Cancer patients hit by additional fears over home fuel costs

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ABOUT 27,000 cancer patients in the UK are thought to be behind with their energy bills, together owing as much as £2.8m.

Macmillan Cancer Support made the collective estimate after finding that one person in 20 who had been diagnosed with cancer in the last two years was in debt to their fuel provider.

Three cancer patients in 10 said they had been forced to turn off the heating in the last three months to reduce fuel bills, while another third had put on coats or other outdoor clothing indoors to try to keep warm.

Of those who said they were behind with their payments, almost a quarter (23 per cent) owed more than £200, while almost one in four owed £50-£100.

The charity said its research suggests that people with cancer are more than twice as likely to end up behind with their fuel payments than the population generally.

It cited Gail, from London, who said she fell into “a financial nightmare of debt” after becoming ill and having to give up her job.

She told the charity: “I’m still struggling to pay off my fuel bills from last year.

“It means a cold home because I can’t afford the heating, wrapping up in extra layers of clothes and worrying about my sons getting ill as a result. At one point I couldn’t sleep for four nights worrying about it all.”

The findings came as households are braced to see energy bills soar over the winter following a string of price increases.

The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group (FPAG) recently estimated that about 300,000 more homes were likely to have been pushed into fuel poverty by Christmas, meaning they are spending more than 10 per cent of their incomes on keeping their homes warm.

It said that recent energy price rises have increased the average annual energy bill by 7 per cent, taking it to £1,247 for direct debit customers and £1,336 for cash and cheque customers.

Macmillan Cancer Support policy and research director Mike Hobday said: “Cancer patients simply cannot afford to meet rising fuel prices at a time when many suffer a loss of income - it is appalling that they are being punished for their condition. It’s high time we put a stop to cancer patients suffering in fuel poverty.”

More than 2,000 people living with cancer were questioned.