Means-tested grant available to NI people diagnosed with cancer

Last year, Macmillan Cancer Support gave over £650,000 to around 1,876 people living with cancer in Northern Ireland.

Aaron Branker from Dromore used the grant to help heat his home
Aaron Branker from Dromore used the grant to help heat his home

A Co Down man, who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the start of this year and received a Macmillan grant, said it provided a “lifeline” for him.

Aaron Branker from Dromore said: “When I was in hospital, my Macmillan nurse told me that I might be eligible for a Macmillan grant and passed on the phone number for the Macmillan Benefits Service in Northern Ireland.

“The process was really simple. I used the grant to heat my house as my treatment left me feeling very cold and shivery at times.

“It meant that I could switch the heating on without worrying so much about it. If anyone reading this is in a similar position, I’d tell them to get in touch with the Benefits Service straight away. I know that people worry about asking for help, especially when it comes to money, and you always think there’s someone worse off than you, but Macmillan were there for me.”

As many cancer patients on low-incomes struggle with the financial fallout of a diagnosis, compounded by the current cost of living crisis and Covid-19, Macmillan is urging anyone in need to seek their support.

Macmillan Grants helped 1,876 people in Northern Ireland pay for essentials such as heating bills and hospital transport costs, after they were diagnosed with cancer or underwent cancer treatment.

The charity said a cancer diagnosis often brings increased and unexpected living costs, such as requiring wigs or post-surgery clothing, a new bed for someone who can no longer climb the stairs to their bedroom, or fresh bedding for those experiencing incontinence and other treatment side-effects.

Research by Macmillan found that more than nine in 10 people living with cancer in Northern Ireland (96%) reported a financial impact from their diagnosis.

However, it said one of the biggest expenses facing people with cancer is higher energy bills.

Many people undergoing cancer treatment need to have the heating on for longer periods due to the side-effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The charity said a third of people with cancer have resorted to wearing coats or dressing gowns indoors more to try to stay warm without spending extra.

One in six has been washing clothes or bedding less – or not at all – to try to keep costs down, whilst nearly a quarter of people with cancer agreed with the statement: “It feels like I just can’t afford life at the moment.”

With domestic energy prices continuing to rise, this year could present a triple threat for people living with cancer, who are already struggling with the financial impact of their diagnosis and the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In recognition of the extraordinary challenges facing cancer patients in 2022,

Macmillan has made an extra £3.5 million of emergency funds available to help people living with cancer in the UK pay escalating fuel bills.

In the first six weeks of the year, it has provided over £80,000 in grants to support vulnerable patients in Northern Ireland who are struggling financially – an increase of 14 per cent on the same time period last year.

Janice Preston, head of Partnerships for Macmillan in Northern Ireland said of the additional challenges facing people living with cancer in 2022: “It’s been an incredibly tough few years for people with cancer. Covid-19 continues to cause great challenges for the clinically vulnerable and now cancer patients are having to contend with a cost of living crisis that has seen prices for fuel and food rocket.

“Macmillan is here for everyone living with cancer. But we know there are always more people that we could be helping. So, if you are someone in need of our support, we will do everything we can to ensure you get the practical advice and help that can make life with cancer not simply about survival.”

Across the UK, Macmillan gave over £12.3m to over 33,000 cancer patients in 2021. Macmillan grants are a one-off, means tested payment of £350 to help with the extra costs that living with cancer can bring.

Anyone over 18, who has been diagnosed with cancer or undergoing treatment can apply.

Here are Macmillan’s tips to help people manage their finances:

*Look into how you can maximise your income through benefits and grant advice. There are several options open to cancer patients, depending on your health, household, and financial situation.

*Let your energy provider know that your situation could mean your consumption may go up, or your income may go down.

Energy providers have a priority services register that can provide extra protections and adaptions for cancer patients.

*If you are on a pre-payment meter and worried you may run out of credit, contact your energy provider who may possibly add emergency credit to your account.

While Macmillan cannot give out direct debt advice, the charity can explain the processes and signpost you to organisations to help. To find out more about Macmillan grants, including who can apply, call the Macmillan Benefits Service in Northern Ireland 0300 1233 233 and talk to one of the local advisors.