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Get protection against the fallout from serious illness

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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Get up to £150,000 of cover from £5.52 a month*
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*Based on £150,000 of level-term cover for 25 years for a 30-year-old non-smoking male with no pre-existing medical conditions (March 2023)

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Last updated
November 21st, 2023

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.

It's useful to cover the gap between life insurance, which doesn't pay unless you die, and illness or injury preventing you from working long term.

Do I need critical illness cover?

If you have enough savings to cover your outgoings, should you not be able to work, you may 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 be worthwhile if you’d struggle financially – particularly if state benefits wouldn’t cover all your outgoings if you weren’t to work. Many policies also cover your children should they be diagnosed with a critical illness.

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.

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.

Average critical illness payout in 2022[1]

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 more than 100 health conditions

Length of policy: every insurer has a maximum policy term, such as 50 years

Your age: the older you are, the harder it is to get critical illness cover; some insurers don’t sell cover to people over 59, with others the cut-off points is higher

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.

How would a critical illness cover payout help?

A payout from your insurer could help to support you and 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

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.

Run 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.

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 most causes of sudden death, you need 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 a financial safety net 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 follow this link to compare life and critical illness cover.

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

Pros and cons


Covers a range of typical chronic medical conditions that could prevent you from earning, alleviating some of the stress at a difficult time
Makes for a good companion to life insurance
The one-off critical illness payment is tax-free


Certain medical conditions aren’t covered
It can be expensive, especially if you fall ill with an excluded condition, yet need to continue making premium payments
You may be covered under employee benefit packages

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.


How old do I need to be to get critical illness cover?

Most insurers offer cover starting from 16 to 19 years old. Each insurer also has limits on the age up to which you can apply. Some insurers have a maximum age of 59 or 60, with others it’s 80.

Can I get critical illness cover for my family?

Yes. Most insurers offer joint policies for you and your partner, and some will cover your children as standard or for an extra premium.

Can I get cover if I already have a medical condition?

That depends on the condition. Speak to each insurer to see if they can offer you cover that excludes your condition but will cover others.

Is critical illness cover the same as life insurance?

No, it only pays out when you are diagnosed with a condition covered by your policy. This is unlike life insurance, which pays out when you die.

Can I get cover for a hereditary condition?

This depends on the insurer. Some may offer you cover with an increased premium, while others may withhold cover for hereditary conditions.

How many times does critical illness insurance pay out?

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

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

In depth guides to critical illness cover

Find out more about critical illness insurance with our in-depth guides:
A woman doing reseach on a laptop
5 things you need to know before you buy critical illness cover
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Should you get critical illness cover?
A couple considering a financial decision
How to claim on your critical illness cover

About the author

James Andrews
James has spent the past 15 years writing and editing personal finance news, specialising in consumer rights, pensions, insurance, property and investments

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1. Association of British Insurers : Protection insurance claims data for 2022