If you're having difficulty paying your debts, you may want to consider ways to add to your income.
There are a number of Centrelink payments that may be available to people with cancer and their carers, including:
- Sickness Allowance
- Disability Support Pension
- Newstart Allowance
- Carer Payment and Carer Allowance
- Bereavement Payment and Bereavement Allowance.
You may also be eligible for the Pensioner Concession Card or the Health Care Card, which can reduce your expenses. To check eligibility requirements, visit humanservices.gov.au.
No interest loans
No Interest Loan Schemes (NILS) are for people on a low income who are unable to qualify for other affordable finance and who need a household item to improve their health or wellbeing. The loan is typically between $300 and $1200, and might be used for 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 Microfinance at nils.com.au/find, or call 13 64 57.
In Australia, you usually need to be at least 55 years old and retired before you can access your superannuation (super). However, you can access some or all of your super early in particular circumstances, such as to pay for medical treatment or due to severe financial hardship.
Aged 65 or over, or aged 55-64 and retired
Once you have reached the preservation age, you can access your super as a lump sum or as 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 certain 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 selling your house to pay off the debt (foreclosure)
- have to make home modifications 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 you cannot pay your living expenses.
How to access super early
To access your superannuation early, you need to apply to the Australian Taxation Office or directly to your super fund, depending on why you are applying. There are also tax issues to consider. To find out more, visit ato.gov.au. You can also read our Superannuation and cancer fact sheet.
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 (see below). The premiums for this 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.
Before you decide to access your super early, find out whether doing so would affect your insurance entitlements. 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. If someone has already withdrawn all their super, they may no longer be covered by life insurance and might not be able to make a claim.
To find out more about accessing super on compassionate grounds, talk to your super fund or to a financial planner.
It's important to make insurance claims as soon as possible because there may be time limits that apply to making a claim. Review all of your insurance policies, including income protection, private health, travel, trauma, consumer credit, total and permanent disability (TPD), mortgage and life insurance.
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 Cancer Council 13 11 20 to see whether we can connect you with a lawyer for assistance.
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 as long as 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 combination
- income protection insurance - usually paid as an income stream for a certain time.
For more details, contact your superannuation fund.
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 meet expenses or repay debts. It's a good idea to speak to a financial planner about which assets to try 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.
Planning for the future
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may wish to consider your wishes for your future care. This is called advance care planning, and it can be started at any stage, whether you are healthy or ill.
Advance care planning mainly relates to your future medical care, but it can also involve appointing a trusted person to make financial and legal decisions for you if you're unable to make them yourself at some point in the future.
The document for appointing this substitute decision-maker may be called a power of attorney, enduring power of attorney or advance care directive.
For more information, talk to a social worker, call Advance Care Planning Australia on 1300 208 582, or visit advancecareplanning.org.au.
Compensation for work-related cancer
Workers compensation provides protection to workers and their employers in the event of a work-related injury or illness. In Australia, about 5000 people are diagnosed with work-related cancers each year, which is about 6.5% of all new cancers diagnosed. 2
Work-related cancers can result from exposure to:
- sunlight (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).
If you think your work has substantially contributed to your cancer diagnosis, 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 find a lawyer, contact the Law Society in your state or territory.
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.
See our Compensation and work-related cancers fact sheet (not available in all states).
Expert content reviewers:
Keith Manchester, Senior Legal Counsel, Financial Services Legal, AMP, NSW; Alka Bisen, Financial Counsellor and Project Coordinator – Financial Assistance Services, Cancer Council NSW; Patricia Dunn, Consumer; Emily Gibson, Social Worker, Mater Hospital Brisbane, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Michelle Ruchin, Social Worker, Cancer Council SA; Robert Simon, Technical Services Manager, Tapln and Technical Strategy, AMP Advice, NSW; Krystyna Wisniewski, Consumer.
2. L Fritschi, Occupational Cancer in Australia, Australian Safety and Compensation Council, Canberra, 2006.