything they are entitled to. We can then advise them what benefits to apply for and help them with their claim.

We don’t just help the individual who has had a cancer diagnosis or is undergoing treatment, but also their family, carers and friends.

The partnership was first established in 2009 and is part-funded by Macmillan Cancer Support and Edinburgh City Council.

Last summer we received further National Lottery funding from the Big Lottery Fund which has enabled us to extend our team for three years.

This has been a great help because my staff were working at full capacity and I was aware that we were not meeting the demand that potentially could be there.

The grant allowed us to double the size of the team and increase our reach to people affected by cancer in Edinburgh.

In the 2016-17 financial year, we helped people in Edinburgh access £2.2 million in benefits. In previous years, it was around the £1 million mark. This is a huge gain to our customers.

We know from feedback that the support we provide can make a huge difference not only in terms of finances but also in reducing stress. It’s one less thing for someone to worry about.

It also benefits the clinical staff as they can refer people onto us for advice and not have to talk about it themselves.

Research has shown that people affected by cancer lose out financially due to a combination of factors. People diagnosed with cancer are sometimes no longer able to work or have to reduce their hours as do family members to help with care. There are also the additional costs a cancer diagnosis brings such as travel to and from hospital for treatment.

This loss of income together with the additional costs can in turn add to the anxiety and stress of a cancer diagnosis and have an impact on the speed and quality of someone’s recovery.

People will often phone us and say ‘I’m not entitled to anything, I have got plenty of money and I have got a private pension’. However, we try to encourage people not to make assumptions. We would rather receive the referral so we can check if someone is getting all the benefits they are entitled to.

There are lots of myths about what people think they can or cannot get. People are led to believe a cancer diagnosis gets you benefits. It’s not the diagnosis, it’s the treatment and the impact it’s having on your life.

We look at a combination of means-tested benefits and non-means-tested benefits such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or a Carer’s Allowance. We also look at travel concessions such as a Blue Badge, bus passes or taxicards.

In addition, we assist people to access Macmillan grants. The most common reason for these is around people who need new clothing because they have either lost or put on weight due to their treatment. A lot of people also get assistance with the cost of heating their home because they are more likely to feel the cold.

Some of the things we help people access – such as Blue Badges – might not seem huge in terms of financial gains, but can make a massive difference to the lives of people with cancer because a friend or relative can take them to hospital without having to worry about where to park and use that pass for assistance with shopping. It makes a huge difference to how people operate on a daily basis.

Rates of survival from a cancer diagnosis are improving but if someone passes away, that can have a fairly devastating impact on the remaining family members and carers in terms of their income. This may have been based on the benefits the person with cancer received such as an attendance allowance or housing benefit.

You can very quickly run into a series of other issues and that’s why we’re here to provide that service for any surviving family members. People aren’t often fully prepared for the costs of a funeral and we can help with accessing funeral grants or bereavement payments. They aren’t huge but can help make that difference.

The forms you have to fill in can look pretty daunting but my team are experts at filling them in. There is a long list of benefits and we will check entitlement against these and help people through that process.

If that means going to do a visit in someone’s house, we will do that. Alternatively, we can see them in other settings such as St Columba’s or Marie Curie hospices, the Westerhaven Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Centre or in the office of another agency that person is working with. We will be as flexible as we possibly can.

We will also use the Department for Work and Pensions’ visiting service which offers simple form-filling for people.

We get referrals through a whole range of medical settings, from GPs to hospitals. We also work closely with the two hospices in Edinburgh.

Since January, we have been operating a drop-in surgery for patients at St Columba’s which is something we have been able to do with our extended team, and we get referrals through Marie Curie.

Twice a month since the start of the year, we have also held a surgery at Craigmillar Library in Niddrie in partnership with the Macmillan @ Edinburgh Libraries Service and are looking to extend this to Drumbrae and Leith in the future. Although we’re in a public location where people are coming in and out, when we need to speak to someone one-to-one, there’s a private room we can use.

In addition, we are starting to offer housing advice and money and debt advice which are often closely-related issues. We are also expanding the service to deal with other long-term health conditions in order to make the service sustainable in the long term.

A majority of our referrals come from a clinical setting but people can also come to us directly for support.

With our expanded team in place, we are now trying to reach those who haven’t been referred to us through the Western General Hospital or Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

The best part of our job is the fact we are making a difference to the lives of people affected by cancer. You get the opportunity to meet and talk to a wide range of people from various backgrounds.

I feel humbled by how a lot of people deal with a cancer diagnosis and manage to remain positive and by the huge amount of work done by professionals, family members and carers to provide help and support.

At times, it can be a difficult job emotionally but seeing the difference we can make to people’s lives is a huge positive.

You can contact the Edinburgh Macmillan Welfare Rights Partnership on 0131 200 2360 or 0131 529 5000 between 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Thursday and 8.30am to 3.40pm on Friday. Alternatively, you can email:

David Gibb, Manager of the Edinburgh Macmillan Welfare Rights Partnership