Call for cancers to be ‘forgotten’ when seeking financial services

Almost quarter affected by cancer denied quote for likes of mortgage insurance

People affected by cancer face being refused insurance, mortgage protection cover and other financial products because of their medical history, according to research from the Irish Cancer Society (ICS).

A past cancer diagnosis can cause difficulty for some people trying to accessing financial products and services, even if they were diagnosed years before as a child, the charity says.

Nearly a quarter of people affected by cancer, or who had a partner affected, said they could not get a quote for a range of financial products and services due to a diagnosis at some point in their lives, according to the survey carried out by Core Research for the ICS. Almost half felt that insurers were difficult to deal with.

People affected by cancer were over three times more likely to have difficulty purchasing insurance than the general population, and over twice as likely to experience problems in getting a mortgage.

They were also less likely to feel that insurance was granted fairly in Ireland, or that they had been treated fairly by insurers, compared to the general public.

A previous cancer diagnosis was also considered an obstacle when applying for credit from financial institutions.

‘Financial penalties’

In response to the survey findings, the society called for implementation of a "right to be forgotten" after cancer. France, Portugal and the Benelux countries have already introduced such a measure, it pointed out.

This would mean people who had finished cancer treatment would no longer have to declare their cancer diagnosis when seeking access to financial products or services five years after they had recovered.

"Our research underscores what cancer patients have been experiencing for decades – financial penalties associated with having survived cancer are all too common," said ICS director of advocacy Rachel Morrogh.

Cork schoolteacher Kate O’Callaghan said she had a challenging time getting a mortgage for her first home in 2020 after she was initially refused mandatory mortgage protection cover because of a previous diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma, from which she recovered in 2018.

“Everything was there in principle but I couldn’t get mortgage protection, and you can’t get a mortgage without it. It was such a stressful process, and while I got a mortgage in the end it was only because I happened to have both salary protection and death-in-service benefit as I work in the public sector,” she said.

“If I didn’t have those things I don’t know what would have happened.”

Punished for diagnosis

People affected by cancer feel that they are being punished for their past diagnosis, and are left feeling demoralised by the process, according to Ms Morrogh.

“This is the case not just for adult survivors of cancer but for childhood cancer survivors too, who can find that their disease follows them well into adulthood as they try to move on with their lives and do normal things like get a mortgage, or buy travel or life insurance.

“As more and more people survive cancer in Ireland, the regulatory environment needs to catch up with this reality.”

In response, Insurance Ireland, the representative body for insurance companies, said: “Data on a prior cancer diagnosis is necessary to properly understand the risk of a future claim arising under the policy – and therefore the premium and benefits.”

It said: “Cover may be declined if the applicant poses a risk beyond the insurer’s threshold.

“However, for cancer survivors seeking a mortgage here in Ireland, there is also one important difference to France, Portugal and the Benelux countries – section 126 of the Consumer Credit Act 1995 provides that where obtaining life cover for a mortgage proves difficult, or at an unreasonable cost, there is an exemption available from that requirement.”