Benefits after a cancer diagnosis

Monday 17 February 2020

A short  overview  - based on the Find Out More About... Benefits after a cancer diagnosis leaflets - of the main benefits that can apply after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Some may apply to you, regardless of income and  savings, although others are "means tested". 



Welcome to the first of a series of  short summary blogs that reproduce and adapt  the text of Maggie's separate twosided leaflets in the Find Out More About... series. These are designed to give you the basic essentials about benefits in a quick overview form. For further information -  for particular groups affected by cancer and more detail around individual benefits and whats involved in claiming them - see the links to the many other Benefit Blogs below.



What might I be entitled to?

At times during your experience of cancer you may be too unwell to work - due to the cancer itself, the effects of treatment, the psychological impact of your diagnosis or a mixture of these things.

This is the updated first in our Find Out More About … series. It offers an overview of the benefits you may be entitled to. Other in the series  will look at individual benefits in more detail, but you may also wish to explore the blogs listed below.

You can get individual private advice about your situation by contacting a Maggie’s Benefits Advisor, either here in the Online Community  or your local Maggie’s Centre



If you have reached pension age

Pension age is currently rising to 66 for men and women by September 2020. 

If you are already claiming State Retirement Pension this does not change because of your diagnosis. However, extra help may be available from Attendance Allowance (AA) or by an increased entitlement to Pension Credit (PC)

If you are working on into pension age, whether you have claimed State Retirement Pension or deferred your claim, you can still receive Statutory Sick Pay from an employer (see below) on top of any State Retirement Pension. If you just claim SSP - and have limited other income-  this can be topped up by Pension Credit (PC) . Unlike the equivalent benefits for people "working age",  there is no savings limit that will stop a claim for PC.

Some 40% of people entitled to PC are not claiming it. You may have been missing out for a while or it may be that extra amounts that may kick in after a cancer diagnosis - can make you entitled for the first time.  If you are a couple with one partner over pension age and one under pension age, you can no longer start a new claim for Pension Credit, since  May 2019. Do get advice as to what you to claim instead. However, mixed age couples getting PC before the change can continue with PC, as long as they do not break their claim .  Pension Credit is claimed through the Pensions Service 

For help with rent and other costs, along with help for the extra costs of daily living and getting around that cancer can bring, please see below. 



Working for an employer: the first six months "off sick"

The minimum your employer must pay you whilst you are off sick is Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This lasts for up to 28 weeks. Many employers have more generous contractual ‘sickness’ schemes, but even if your employer continues to pay you beyond 28 weeks, the SSP element of it will end at that point. Your entitlement to SSP is based on sick notes from your GP and the rules of your employer's sickness policy

If you are on a low income, you may be able to claim Income Support (IS) or Universal Credit (UC) to top up your SSP,  if you are of “working age”-  or Pension Credit (PC)  – if you are of “pension age” . Both IS and UC have an upper savings limit of £16,000, but Pension Credit has no upper savings limit. These are a joint claim with any partner, so will count their income and savings too.

For help with rent and other costs, along with help for the extra costs of daily living and getting around that cancer can bring, please see below. 



Don’t have an employer? OR have an employer, after six months off?


Employment and Support Allowance and links with Universal Credit 

You claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), either:

  • straightaway, if you are self-employed, were on other benefits before becoming ill or are one of the few employees who can’t get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP
  • when SSP runs out after a maximum of 28 weeks, regardless of whether an employer continues to pay you under a work contractual  sick pay scheme.

If you are late in claiming ESA, you can backdate your claim for up to three months. A new UC claim though can only be backdated a month and then on only limited grounds, that include being too unwell to claim. 

If you were getting Pension Credit as a top up to your SSP, then this can continue and you may not want to bother with claiming ESA and cannot claim UC. Pension Credit would simply increase to make up for lost SSP. 

There are two kinds of ESA:

  • Contributory ESA - claimed in your own right based on any National Insurance contributions you have paid or been credited with. This is not affected by most other income or savings. It replaces any SSP, except that it cannot be paid at the same time as Retirement Pension. It remains outside of UC, but most new claims are for a version known as New-style ESA, that loses the previous link with  Income-related ESA
  • Income-related ESA – is claimed jointly with any partner and is “means tested” i.e. affected by any other income or savings you have. It takes over from any IS top up to SSP.  You may get Ir-ESA or UC, either: instead of the older version of Contributory ESA (e.g. if you do not have the right National Insurance contributions or it has timed out ) or as a top up to that Contributory ESA if you are on a low income. This is because Income-related ESA includes extra amounts for a partner and "premiums"  that do not feature in Contributory ESA. You can still have Income-related ESA added on to a claim for "old style" Contributory ESA . And you can still start a new claim for either or both old style Contributory ESA and/or Income-related ESA if you are getting an amount called a "severe disability premium" within any existing means tested benefits
  • Universal Credit (UC) is taking over from six "legacy benefits" including Income-related ESA and Income Support . Most new claims then will be for UC rather than legacy benefits. So under the new system UC can  top up both SSP  and New-style ESA, if you are eligible. Claiming UC will mean any other legacy benefits you claim will also stop and be replaced by UC. However, a claim for  just New Style ESA does not force any switch of legacy benefits to UC. You do not have to be unwell to claim UC, as it merges that help with help for carers, parents, people in work and rent

For help with rent and other costs, along with help for the extra costs of daily living and getting around that cancer can bring, please see below. 


The Work Capability Assessment (WCA)

When you start a claim based on sickness for work there will be a period for the DWP to apply their own Work Capability Assessment (WCA).  

  • for ESA, there is a 13 week assessment phase when you will be treated as having limited capability based on your GP’s Fitness for Work certificates (often known as "sick notes" or "sick lines"). 
  • for UC there is a 3 month waiting period from the date you put in a the certificate. You are not automatically treated as having limited capability, but that will be at the discretion of your UC Work coach. 

