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. This section discusses some options for supplementing your income.
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.
Centrelink benefits may be income and asset tested or have other eligibility requirements. To check eligibility requirements and for information about how to apply, visit Services Australia or ask your social worker. You can claim payments online through myGov.
Visit Centrelink’s Payment and Service Finder to find out what payments you may be able to get.
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 Cancer Council 13 11 20 to see whether we can connect you with a lawyer for assistance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to access super early
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 Australian Taxation Office’s website, 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.
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.
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 find a lawyer in South Australia, visit The Law Society of South Australia or call them on (08) 8229 0200.
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.
This information is reviewed by
This information was last reviewed October 2021 by the following 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.