A benefits advice service, developed in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, has helped people with cancer in the Borders access over £11m in benefits since its launch seven years ago.

The Borders Macmillan Welfare Benefits Partnership has helped over 3,980 clients access benefits and other entitlements worth £10,997,000 since opening in August 2009.

The partnership, which aims to relieve some of the financial pressures on those affected by cancer, consists of Scottish Borders Council’s (SBC) Welfare Benefits Service, Macmillan Cancer Support, NHS Borders and the Department of Work and Pensions. It has recently been joined by four local housing associations; Eildon Housing Association, Berwickshire Housing Association, Scottish Borders Housing Association and Waverley Housing.

The service has a team of trained advisers who help people affected by cancer to claim benefits or allowances they are entitled to, represent them at social security tribunals and help them access services such as occupational therapy and home energy advice.

David Stewart, 63, from Galashiels visited the service after he was diagnosed with metastatic colorectal cancer in September last year.

He was put in touch with the benefits team by Borders General Hospital staff after being told that he no longer qualified for employment support allowance (ESA). David was visited by a Macmillan Cancer Support Welfare Benefits Assistant who helped him with his application form.

 “A benefits adviser came down to visit me at the centre when I was having chemotherapy. She looked at my prognosis and said there was no reason for the ESA to stop,” he says. “She was there for me when I needed it most.”

Through the Benefits team, David was given a Macmillan Grant of £400 to help with additional costs associated with cancer. They also helped him claim the appropriate level of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and extra ESA as well as supporting his wife, Maritta, to claim Carers Allowance so she could look after him full time.

David said that before he received help with his benefits from Macmillan, he and his wife struggled with day-to-day living costs such as food and heating.

“Since the money has come through life has been a lot more comfortable and less stressful. It’s one less thing to worry about.”

Councillor Frances Renton, SBC’s Executive Member for Social Work and Housing, said: “When someone is going through the life-changing experience of a cancer diagnosis with all the difficulties that this brings, the last thing they need is to have the added stress of financial worries. The support that this service provides is absolutely vital and it is deeply encouraging to hear just how many people have been helped over the past seven years.”

Nisreen Badiozzaman, Macmillan Development Manager for South and East Scotland said: “The benefits system is extremely complex and often cancer patients don’t realise they are eligible for financial assistance. This service is making life more tolerable for cancer patients, their families and their carers by helping them claim the welfare benefits they are entitled to.

 “It has made a huge impact to people's lives across the Borders and its success has been possible due to the hard work and dedication of all of the partners involved.”

Judith Smith, Macmillan Cancer Nurse Consultant for NHS Borders, added: “Our cancer information support service in the Borders Cancer Centre provides patient information on a range of topics, including welfare. Often patients are already going through a difficult and upsetting time; having easy access to the benefits team within the centre can truly help them concentrate on their health and wellbeing and their treatment.”

The four local housing associations were keen to join the Partnership to enable them to provide a more informed and inclusive service for any of their tenants affected by cancer. In a joint statement, Eildon Housing Association, Berwickshire Housing Association, Scottish Borders Housing Association and Waverley Housing said: “Since joining the Partnership, our staff have undergone cancer awareness training which has given them a much greater understanding of the issues that people affected by cancer might be going through.

“We now have an agreement in place where we are able to work in conjunction with the Macmillan Welfare Benefits Officer to support our tenants, both within the hospital environment and in the comfort of their own homes. This support and guidance takes into account the effects that their cancer experience might be having, not just on their tenancy but on their lives in general.”

If you want to know more about the partnership or you think we can help you or someone you know, please contact the Welfare Benefits Service on 01896 661394 or at:  wbs@scotborders.gsx.gov.uk You can also visit the Borders Macmillan Centre at the Borders General Hospital.