Pensions and cancer

What are the different types of pensions?

You may find it useful to think about your pension options when you have cancer. There are two main types of pensions:

  • State Pension
  • Private pension scheme.

State Pension

The State Pension is a regular payment you can get from the government when you reach a certain age.

The age you can get the State Pension depends on when you were born. It is slowly increasing in stages.

You can check your state pension age online, call the Future Pension Centre on 0800 731 0175, or use textphone 0800 731 0176.

If you retire early because of ill health, you will still have to wait until you reach State Pension age to claim your State Pension. Read more information at

Private pension

Private pensions, also called personal pensions, can be arranged by either:

  • your employer – these are called workplace pensions
  • you.

There are two types of private pension:

  • Defined contribution scheme — any pension you arrange yourself is a defined contribution scheme. This is where you build up an amount of money. If your employer has arranged the pension, they pay money in alongside your contributions.
  • Defined benefit scheme — workplace pensions can be either a defined contribution scheme or defined benefit scheme. A defined benefit scheme is where your employer promises to pay you an agreed amount when you retire. The amount you get is based on how long you have worked there. It is also based on your final salary, or your average salary from across your time at the workplace.

Can I get my pension early if I have cancer?

If you have or have had cancer, you may be able to retire and claim your money from a private pension early. This depends on the rules of your pension scheme.

There are different ways of accessing your pension. This depends on the type of pension you have and your illness.

Am I eligible for Pension Credit?

If you have a low income, you may be able to get extra support as well as your State Pension. This is called Pension Credit.

Pension Credit is a means-tested benefit. Means-tested means you can get extra support if your income or savings, or both, are below a certain level. The level depends on your situation. You may get more support if you are a carer or have a disability.

We have more information about Pension Credit and other benefits you may be able to get.

Can I pass on my pension?

It's a good idea to think about what will happen to your pension when you die, and who you want your pension to go to.

  • If you die before taking any of your pension — if you die before taking any of your pension, the people who you have chosen to get money from your pension after you die could get one or more lump sums. These people are called your beneficiaries.
  • If you die after starting to take your pension — after you die, money that you took as lump sums but did not spend becomes part of your estate. Your beneficiaries inherit it, but they may have to pay Inheritance Tax on it.

We have more information about passing on your pension.

Who can I talk to about cancer and pensions?

The Pensions Advisory Service and Citizens Advice give free guidance about pensions. If you are aged 50 or over, they can also refer you to a free government scheme called Pension Wise. This scheme can give you extra guidance and support.

Macmillan's financial guides

Our financial guidance team can give you free, independent guidance on all aspects of your personal finances. This includes pensions, mortgages, insurance, retirement, borrowing and savings.

Our financial guides all have experience of the financial services industry and their role is to help people affected by cancer understand their options after a cancer diagnosis.

You can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 and speak to our financial guides about any worries you may have.

Macmillan’s financial guides, The Pensions Advisory Service, Citizens Advice and Pension Wise are impartial. They do not recommend any products or companies, or tell you how to invest your money. They can discuss all your options so you can make an informed decision.

Financial advice

An independent, professional financial adviser is a specialist who is legally allowed to give you recommendations about buying financial products.

You could find a financial adviser by asking family or friends for a recommendation, or by visiting the following websites:

An independent financial adviser charges a fee for their service.

Always make sure the financial adviser is authorised. You can check they are on the Financial Services Register. Some financial advisers are linked to pension providers. Try to choose one who is independent.

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