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Charity calls for change in law to ensure banks better support vulnerable customers

  • Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on the Government to change the law to ensure banks do more to ‘play their part’ as the financial crisis for cancer patients grows.
  • The charity reveals it has given out over £50 million in the last five years to keep cancer patients financially afloat

Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on the Government to change the law so that banks and building societies have a legal obligation to act in the best interests of their customers; particularly those who are vulnerable, such as cancer patients.

Macmillan has seen a rise in the number of financial grants it has given out to cancer patients over the last five years and says a “financial storm” of inflation, rising housing costs and welfare reform could have exacerbated people’s financial difficulties during this time, forcing them to turn to charities for support.

With this growing need for financial support, the charity says the banking sector can play a unique role to ensure that cancer patients do not miss out on vital support which could prevent people from falling into financial difficulty.

With the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill currently going through parliament, Macmillan is urging the Government to change the law so that banks and financial service providers have a legal duty of care to their customers.

This could see banks fulfilling a legal duty to act in a customer’s best interests by providing specialised and tailored support including flexibility around products such as mortgages, credit cards and loans, to help manage the financial impact of their diagnosis better.

While there has been progress in the sector, there’s still a lack of consistency in the support available to people from their banks. 

Despite there being pockets of good practice, such as Macmillan’s partnership activity with Lloyds Banking Group and Nationwide, the charity’s research reveals that just 1 in 9 (11%) people with cancer actually tell their bank about their diagnosis; this is because they didn’t think their bank would be able to help them, or because they were worried about the consequences of telling their bank. In addition, a quarter of people who did tell their bank about their cancer were dissatisfied with the help they received.

The charity believes that this change in the law would encourage people to seek help from their bank earlier before they reach crisis point, knowing that they have a legal duty to act in their best interests. It would also give clarity to the banking sector on what support they need to provide to help people manage the financial impact of cancer.

Everyone has a part to play in making sure the financial shock of cancer doesn’t turn into a crisis.

For the majority of patients (83%), having cancer costs an average of £570 per month. This is a result of lost income – if people are too ill to work – and increased expenses such as petrol if people need to travel to hospital and higher household bills because cancer patients often feel the cold more during treatment.

The number of Macmillan grants given out to patients for clothing, heating and other vital items has risen sharply over the last five years, with the charity providing more than £50m to help keep cancer patients from financial meltdown.

Between 2012 and 2016 the charity provided:

  • More than £50 million in financial grants to 150,000 cancer patients
  • Almost £13 million to clothe cancer patients who often experience weight loss or gain during cancer treatment
  • Around £14.5 million to help cancer patients to pay their fuel bills

These grants provide a vital lifeline. By 2020 almost half of the population will have a cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes leaving more and more people in financial desperate situations. There is an urgency to tackle this now before it’s too late.

Every sector has a role to play in helping to mitigate the financial burden of cancer. Macmillan is grateful for its partnership activity with businesses such as Nationwide and npower, but the need is growing.

Christine Cairns, 60, from Falmouth, Cornwall was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer in 2009.

“I felt I had an extra battle on top of my cancer. I didn’t need that additional stress when my focus should’ve been on my recovery.  As an older single mother, I certainly didn’t have the capacity to be saving and the impact on my finances was immediate and devastating; my good credit record was broken and I felt like I was not being listened to.

‘I was fortunate in some ways as I had a non-aggressive cancer and I knew that I’d be able to get back to work and function again but instead the knock-on effect led me into a downward spiral.    If my bank had offered me a conversation, it would have taken a huge pressure off me.  The support you need doesn’t just finish when treatment is over.”

Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support said:

“The sheer number of cancer patients turning to Macmillan for financial support shows just how many are struggling to keep financially afloat. When their income plummets and their outgoings rocket, people living with cancer can be left grappling with how to make ends meet. A financial storm of economic uncertainty and changes to benefits are likely to have heightened these fears.

“Macmillan will always support people with cancer, but we can’t keep plugging these growing gaps on our own. Everyone has their part to play. Banks can help us tackle the problem by offering cancer patients early and tailored support.

“We know progress has been made but we think a change in the law will provide more consistent support to financially vulnerable cancer patients to prevent their finances spiralling out of control.”

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