Hear about the ways we can support you through financial difficulty. Advice Worker Dave Owen discusses expert benefits advice; and Information and Support Radiographer Emily Howarth explains our emergency hardship grants.
Ruby Osborn: Hello and welcome to the Weston Park Cancer Charity Podcast, bringing you stories about our work, what we do, and the people we support. From funding life-saving research to providing practical help and emotional support, it's our job to care in every sense for our patients and their families. A cancer diagnosis changes everything and that can include financial circumstances. I'm Ruby and today we're talking about some of the ways we can support you through this.
Dave Owen: My name's Dave Owen, I'm an advice worker, I am employed by Citizens Advice Sheffield but I provide advice services at Weston Park Cancer Support, the Children's Hospital where I work with kids with cancer and their parents, and with the major trauma team at Northern General Hospital.
Ruby: Why might a person need welfare advice after a cancer diagnosis?
Dave: I think what usually happens is people are in a, effectively, in a state of shock following a cancer diagnosis and for a lot of people their whole world gets turned upside down and one of the things that we can do is to help stabilise the employment and financial side of their affairs. They've got plenty to think about as it is, having had a cancer diagnosis, having to make decisions about treatment and so on. Sometimes they just need to sit down with us and find out what their situation actually is financially and whether there will be problems or not, and we just do a complete breakdown of the situation and advise them what is and what isn't possible. And everybody's situation is different and so sometimes we look at things that people aren't able to claim because their situation is different from someone else.
Ruby: And what benefits could be available to a person with cancer?
Dave: There's a range of different things. Some people will be entitled to full pay from work, some people will be entitled to the statutory minimum, statutory sick pay. Some people will be entitled to means-tested benefits, that’s things like Universal Credit and council tax support, so we work through that with them. In addition to that it's possible that people might be entitled to disability benefits and that depends on their individual situation, and we will carry out an assessment and see if they are eligible, and if they are will help them apply for it. And there may be a range of other things that people might be able to access so it might be charitable payments, help with travel to hospital expenses, sometimes a person who is helping look after a patient may also be able to claim benefits. We will deal with anything, so during the coronavirus situation we've been looking at self-employed income support scheme, coronavirus job retention scheme, and a whole range of other issues as they affect our clients. I mean we deal from time to time with housing issues, immigration issues. So housing issues might be in terms of getting different accommodation, so effectively there is a problem with the accommodation that they live in, it's not suitable because of the illness that they've got. We'll answer any question, though we’re not specialist in everything, so if we need specialist advice or a client needs specialist advice then we will find somebody to give them that specialist advice. A DS1500 is a medical report which says it's possible at patient might die in the next six months. A DS1500 is issued either by the consultants or the clinical nurse specialist or it can be issued by a GP. We generally, if we feel somebody is eligible for a DS1500, we will ask the clinical team if it's appropriate and whether they are willing to issue one.
Ruby: What will having that allow people to access?
Dave: There are a couple of things. One is a disability benefit automatically, either for people who are under state pension age it would be personal independence payment, for people who are over state pension age it would be attendance allowance. And also if you're of working age then a benefit like employment and support allowance or an element which is incorporated in Universal Credit can be paid from the start of the claim, if you have a DS1500 report, rather than having a 13 week assessment period.
Ruby: Do you interact a lot with the clinical side?
Dave: Yes, we’re in regular contact with most of the clinical teams, sometimes not just about benefits issues. I mean one of the things that we do is to assess people who aren't DS1500 for disability benefits, and sometimes when we're talking to people they explain the problems that they're having in terms of feeling ill or additional pain or whatever, and we discuss that with them and ask them if they reported it to the clinical team or to the GP, and if they haven't suggest they might like to do that or that they might allow us to do that. People can be scared once they’ve had a cancer diagnosis and though they know something's different, something’s changed in their body, they’re afraid of actually raising it. The other thing that people find helpful talking to us is that we're actually not family members, so, though we obviously care about the person sitting in front of us, we don't have a direct emotional link with them, so sometimes people find it easier to talk to us about the problems that they’re experiencing than they would do to another family member.
Ruby: What happens, apart from as you say the ability to just talk to somebody different, what will happen when someone comes to an appointment at Weston Park Cancer Support?
Dave: Usually we've given people a list of information that we would need them to bring with them, so details of their employment situation, details of their earnings, details of any savings they have, their accommodation situation, where they pay council tax to – ‘cause of course we see people, we see anybody who uses cancer services in Sheffield, doesn't matter where they live. We ask them to bring that information with them and we'll just talk them through the situation financially. People who haven't been poorly before may never have used these systems so we will discuss with them how the systems work. Sometimes we make claims on their behalf because that's the most appropriate thing to do. A lot of claims are made nowadays online and there are still a whole chunk of people out there who aren’t very confident with the technology and so we will help them do that as well.
Sometimes people want to talk to us about other things, sometimes we’re the first people that they really spoken to after being informed that they have the cancer. They will have spoken to people in the clinical team, but from what a lot of people say it, all just goes by in a blur, and they've had a chance to think about it and by the time they get to talk to us they're ready to ask questions, so we will talk to them, we will redirect them back to the clinical team if we think it's appropriate, we will involve other members, the health professionals who work for Weston Park Cancer Support, as well if we think that's appropriate, with the clients permission of course.
