Critical illness cover

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What is critical illness cover?

Critical illness cover is a type of life insurance policy that offers protection in the event of a serious illness or injury.
If you’re diagnosed with an illness that your policy covers, you’ll usually receive a tax-free, one-off payment. This will help to support the change to your life and ease the financial concerns that may come from it. It may be as simple as paying off your mortgage, covering any loss of earnings, or perhaps making necessary adjustments to your home. If you have dependants at home, the money from your policy will lighten the financial burden placed on your family. 
There are two types of critical illness cover:  

  • Additional-cover policies. If you buy this type of policy with level term or decreasing term life insurance, it could pay out if you’re diagnosed with a critical illness and if you die at a later date.
  • Combined-cover policies are bought with life insurance, but they only pay out once. They pay 100% of your chosen cover amount upon diagnosis of a critical illness or at death (not both).

How does critical illness cover work?

As long as you keep up with the payments on your premiums (this can be monthly or annually), then you’ll be covered if you’re injured or diagnosed with an illness that’s specified on your policy. Once you’re diagnosed, you’ll normally receive a one-time, tax-free payment that you can use to either replace the income you’ve lost from being off work, to pay for medical bills, or to make necessary changes to your home. 
Make sure you check your policy wording carefully, as there may be a deferred period, which means that you won’t receive your payout immediately on diagnosis. You may need to wait for an agreed period, before you can make your claim. 

What does critical illness insurance cover?

Exactly what’s covered by critical illness insurance will depend on the specific details of the life insurance that you take out. 

Critical illness varies slightly between providers, and the severity of the condition can affect whether you’re covered, but conditions may include: 

  • Heart attacks 
  • Strokes 
  • Non-terminal cancer 
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) 
  • Parkinson’s 
  • Organ transplants 
  • Severe head injuries 

Critical illness insurance can also cover you if you’ve suffered a physical disability following an injury, such as after a serious accident at work.

What isn’t covered by critical illness insurance?

It’s important to know that critical illness and terminal illness are classed differently by insurance providers. Terminal illnesses (defined as a life-expectancy of less than 12 months) are excluded from critical illness cover, so you should consider taking out life insurance instead, if that’s important to you. 

Please be careful to check exactly what you’ll be covered for when agreeing your policy. 

Do you need critical illness cover?

While the government does offer benefits for sick pay, these are only normally up to £96.35 a week. This may be too low to replace your income, or help you adapt to your new circumstances. That’s where critical illness cover comes in. If you don’t have enough in your savings to cover an extended period of illness or disability, a critical illness policy could be right for you.

Ultimately, getting cover is your choice. If you do choose to insure yourself, it’s important that you find the policy that’s right for you, and that you are fully aware of what you’ll be covered for. There’s also income protection insurance available, so it’s worth considering all of your options, but general income protection insurance is likely to be more expensive than critical illness insurance.

How much does critical illness cover cost? 

Age is one of the most significant factors in the cost of your critical illness cover. We’ve put together this useful table to show you how it can make your cover more expensive: 

Average costs of life insurance based on age^^^

Age  With critical illness cover  Without critical illness cover  Difference 
20-24  £40.80 £14.33 £26.47
25-29 £53.16 £17.66 £35.50
30-34  £69.27 £24.15 £45.12
35-39 £85.38 £29.90 £55.48
40-44 £102.84 £35.30 £67.54
45-49 £121.10 £39.14 £81.96
50-54  £144.43 £45.39 £99.04
55-59 £157.61 £54.48 £103.13
60-64 £187.60 £67.29 £120.31
65-69 £282.30 £75.47 £206.83

^^^Based on the average top five prices, by critical illness cover selection, between 1 January 2021 and 30 June 2021.

What factors affect the price of critical illness cover? 

