Phil Bremner, a Macmillan Welfare and Benefits Adviser, started seeing clients in November 2013, providing specialist advice to people diagnosed with cancer, carers and their families. In five months, he has helped 143 people, claiming more than £421,000 in benefits and grants for them.
Among them is father-of-two Paul Bull, from Harrogate, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in January this year. As a self-employed printer, he struggled to make ends meet as cancer left him unable to work again.
When Paul, 40, was admitted to hospital, it was for exploratory surgery to discover the cause of abdominal pain. When a tumour on his bowel was found, Paul was told his life expectancy was three to six months, if chemotherapy doesn’t prove successful.
Paul was in Harrogate and District hospital for five weeks. His weight plummeted from 17-and-a-half stone to 12-and-a-half stone and he realised he would no longer be well enough to work again – which meant the end of his printing business. Worried about how he would provide for his family, partner Kirsty and children, nine-year-old Olivia and Emily, 10 months, Paul was introduced to Phil, the Macmillan Welfare and Benefits Adviser based at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust.
While Paul was in hospital, Phil was able to apply for benefit payments and also arrange a £300 Macmillan grant – a one-off payment which, in this case, was used by Paul to buy new clothes to fit his slimmer frame.
Paul said: I didn’t know I could claim for anything before I was introduced to Phil. Without his support, I would have really struggled to provide for my family and keep a roof over their heads. I can’t thank him enough for his support. He managed to cut through the red tape that seems to exist around benefits and sorted it all out for me by the time I was out of hospital.
Paul was eligible for two Government-led benefit streams – Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment. Phil was able to access these for him, enabling the family to receive approximately £240 a week. Paul is now set to marry Kirsty at a ceremony in Harrogate in May.
Phil said: When someone is diagnosed with cancer, finances aren’t necessarily the first thing they think about. However, there is a cost to cancer – people may stop working and face a loss of income, whilst having to deal with extra costs, such as household bills and travel costs to medical appointments. This role provides a one stop shop to ease these financial concerns. I work to find out what benefits a patient or carer might be entitled to but I’m also here to advise on ways people can save money too and make the most of their income.
Phil works Monday – Thursday at the Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust.
The welfare and benefits adviser role is funded by Macmillan Cancer Support.
Macmillan has launched a fundraising appeal to generate £108,000 – enough to cover the cost of the role for three years. Bucket collections will be taking place across the town on Saturday 12 April during Harrogate Takeover Day, a Macmillan fundraising event which will involve dozens of volunteers.
Alternatively, you can make a donation by texting HGTD99 to 70070, with the amount you wish to pledge, or by visiting www.justgiving.com/harrogatetakeoverday
Main photograph: Paul Bull and family