In debt with cancer: Is your bank listening?

Tracy Jameson

Tracy Jameson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year

Some cancer sufferers who phone the Macmillan support line want to talk about death, and the process of dying.

But for 25 times as many patients, it’s not their health they want to discuss.

It’s their finances.

Macmillan’s research shows that most cancer suffers are nearly £7,000 a year worse off because of the disease.

Many go overdrawn, or into debt. Some have even become homeless.

Banks meanwhile are being accused of doing very little to help such patients in their hour of need.

  • Insurers should do more to help cancer patients, says FCA

But now one of the UK’s biggest banks has decided to act. From Monday it will be offering some practical financial help.

‘First my brother, then my son, and now me’

Six years ago Sam Geddes’s brother Stephen was beaten up at a music festival. A subsequent scan located a cancerous tumour in his pituitary gland.

Sam, a single parent, gave up work to look after him.

Sam and Rudy GeddesImage copyrightMACMILLAN
Image captionSam Geddes’s son Rudy was five when he was diagnosed

A year later his five-year-old son Rudy was also diagnosed with a tumour.

During this time Sam built up over £6,000 worth of debt on his credit card, and an overdraft of £2,700.

After the initial shock of Stephen’s diagnosis, it was sometimes the money that troubled Sam most.

“At times the financial worries, especially when coming up to a crunch period, would be more overwhelming than the situation with my brother,” he says.

“It was more stressful, and created more anxiety.”

But while both Rudy and Stephen have recently been doing OK, Sam has been in hospital himself.

Doctors have located a tumour in his left testicle.

Loan holidays

Because of cases like Sam – who is one of its customers – Lloyds Banking Group has decided to offer particular support to cancer patients.

It already has what it calls its “Moments of Truth” team, which helps customers suffering from a bereavement or other personal issues.

Members of the team have now been trained by Macmillan Cancer Support to deal with cancer patients as well.

Halifax and Bank of Scotland signImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionCustomers of Halifax and Bank of Scotland can also access the service

By the end of the year there will be 100 such staff, based in call centres in Newport, Leeds and Dunfermline.

They have the power to refund charges and fees on current accounts, give budgetary help to customers, and organise repayment holidays on loans and mortgages.

Those banking with Halifax or Bank of Scotland are also eligible.

“We can give them a three-month holiday break on loan payments; mortgage payments similarly,” says Lee Jones, who runs the bank’s team in South Wales.

“In some cases we can elongate that to six or 12 months.”

Tracy Jameson (pictured top), who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2016, will be fronting a television advert for the service.

How to contact Lloyds cancer support team

  • Go into a branch and ask staff to contact the cancer support team
  • Call the team directly on 0800 015 0016 between 9am and 5pm on weekdays
  • Call Macmillan Support on 0808 808 0000 and ask them to refer you

‘Enormous impact’

In Sam Geddes’s case the team decided that he had been mis-sold a Lloyds Premier account.

They refunded him £4,200 in fees, as well as some £250 in overdraft charges.

“It has made an enormous impact,” says Sam.

“Had I been aware earlier that there was something like this, I think my journey would have been far less stressful, and less scaring as well.”

People walk past a branch of Lloyds BankImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe move by Lloyds follows an example set by the much smaller Nationwide Building Society two years ago

The move by Lloyds follows an example set by the much smaller Nationwide Building Society two years ago.

Since then it has dealt with nearly 2,000 cancer patients or their carers.

Many face extra expenses because of travelling to hospital, or having to give up work.

Like Lloyds, it can refund charges, and offer payment holidays.

“With cancer we are often looking at short-term measures, to try and get people through a particular period of treatment,” says Mandy Griffin, director of membership at Nationwide.

“It could be they’re having chemotherapy; it could be they are unable to work for a period; so a payment holiday is ideal in those circumstances.”

Top Tips

  • Make a list of income and outgoings to help you budget (see calculator at end of article)
  • If working ask your employer when your sick pay will end
  • If you are not well enough you can get a friend or partner to call the bank for you – as account holder you will have to authorise this with your bank first
  • Check your benefits entitlement (see links at end of article)
  • You may be eligible for grants, especially with energy and housing – Macmillan provides small grants to those with minimal savings

‘One in two’

While Macmillan has welcomed the move by Lloyds and Nationwide, it believes there has not been enough progress in the banking industry as a whole.

It is asking the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to impose a “duty of care” on the banks, to force them to do more.

“I’d like to see the whole banking sector take a look at the work we’re doing with Lloyds and Nationwide, and actually see the difference that it is making, day in and day out, to vulnerable customers,” says Dr Fran Woodard, an executive director at Macmillan.

So will other banks follow suit?

Sam Geddes
Image captionSam Geddes is now waiting for the results of his own scan

UK Finance, which represents the High Street banks, said its members were keen to respond to individuals’ circumstances and needs “sympathetically and positively”.

However, no other bank has announced plans for anything similar.

But given that Lloyds has some 25 million customers, it is a challenge that rivals may not want to ignore.

After all, one in two people born since 1960 are likely to get cancer at some time in their lives.

People like Sam Geddes, who is still waiting for the results of his scan.

“The pressing problem for me is the anxiety of not knowing which way it’s going to go,” he says.

“Testicular cancer or not testicular cancer?”

But his inclination is positive.

“I’m hoping it’s now my time to shine,” he says, smiling.