The amount that your critical illness insurance will cost depends on:  

  • The amount of cover you’re looking for 
  • Your age 
  • Your health and lifestyle (including smoking and alcohol consumption) 
  • Any pre-existing medical conditions you have 
  • Your current personal circumstances 
  • How long you want the policy to be in place for (the term) 

It can be quick to add critical illness insurance on to a  life insurance  policy quote. 

Am I eligible for critical illness cover?

To qualify for critical illness cover, you’ll need to be a UK resident aged over 18. There may also be an upper age limit. As with all life insurance policies, your lifestyle and medical history will affect the level of cover you can get and how much you pay for it. 

You’ll also need to have a UK bank account so you can pay the monthly premiums via direct debit. It’s important to make sure that you can afford the monthly premiums when you take out cover. 

Where can I buy critical illness insurance? 

There are providers who offer standalone critical illness policies, but this cover type is typically bought as an add-on to a term life insurance policy. You can’t buy this type of cover as a standalone policy on our site, but you can select critical illness insurance as an add-on during the quote and on the results page.  
If you have any further questions you can call our partner LifeSearch, a specialist adviser for life insurance, on:
0800 072 1147
Opening times:  
Monday to Friday: 8am-8pm 
Saturday: 9am-2pm 
Sunday: 10am-3.30pm

Frequently asked questions

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected critical illness cover?

You can still get critical illness cover, but there may be delays with new applications if any medical evidence is needed. You may also be asked whether you’ve undergone treatment in hospital for COVID-19 or had any of the symptoms associated with coronavirus recently. 

Critical illness cover is unlikely to pay out if you’re diagnosed with coronavirus. That’s because viral infections like COVID-19 are not specified as critical illnesses, according to the Association of British Insurers. If you were to develop a secondary critical illness due to complications arising from coronavirus, your claim would be paid as long as it meets the terms laid out in your policy. 

Is critical illness cover separate to life insurance?

Yes, critical illness cover is different to life insurance. Some life insurance providers may include critical illness cover as part of your life insurance policies, while others offer it as a policy add-on. If you’re only interested in critical illness cover, you can find this separately. 

How is critical illness different to terminal illness cover?

Critical illness tends to pay out if a person suffers a serious ailment that isn’t life-threatening. 

Terminal illness is an incurable disease where a person is expected not to live longer than within 12 months of their diagnosis. A policyholder is typically paid out a lump sum once their life-threatening condition, such as cancer, has been confirmed by a medical professional.   

It's worth being aware that most insurance providers will include terminal illness – which also could include illness or injury resulting in total and permanent disability (TPD) – as part of their life cover. 

Are all critical illness policies the same?

No. What defines a critical illness varies from provider to provider. This is why it’s really important to know what is and isn’t covered by your policy. It’s likely that your policy will pay out different amounts depending on the type of condition you’re diagnosed with.   

The policy you’re offered will depend on lifestyle factors and other considerations, such as any pre-existing medical conditions you might have.  

It also depends on whether you have critical illness cover in addition to or combined with a life insurance policy. If you take out life insurance with separate critical illness cover, you’ll receive a pay-out if you get a critical illness and pass away during the time your policy runs for. With a combined policy, you’ll only receive one payment, either if you’re diagnosed with a critical illness or at death.  

How long does a critical illness cover policy last?

Critical illness insurance runs for as long as the policy you decide to take out, known as a term life policy. 

You may decide to get a term life policy that will run for the same length of time as the term of your mortgage.  

Alternatively, you could calculate the length of cover based on how long your dependants will need financial support from you, should you become ill. 

Are there policies that last for the whole of my life?

Yes. These are known as life assurance policies, or whole of life policies. Unlike term policies, these don’t expire. They tend to be more expensive than term insurance products. Learn more about how whole of life insurance could meet your needs.

Can I adjust the level of cover I have?

Most critical illness insurance providers will allow you to make changes to the level of cover in your policy. This could be as simple as extending the term, or adding a greater level of cover. You should always check if you can adjust your policy before taking out cover.  

