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The right critical illness cover could take care of money worries when you most need it. Find a policy that can pay your bills if you have a serious condition and need to stop working.

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Critical illness cover

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What is critical illness cover?

Critical illness cover is a type of sickness insurance that could help protect your future and your loved ones. If you have critical illness insurance and are diagnosed with a serious illness, you receive a tax-free payout.

How to find the best critical illness insurance

To find the best critical illness cover, compare the options and prices available. Then you can find the right kind of insurance to provide for you when you need it most.

How would a critical illness cover payout help?

A payout from your insurer could help to support you and/or your family in a life-changing situation. Your illness could leave you unable to work, and a sickness insurance payout could help towards your outgoings. You might choose to spend it on:

  • mortgage payments

  • private medical treatment

  • household bills

  • school or university fees

What illnesses are covered by sickness insurance?

If you’re diagnosed with an illness that’s listed on your policy, you can make a claim and receive a payment.

All critical illness cover includes the illnesses shown below. This is because the Association of British Insurers (ABI) enforces these as a minimum for this type of insurance. The illness must have reached a certain level of severity for you to be covered:

  • cancer

  • heart attack

  • stroke

Critical illness insurance also pays out if you’ve been diagnosed with a life-changing condition that’s not likely to result in death, such as Alzheimer’s disease or having a major organ transplant. Most critical illness policies also cover permanent disability caused by illness or injury.

If you want critical illness insurance for a certain condition, look for a policy that covers it before you apply.

Insurers have different definitions of critical illness and terminal illness. A terminal illness is when you’ve been given 12 months or fewer to live. This is usually covered separately under life insurance.

How is critical health insurance different from life insurance?

Critical illness insurance gives you a lump sum if you’re diagnosed with one of the illnesses listed on your policy. It doesn’t pay out for existing conditions or if you die suddenly.

If you want insurance that covers sudden death, you need to find life insurance. Life cover pays out a lump sum when you die and the money goes to someone you’ve chosen. It’s a way to protect your loved ones when you’re no longer around, providing reassurance if you’re the main earner. Compare life insurance policies here.

Some life insurance policies offer critical illness cover as an added extra, so compare life and critical illness insurance when looking for a policy. You can use the form linked to this page to compare life and critical illness cover.

Salman Haqqiquotation mark
If you have life insurance and add critical health insurance to it as an extra benefit, this way you'll get a payout on both if you’re diagnosed with a critical illness and when you die.
Salman Haqqi, Personal Finance Editor

How many times does critical illness insurance pay out?

Critical illness cover only pays out once. When you’ve had a payout, the policy ends, so it’s important to find a policy that would take care of all your financial needs if the worst happened.

If you have combined cover, it still only pays out once – either when you die or when you’re diagnosed with a critical illness.

If you have life insurance and add critical health insurance to it as an extra benefit, however, you get a payout both if you’re diagnosed with a critical illness and when you die.

Do I need critical illness cover?

That depends. If you have enough savings to pay for everything if you couldn’t work, you might decide you don’t need critical illness cover. The same might apply if your partner could pay for everything, or if you have cover as part of an employee benefits scheme.

But critical illness insurance might give you peace of mind if you would struggle financially if you became seriously ill – particularly if state benefits couldn’t cover all your outgoings if you were unable to work.

How much critical illness cover do I need?

When you get a quote, check how much you could claim – every insurer has a limit. Usually, cover starts at £25,000.

To find the best critical illness cover, there are a few things to think about:

  • Conditions covered: all policies cover strokes, cancer and heart attacks, but some cover up to 114 more health conditions

  • Length of policy: every insurer has a maximum policy term 

  • Your age: the older you are, the harder it is to get critical illness cover; some insurers don’t cover people over 59

All of this also affects the price of your insurance, so remember this when you do your comparison. You pay premiums throughout the term of your policy.

If you want cover that’s unlimited or ends when you reach a certain age, you could look into whole-of-life critical illness cover instead.

Can I get a joint critical illness policy?

Critical illness insurance usually covers just one person, but you can find joint policies which cover yourself and a partner. There are also family policies, which cover yourself, your partner and your children.

If you have a joint policy, it’s likely to only pay out once, for whoever is diagnosed with a critical illness first.

How to apply for critical health insurance

Follow a few simple steps:

Decide on your cover: use the information above to decide what you need 

Perform a comparison: you can use our specialist partner, ActiveQuote, for this. Complete the online form or contact them by phone

Apply for cover: you can usually do this online or over the phone, but some insurers offer a face-to-face service, too

What information will my critical illness cover quote be based on?

The insurer gives you a critical illness insurance quote based on the information you share, which includes:

  • your age

  • your health and medical history

  • your lifestyle

  • the cover you’ve chosen and how much you want

  • the amount you’re happy to pay each month

  • how long you want the policy to last

  • any terms and conditions

If you need further guidance on the type of policy to apply for, you can speak to an independent financial adviser.

Here’s some more information on critical illness cover.

Critical illness cover FAQs

Last updated: 23 May, 2022

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