Message from Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager
Happy new year! We hope 2019 will be a terrific year for you. Here in the Pro Bono Program, we are looking at a 2019 characterised by sustained and effective support for cancer patients and their families and we will continue to work hard with each and every person to assist them to successfully navigate their legal, financial or workplace issues.
2018 was a year of change for the Pro Bono Program as we embraced new technology and worked hard to provide a more efficient service for cancer patients and their families. This year, we will look towards strengthening our effectiveness and working on projects that will improve and expand the program to provide better support to people affected by cancer when they need it most. With the help of our wonderful volunteer professionals, we look forward to assisting more people than ever in 2019. We have already started the year strong with a new cohort of 12 volunteers who provide invaluable support in the operation of the program.
In this edition, we hear from a couple of committed, passionate professionals who have volunteered their expertise to assist people through Cancer Council’s Legal Referral Service and Workplace Advisory Service for a number of years. We also delve into the world of insurance, reflecting on the vulnerable position of people affected by cancer and the difficulties they have navigating application forms and dispute resolution processes.
Thank you for your generous support and dedication towards supporting people affected by cancer. We look forward to working with you again in 2019.
Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager
Getting to know the Workplace Advisory Service with Lucy Wilson, Director of People & Culture at Leadbolt
Cancer patients and their families may face challenges in the workplace following a diagnosis and it is important they understand their workplace rights before, during and after treatment. The Cancer Council Workplace Advisory Service (WAS) was established to assist people affected by cancer navigate their workplace entitlements or returning to work after a diagnosis by connecting individuals with HR professionals. HR professionals generously provide advice around workplace rights such as leave entitlements, flexible working arrangements, and disclosing a cancer diagnosis to an employer, as well as assisting people to transition back into the workforce after a period off work for treatment or caring responsibilities.
Lucy Wilson, Director of People & Culture at Leadbolt, is a generous HR professional who has provided vital support and workplace information to people affected by cancer through the Cancer Council Workplace Advisory Service since 2014.
Lucy talks about the different types of assistance she has provided cancer patients and carers since joining the program:
“Sometimes it’s a relatively simple matter that just requires some solid planning together and talking about what is going to best support the individual through what may be a very stressful period for them – the last thing they should have to think about is work, but unfortunately this is sometimes not the case.
I have also worked with more serious matters where formal approaches to issues need to be taken, such as an employer potentially discriminating against a client or where they aren’t able to return to work and need help transitioning.”
Lucy reflected that from her experience communication is often the first thing to break down between an individual and their employer, particularly if they are on leave or need flexible adjustments, and that she is passionate about tackling this issue to give people affected by cancer increased confidence communicating with their employer moving forward.
“One thing I will say, is that I’ve worked for such kind organisations, that I’m often surprised with how others can turn on their people in times of need. Within reason, I think flexibility, kindness and support is key, so it’s great to get to fight for that on the other side of the table and see a positive outcome.”
We really appreciate the generosity of HR professionals such as Lucy who provide invaluable assistance and support to clients at a difficult and vulnerable time in their lives.
If your organisation has an HR team who would like to volunteer in the Cancer Council Workplace Advisory Service, we would love to get them involved! Please contact us at email@example.com for further information.
*The Workplace Advisory Service is not currently available in South Australia
The challenges of insurance and cancer
Navigating the world of insurance claims is difficult at the best of times, and this can become significantly more challenging for someone whose health, wellbeing and financial situation has been impacted by a cancer diagnosis.
In 2018, the Pro Bono Program connected people affected by cancer with professionals for assistance with 817 matters involving insurance and superannuation disputes, and for financial planning advice around access to superannuation and insurance. This makes up over 45% of the matters we provided clients assistance with in 2018.
From our experience, people who are affected by cancer can face significant challenges when making a claim to access their insurance. Some of these challenges include being advised against making a claim, incorrectly completing application forms, meeting onerous requirements for supporting medical information, receiving limited information about adverse claim decisions, and not being able to take steps to resolve disputes due to lack of information or medical or financial constraints.
The following case studies highlight just some of these challenges, as well as the importance of accessing professional legal and financial advice.
