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Cancer and your finances


Finding other income


If you’re having difficulty paying your living expenses, you may want to look at ways you can add to your income. This can help reduce the pressure and stress of having to cut your expenses.

If you’re unable to pay your debts and cannot come to suitable payment arrangements with your creditors, you might apply to become bankrupt.

Ways to add to your income

Centrelink benefits

The Australian Government provides a range of payments through Centrelink that may be available to people with cancer and their carers. These include:

  • Age Pension
  • Carer Payment and Carer Allowance
  • Disability Support Pension
  • JobSeeker Payment
  • Rent Assistance
  • Bereavement Payment.

You may also be eligible for the Pensioner Concession Card or the Health Care Card, which can help reduce your medical and other expenses.

To check eligibility requirements, find out what payments you may be able to get and for information about how to apply, visit Services Australia or ask your social worker. You can claim payments online through myGov.

Insurance claims

Review all your insurance policies to see if they cover your situation. This may include income protection, private health, travel, trauma, consumer credit, total and permanent disability (TPD), mortgage and life insurance. It’s important to make insurance claims as soon as possible because time limits may apply. Check whether you have any insurance attached to your superannuation or provided by your employer.

If you are thinking of resigning from your job, check your insurance coverage first, because leaving work may affect your entitlements. If you are not sure whether you are covered, contact the insurer. If you think you should be covered but your claim is denied, get in touch with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority. You can also call us on 13 11 20 to see whether we can connect you with a lawyer for assistance.

No interest loans

No Interest Loan Schemes (NILS) are for people on a low income who don’t qualify for other affordable credit and who need a household item to improve their health or wellbeing. You can borrow up to $1500 to buy whitegoods, furniture, medical appliances or other essential items. Generally you must be able to repay the loan over 12–18 months.

NILS are provided by a number of charitable organisations. To find your nearest NILS provider, visit Good Shepherd. 

Property and other assets

You may be able to sell an asset, such as a house, car or investments, to give you more cash to cover expenses or repay debts. It’s a good idea to speak to a financial adviser about which assets to keep and which to sell or convert into cash. If you are considering selling an asset, such as property or shares, or cashing in superannuation or other similar policies, make sure you get advice that explains any tax issues and maximises your return.

If a lender has a court order allowing them to sell your property to recover a debt, ask them in writing to postpone enforcement of the order so that you can sell your asset privately. You will probably get a better price if you arrange the sale yourself or through an agent.

Workers compensation

In Australia, an estimated 5000 people are diagnosed with work-related cancers each year. Work-related cancers can be caused by:

  • ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun (e.g. labourers, wharf workers, postal service workers)
  • toxic dusts and chemicals, including asbestos, diesel exhaust, heavy metals, solvents and pesticides (e.g. construction workers, painters, armed services personnel, forestry workers)
  • ionising radiation (e.g. miners, nuclear energy workers).

Workers compensation covers workers and their employers in the event of a work-related injury or illness. If you have been diagnosed with a work-related cancer, you may be entitled to workers compensation. This could include weekly payments, a lump sum and/or payment of medical bills. If a person dies because of a work-related cancer, their dependants may be able to claim a lump sum amount.

It’s important to obtain legal advice from a lawyer who specialises in workers compensation matters. To make a claim, notify your state or territory workers compensation authority about your cancer and why you think it is work-related. A time limit may apply for making a claim. 

 

Superannuation

In Australia, you usually need to be at least 55 years old and retired before you can access your superannuation (super). You can, however, access your super early in particular circumstances, such as to pay for medical treatment or due to severe financial hardship. 

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Accessing your super

To access your superannuation early, you need to apply to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) or directly to your super fund, depending on why you are applying. There are also tax issues to consider.

To find out more, visit the ATO, contact your super fund or talk to a financial counsellor. If you’re not sure where all your superannuation is held, call the ATO’s super search line on 13 28 65 to find any lost or unclaimed superannuation.

Eligibility by age

Aged 65 or over, or aged 55–64 and retired – once you have reached the minimum age set by law (your preservation age), you can access your super as a lump sum or an income stream.

