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‘You want someone to be able to focus on their life’

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Macmillan Cancer Support’s Energy Advice Team assists people living with cancer who face an increase in their energy bills. Claire Read reports

It has been a busy day on the ward and the last thing you needed to see when you returned home was a large electricity bill waiting for you. You vaguely register the part about a cheaper tariff potentially being available but, honestly, who has got the energy to look into alternative suppliers? You certainly don’t.

‘You want someone to be able to focus on their life’

‘You want someone to be able to focus on their life’

Alison Rooks said there is always something the team can do to help

So imagine what it’s like for a patient with a serious diagnosis. Will they be able to muster up the enthusiasm to look at different tariffs? Unlikely. Yet, if you’re living with an illness like cancer, it is likely you are going to need a reliable energy supply more than ever. Nearly one in three people diagnosed with the condition say  that they feel the cold more and, since treatments might mean more time spent at home, energy bills can rapidly escalate.

Consider that going through cancer treatment can mean time off work and therefore a reduced income, and it quickly becomes clear how those living with cancer can find themselves falling behind on energy bills – and possibly even having their gas or electricity cut off.

So the person you cared for on the ward following surgery, or saw in accident and emergency because of treatment side effects, might be in danger of leaving hospital and returning to final warnings on unpaid bills, or to a cold home.

It’s why Macmillan Cancer Support has an Energy Advice Team to help people living with cancer who are struggling with debt on utility bills. The eight-strong team of advisors is led by Alison Rooks, who says there is always something they can do to help – and urges nurses to point patients in their direction.

The team is supported by npower, which also runs npower’s Macmillan Fund for their vulnerable customers living with cancer. “It’s a really good scheme,” explained Ms Rooks. “They will cap the bills of people who are going through treatment for cancer, and then write off debt.”

The support through Macmillan’s Energy Advice Team and npower’s Macmillan Fund has unlocked over £10.5m in funding so far, helping those affected by cancer to keep warm without worrying about their energy bills.

But the team helps customers of any energy supplier and, increasingly, water suppliers too. “Water companies have priority service registers, which energy companies do too,” explained Ms Rooks.

“If you’re a vulnerable household you should be on that priority service register,” she said adding that those on the register are entitled to extra support.

She continued: “They also have what they call social tariffs, so that’s special tariffs for anyone on low income. Most people have no idea about it. But as a matter of course, when we’re advising someone on their energy, we’ll ask them who their water supplier is, and then signpost them to the support they can get from the water company.”

She said guidance on what to consider when switching providers or tariffs is also a common topic of conversation. “It’s surprising how many people are still stuck on the most expensive tariffs,” she explained. “Even if someone doesn’t want to switch suppliers, we can ask whether they have spoken to their own supplier about whether they’re on the best possible tariff,” she said.

In August alone, the team spoke to 277 people to offer advice. The numbers understandably tend to go up as the mercury goes down. 

Behind the statistics are individual people who are struggling, and who Ms Rooks said can be enormously helped by energy and financial advice.

“We had one chap who phoned us because npower had suggested he did, but I don’t think he was really expecting anything,” she noted.

“He spoke to our welfare rights team, and got attendance allowance [a benefit which helps pay for personal care needs] and some extra pension credit; he spoke to our financial guidance team and they helped him with estate planning and wills; and then he got onto our npower scheme and he saved money on his energy bills.

“He did have quite a bad prognosis, so you want somebody to be able to focus on life rather than worry about money,” she said. A sentiment which any nurse would surely share.

If your patients living with cancer need support with their energy bills, the Keep Warm Without the Worry page on the Macmillan Cancer Support website contains a range of useful information – see macmillan.org.uk/keepwarm. The Macmillan Support Line is on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm).

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