Samuel was diagnosed with glioblastoma and given a limited prognosis of around 6 – 12 months. We referred him to a financial planner for assistance accessing insurance attached to his superannuation. Samuel was initially informed by his superannuation fund that he had no insurance in force and therefore was not entitled to make any claim. The financial planner conducted research and felt that despite the circumstances, a retrospective claim on Samuel’s insurance could be pursued as Samuel had a brain tumour at the time the insurance was previously in force. The financial planner advocated on Samuel’s behalf with the insurer, and assisted Samuel to access his total and permanent disability insurance.
Julie had private health insurance. Just before she took out the insurance, she had a mammogram, which was totally clear. 6 months after taking out the insurance, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The insurer wouldn’t pay for her private treatment – they said that it was a pre-existing condition on the basis that because various family members had breast cancer Julie ‘knew or ought to have known’ that she too would likely be diagnosed. A lawyer on our panel challenged the decision, and the insurer met the full cost of her treatment.
We referred Sarah to a financial planner for help accessing the insurance attached to her superannuation, after being diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. We learned that the paperwork was extremely difficult for Sarah to complete, and she was provided with incorrect paperwork from the insurer on multiple occasions. After accepting the claims, the insurer agreed to pay out a lesser amount than Sarah was entitled to under the policy. The financial planner ensured that Sarah did not accept this underpayment and that she received the full amount of insurance she was entitled to under the policy.
*Names have been changed
Catching up with Nathan Kennedy, Special Counsel and Director of Pro Bono and Community at Hall & Wilcox
Hall & Wilcox provide vital legal support to people affected by cancer across Australia through their involvement in the Cancer Council Pro Bono Program. Since joining the program in late 2017, they have assisted 23 people on a free basis with a range of legal matters.
We spoke with Nathan Kennedy, Director of Pro Bono and Community at Hall & Wilcox, about his experience with the program.
How does Hall & Wilcox’s involvement in the Pro Bono Program fit into the firm’s wider pro bono practice?
Referrals from the Pro Bono Program form a substantial part of the firm’s pro bono practice. They provide our lawyers with a wide range of legal work in areas such as debt, employment, wills and estates and superannuation to name a few. It allows our lawyers to use their expertise to help individuals during a very difficult time in their lives and this is something that our lawyers are not normally exposed to in their day to day commercial practice.
Why do you think providing pro bono legal assistance to people affected by cancer is important?
A primary motivation for Hall & Wilcox’s involvement with pro bono work is to uphold the rule of law by providing access to justice to people who would otherwise be unable to do so. Often people are unable to access the legal system due to financial reasons but illness and disability can also prevent people being able to properly obtain the legal assistance they require.
A diagnosis of cancer can be devastating for a person both mentally and physically and can lead to financial pressures and affect them in other ways meaning that their ability to obtain the legal assistance they require during such a difficult time is limited. It is therefore extremely important that a service such as the one offered by the Cancer Council exists and that firms such as Hall & Wilcox are able to provide the legal assistance that the clients need. By providing legal assistance the client can focus on healing and not have to worry about stressful legal issues.
Talking about the highlights of the firm’s involvement in the program, Nathan explained…
It is a profound and privileged experience for our lawyers to assist those clients whose diagnosis is terminal. This usually involves taking instructions at the hospital assisting the clients to put their affairs in order before they die. It gives the client some peace in their final days to know that their wishes for their family are in order and allows them and their family to focus on their remaining time together.
Any of us, our friends or family can be diagnosed with cancer. The importance of the assistance we provide to the Cancer Council can be summed up by the following feedback from one of our lawyers:
“It is very rewarding to be able to provide some assistance to those struck by cancer and help them through such an extremely difficult time, in similar situations to which many of us have experienced more closely in our own circle of loved ones.”
We really appreciate the support of Nathan and the incredibly generous assistance that Hall & Wilcox provide to people affected by cancer.
Did you know?
The Pro Bono Program has a new referral form! Our referral form has been streamlined to contain all necessary information we need to best assist our clients. If you have not received a copy of our new referral form, please contact the program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pro Bono in the news
Australians in dark about what income protection covers. The Sydney Morning Herald (January 2018).
Could a designer’s mindset bridge the justice gap? LawyersWeekly (August 2018)
A law student’s guide to pro bono. LawCareers.Net (October 2018).