Can I get joint cover for my partner?

You can take out a joint life insurance policy, which includes critical illness cover as an add-on. However, it’s important to note that you will usually only be able to claim for critical illness once between you. If one of you makes a claim, you will no longer have critical illness cover for the other.  

Can I get critical illness cover for my children?

You can get critical illness cover for children, but this is not usually a standalone product. Children’s critical illness cover must be bought as an add-on to the policy of a parent or guardian. If your child’s condition requires you to claim on the policy, you must do this as the main policyholder.  

Can I claim on my critical illness policy more than once?

You can only claim on your critical illness policy once. This will provide a lump sum payment that will help you with medical costs or improving your quality of life. Any other pay-out will come from your life insurance policy upon your death.  

When should you get critical illness insurance?

When you decide to get cover is up to you, but here are some examples of times you may think about getting a policy for that extra security: 

  • Buying a home – taking out critical illness insurance alongside your mortgage will protect your home, should you fall critically ill during the duration of your mortgage. If your claim is approved, you’ll receive a tax-free, one-off payment that could potentially pay off your mortgage entirely 
  • You have dependants – if you get married, or have children, you may be responsible for the financial security of others. If you were to fall seriously ill or become disabled, critical illness cover can help support your family when they need it most
  • A new job – while getting a new job is often good news, if your employer doesn’t have a benefits package that offers suitable sickness pay, you may want to take out your own insurance policy to keep your future secure 

How can I make a claim on critical illness cover?

If you’re diagnosed with a critical illness, you’ll need to let your insurance provider know as soon as possible. You can usually make a claim by phone or online. Your provider will review your claim and may contact your GP or consultant if they need any further medical evidence to support the diagnosis. 

If your claim is successful, you’ll receive a single lump-sum payment. How long it takes to process the claim will vary between providers, but it could take up to eight weeks. 

If I don’t make a claim do I get money back?

No, you won’t get any money back if you never make a claim on your critical illness policy. 

Are there any restrictions on how I can spend the money paid out?

You can spend the money on whatever you like, but most people use the lump-sum payment to pay for private medical treatment, adapt their home or cover monthly bills if they can’t work. 

How many critical illnesses can I claim for?

A critical illness policy will only pay out once. Insurance providers usually list all the critical conditions they cover on their website and will clearly outline how serious they have to be before you can claim. Some offer policies for more than 50 conditions. The illnesses listed can vary greatly between providers, so it’s really important to read your policy documents carefully to make sure you know what you are and aren’t covered for. 

Can I get cover for pre-existing medical conditions?

Some insurance providers will offer critical illness cover if you have a pre-existing medical condition, but others won’t. A pre-existing condition is an illness, disease or injury that you’ve received medical treatment for before, or an ongoing condition like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s. Providers will look at you and your family’s medical history to work out if they’re willing to offer you cover. 

If they do, it may be more expensive and have more exclusions than a standard policy. If you have a pre-existing condition, you should always be honest about it or your provider might reject any claims you make. 

How can I find the right critical illness cover for me?

Our cheapest quotes may not necessarily be best for you - it’s important to remember that each policy will have different conditions and exclusions. Therefore, you should always choose life insurance with a great deal of care. Get peace of mind today and start a quote. 

What do I need to get a quote?

You can add critical illness cover as an optional extra when you compare life insurance quotes with us. You’ll need to tell us: 

  • your name and date of birth 
  • whether you’re a smoker or use nicotine substitutes 
  • the type and length of cover you need 
  • how much cover you want 
  • whether you want a joint policy with someone else 

Mubina Pirmohamed

Life insurance expert

What our expert says...

“Critical illness cover can provide much-needed financial support if you’re diagnosed with a serious condition. You can add it to a life insurance policy, but you need to think carefully about whether you want standalone or combined cover. A combined policy will usually be cheaper, but will only pay out once, either when you get a critical illness or pass away.” 

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