Aged 55–64 and still working – once you have reached your preservation age, you can access your super as an income stream to top up your salary, but you cannot access it as a lump sum. You can receive a maximum of 10% of your super account balance each year as a 'transition to retirement' income stream. When you are under age 60, tax may apply to the income payments. 

Aged under 55 – you can access your super early only in some circumstances, including if you:

  • need the money to pay for medical treatment, or transport to and from medical treatment for yourself or a dependant
  • need the money for home loan repayments to prevent the bank from selling your house to pay off the debt (foreclosure)
  • have to make changes to your home for your disability
  • need to pay palliative care, funeral, burial or cremation costs
  • have a terminal illness with a life expectancy of two years or less
  • are unable to ever return to work (permanent incapacity)
  • have been receiving a Centrelink payment for 26 weeks continuously and cannot pay your living expenses.

Insurance through super

People often don’t realise that they may have insurance attached to their super. Many industry super funds, as well as some retail funds, offer insurance by default. In many cases, you will be covered if you did not choose to 'opt out'. Types of insurance offered through super funds include:

  • life insurance (may be called death cover) – paid as a lump sum or an income stream (to nominated beneficiaries) or a combination. Some policies will pay the insured amount if you are diagnosed with a terminal medical condition
  • total and permanent disability (TPD) insurance – paid as a lump sum or an income stream or a combination
  • income protection insurance – usually paid as an income stream for a specified time.

For more details, contact your superannuation fund.

Super, insurance and terminal illness

People accessing super early because of a terminal illness might also be able to claim on their super’s life insurance. Before you decide to access your super early, find out whether doing so would affect your insurance entitlements.

Premiums for life insurance are often deducted directly from the super’s lump sum (preserved amount). If you withdraw all your super, you will no longer be up to date with the insurance premiums, so your insurance cover may be cancelled and you might not be able to make a claim. You may be able to leave some of your super in the fund so the insurance premiums continue to be paid.

You also need to check the qualifying time frame – superannuation law allows people to withdraw all their super if their life expectancy is two years or less, but many life insurance policies allow payouts only when life expectancy is one year or less. To find out more, talk to your super fund or to a financial adviser.

Bankruptcy

If you’re unable to pay your debts and cannot come to suitable payment arrangements with your creditors, you might apply to become bankrupt. Bankruptcy is a legal process that releases you from most debts, relieves you from the stress of dealing with debt collectors and lets you start over. Applying for bankruptcy can have serious long-term consequences and may affect your ability to borrow money in the future.

It's important to get advice from a qualified financial counsellor or bankruptcy lawyer. They will explore whether you have any other options and explain what it means to be bankrupt. For more information and to apply for bankruptcy, visit the Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA).

What happens if I become bankrupt?

Bankruptcy generally lasts for three years. When you become bankrupt a trustee is appointed to control most of your financial affairs. The trustee informs creditors of your bankruptcy and they will have to deal with your trustee instead of you to have their debts repaid.

To pay your creditors, the trustee will:

  • sell your assets, which may include your home (you will be able to keep some household goods and personal items)
  • take some of your income once you are earning over a certain amount
  • investigate your financial affairs
  • recover property or money that you have transferred to someone else for less than market value.

Financial Counselling Program

Cancer and Your Finances

Download our Cancer and Your Finances booklet to learn more and find support

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Expert content reviewers:

Rania Tannous, Head of Legal, Corporate, Legal and Governance, AMP; Patricia Troll, Senior Legal Counsel, AMP Financial Services Legal, Legal and Governance, AMP; Lynette Brailey, Program Coordinator, Financial Assistance Service, Cancer Council NSW; Stephen Bray, Financial Planner, FM Financial, TAS; Angela Daly, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Services, The Adem Crosby Centre, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Sandra Hodge, Consumer; Sandi Johnson, Consumer; Antony Mitchell, Financial Counsellor, Financial Counselling Program, Cancer Council VIC; Lucy Pollerd, Social Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Heather Richards, Consumer; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA. 

Page last updated:

The information on this webpage was adapted from Cancer and Your Finances - A guide for people with cancer, their families and friends (2021 edition). This webpage was last updated in June 2022.

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