The assessment applies the same test for both ESA and for limited capability under UC. So, if you have been through the test for one, you don't need to do it again for the other. The WCA decides :

  • for ESA whether you stay on ESA from week 14 and if so in which of two groups you will be placed: the  Work Related Activity Group (if you just have "limited capability for work")  or the "Support Group" (if you also have "limited capability for work related activity")
  • for UC whether you have "limited capability" within UC and if so whether you come into the Limited Capability for Work group or the or the Limited Capability for Work Related Activity group 

In both benefits the WCA decides what expectations there are in activity around work and how much of an increase you will get . The full  process involves completing a self assessment form - ESA50 or UC50 - and usually attending a medical and can take some 3 months, However many people receiving a cancer diagnosis will have to do far less and get an answer much more quickly 

  • You will be “treated as” passing the WCA if you are "awaiting, receiving or recovering from" cancer treatments, regardless of the nature of your cancer . If so, you only need to complete part of the ESA50  / UC50. You will then receive an extra ESA Support Component  (from week 14) and / or UC Limited Capability for Work Related Activity Element  (from the  Monthly Assessment Period after the end of your waiting period). However, you may later need to do the full assessment, if you are fully recovered from the direct effects of the treatments but are still too unwell to work (e.g. because of late effects from cancer and its treatments or other health issues).
  • For some people with more advanced cancers, “special rules” will bypass the assessment process entirely. You wont receive an ESA50 / UC50 at all and you will get the ESA Support Component / UC LCWRA element included straightaway

You can do some “permitted work” while on ESA to keep your hand in or as part of a gradual return to work. UC operate a different scheme to support people with limited capability in working. 



Other benefits when on a low income


Help with rent and council tax

People who rent their homes may be entitled to Housing Benefit (HB), if under the old system in “working age” or if claiming Pension Credit. If you claim UC, the same help comes via a Housing Costs Element  paid within your UC claim.

Anyone liable to pay council tax - tenant or owner occupier, old system or new, working or pension age - may qualify for Council Tax Support (CTS). which everyone will claim separately . Both HB and CTS are claimed through your local council, and are available to anyone on a low income, whether anyone is working or not. 

HB / UC housing cost may cover all of the rent or some of it. Less than full help may relate to your income but also because of restrictions on the maximum amount they can pay. rent right up to a  maximum level . However you may be able to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) - from your council - to make up some of any shortfall in either HB or UC housing costs element..


Extra help from tax credits

If you have been claiming tax credits -  Child Tax Credit (CTC) for children and / or  Working Tax Credit (WTC) to top up low / temporarily reduced earnings - you may find that you may get more help from these. You still count as a worker for WTC during the first 28 weeks of sickness; after that you may still be entitled to WTC,  if you have a partner who is working for enough hours.  Tax credits can also help when you ease back into work during recovery and you may qualify for an extra amounts within WTC as a "disabled worker" .

Your tax credit is usually based on your income in the previous tax year and then reviewed at the end of the year, but you can ask HMRC to redo the sums straightaway based on lower expected earnings this year, but do get advice. 

Both tax credits are merging into Universal Credit, so an entirely new claim for help with children or while working would usually be for UC instead. However, if you are getting one of the tax credits, but then become entitled to the other you can still have this added to what is a single tax credits claim.


Help with health costs

You can get help with health costs such as travel to hospital, dental and optical charges; and in England only for prescription charges for family members (as anyone with cancer can get a certificate for free prescriptions). If you are getting Income Support, Income-related ESA, UC (when not earning)  or Pension Credit then you get help with health costs automatically, though you may need to show evidence that you get one of these benefits. If you are working, then tax credits or UC can still qualify you, but it will depend on how much you earn. If none of these benefits apply, you can go through a separate financial assessment under the NHS Low Income Scheme

NB: Entitlement to all of these benefits will depend on both meeting the criteria for the benefit and your other income and savings, together with those of any partner.



Difficulties with day to day living and getting around?

You may be able to get extra help on top of all of the benefits described above, at any stage of your illness and regardless of any other income, savings or your National Insurance record. These “disability benefits” include: 

Attendance Allowance (AA)  - if aged over pension age when you first claim - call 0345 605 6055

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) - with new claims now only made by children under 16. Those getting DLA who had turned 65 before PIP started continue with DLA

  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP) if you are aged 16 to pension age, when you first claim (call 0800 9172222 to start a claim); or 

These were due to become variations of Disability Assistance in Scotland. The same basic criteria will apply, so there will be no re-assessment for those already getting AA, DLA or PIP, but the process for new claims is intended to be much easier and more user friendly. DA will be administered by Social Security Scotland, charged with encouraging take up and treating claimants with "dignity, fairness and respect" 

Getting either AA, DLA or PIP can enable someone to claim benefits as a ‘carer’ for looking after you. There are some potentially complex benefits issues here, so do get advice. An award can also increase your entitlement to means tested benefits (such as Income Support, Income-related ESA or Housing Benefit) or tax credits, but  far less so within UC. Do check this out, as many miss out on these useful increases. 

Please see Find out More About ... Help with the extra costs of daily living and getting around for more detail about these too often unclaimed - but very useful - extra benefits.

For individual benefits please contact your local Maggie's Centre or contact the Online Community's benefits advisor. 



Links and further reading:


Others Find out More Abouts...:


Other benefit blogs:


How to claim benefits mentioned (and official information)


Getting help and advice:

  • visit your local Maggie's Centre and talk with one of our Benefits Advisors. 
  • see if there is a Macmillan advice service near you here
  • find your local Citizens Advice office: in England & Wales - here. In Scotland - here

Updated April 2020

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