Ruby: If something changes in a person's situation, so they've already heard an appointment with you and they've got various benefits in place and then, say, their health deteriorates or the next review comes round and this time they're told you don't qualify for this anymore, are they able to have more appointments with you?
Dave: Yes. We see people all the way through. Our rule of thumb for operating our services is that as long as the client is happy with us as individuals, and there are four people in the team who give advice, then they should stick with us so they don't have to explain themselves again. And so some people we have contact with once every two and a half, three years, some people we just have intense contact with at the beginning, it depends. People can come back to us at any time.
Ruby: If someone's feeling a bit nervous about coming to their appointment, maybe they've had some stressful experiences in the past dealing with benefits, what would you say to sort of reassure them before they come and see you?
Dave: If they’re anxious about it, they should come and see us, and we can talk it all through. Nothing happens until they give us permission to do things, and so it's always worth talking things through. The worst that can happen is you get told no, you're not entitled to anything, at best we point out where you can access benefits and support and so on. And if you get turned down unreasonably for something then we will help you challenge that decision, and go to appeal, go to court with you if necessary. It’s the full service, that's the intention behind it and the intention behind Weston Park Cancer Support having us there, is that it is a complete service. And the other thing that we do, sometimes we just take the weight off people's shoulders, so we talk to the various departments, the different sections, you know we're not personally involved in that decision so it makes it a bit easier to work out what the problem is and try and resolve it. So there’s that as well, takes the pressure off people sometimes. They can focus on getting well.
Emily Howarth: My name’s Emily and I am one of the healthcare professionals at Weston Park Cancer Charity as part of the care team and I am an information and support radiographer. I think everyone's aware that cancer diagnosis, going through treatment, you know managing symptoms et cetera and survivorship, that should be the focus of a cancer patient and obviously someone who's supporting them. But in the real world everyone knows that obviously bills still need to be paid, people need to pay the rent, the mortgage, they need to buy food, so realistically that is a concern for a lot of patients. So at the charity we recognise that individuals who face a cancer diagnosis and treatment can also experience changes to their financial situation.
From the early stages of lockdown in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we anticipated that the financial burden would become even more significant for some people. So when the government produced guidance for shielding for those who are clinically vulnerable, it came out the vast amount of cancer patients would fall under this category and they were told to shield for the foreseeable future, and even as the general shielding guidance has changed more recently, some may still be feeling the financial effects as the pandemic continues. So for example, someone who may have been affected particularly by the pandemic could be an individual with a cancer diagnosis who made under normal circumstances be well enough to continue to work, but due to COIVD were told they must shield for a period of time, leaving them unable to work at all or on a reduced wage. Another example is that a patient may not be working due to the diagnosis and their partner’s job has been affected by the pandemic, so therefore their household income will have vastly reduced.
So to try and support these people who have been particularly affected as a result of COVID-19, Weston Park Cancer Charity have been and continue to offer an emergency hardship grant to those that are experiencing significant financial hardship at this time. The idea of the hardship grants and other welfare support that we provide is to try and allow people to focus on themselves rather than the practical aspects of life. So generally we do have quite a lot of inquiries for welfare support but also particularly with the pandemic we found even more so that a lot of people need our help and that's what it's there. The payments for the hardship grant can be offered for a total three times over a three month period so each grant payment is £100 and so maximum of £300 can be offered over the three months. The grants have been used previously by those in need for things such as contributing to mortgage payments, paying household utilities and things such as food shopping.
Ruby: If people think that a hardship grant would benefit them, how can they apply?
Emily: If there’s an individual with a cancer diagnosis, or if it's someone who knows someone else that has a cancer diagnosis, who would like to apply for a hardship grant, they’re more than welcome to ring our helpline number which is 0114 553 3330 and press option 1 for the support centre to be able to speak to one of our healthcare professionals in the team. The healthcare professionals will ask for bits of information in order to complete an application form, and they will also ask if the person would like to book in for a telephone appointment speak to one of our welfare advisers. So we do this to try and maximise the support and advice on offer to make sure that the person has explored all possible avenues for financial support. The same healthcare professional can contact the individual to let them know the progress of the application. After this if the application has been successful and they receive the first grant payment of £100, then four weeks after this time the same member of the team will contact the grant recipient again, to discuss between them the individual’s financial circumstances, to see if anything changed all. So they may be experiencing the same or even worse financial hardship, so the same application can be completed again for a second £100 grant payment, and again another four weeks later for a third and final grant payment. So again, if people feel like they will benefit from this, the number to ring to enquire about a claim for emergency hardship grants is 0114 553 3330 and to press option 1 for the support centre.
Ruby: That's all for this episode of the Weston Park Cancer Charity Podcast. Thank you for listening. Our services are free thanks to the generosity of our supporters, so please give us a call if we could help you.
Dean Andrews: Cancer changes everything, but so can we.