What is critical illness cover?

If you become seriously ill, a critical illness policy could pay you a lump sum of money. Here is how it works and what it can cover you for.

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What is it?

Critical illness cover is a type of insurance policy that pays out if you get a serious illness, disease or disability.

The payout can help support you during a life-changing situation by giving you money to use towards your outgoings, such as rent, mortgage payments and bills each month.

A critical illness policy will not pay out if you die suddenly. If you want a payout for this reason then look for a life insurance policy instead.

What does it cover?

The cover depends on the policy you take out, but some of the common conditions covered include:

  • Cancer

  • Heart attacks

  • Strokes

However, most policies specify the severity of the conditions they cover, e.g. some policies only cover a stroke that gave you resulting symptoms lasting for at least 24 hours.

The number of conditions you can get cover for varies depending on the insurer you choose. For example, some only cover one condition, but others may cover over 100.

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

Find out more about the different types of cover here

How does it work?

When you apply for critical illness cover, you need to choose:

  • How much cover you want

  • How long you want the policy to last, e.g. 30 years

Each insurer offers a limit on how much you can claim, with some offering up to £25,000, and others offering millions. Compare cover limits here.

The amount of cover you choose will affect your monthly premiums, which you pay throughout the term of a critical illness policy.

Your age also affects your monthly payments. The older you are, the more expensive they will be. Some insurers do not offer cover if you are over a certain age, e.g. 59.

Most policies offer fixed monthly payments throughout the term, however there are two exceptions:

  • Increasing cover: Your premiums, and the amount you can claim, rise in line with inflation, which is measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI).

  • Decreasing cover: Your premiums are fixed, but the amount you can claim reduces. These are commonly used in line with a repayment loan, like a mortgage.

Find out how to claim here

Who can get it?

To be eligible for most critical illness policies, you should be:

  • Over 18 years old

  • Under a policy's upper age limit when you apply, e.g. under 60

  • Not diagnosed with an illness you want cover for

The eligibility criteria may differ depending on the insurer you choose.

If you smoke, or have ever smoked, your policy is likely to be more expensive due to your increased chance of developing a serious medical condition in life.

Most critical illness policies only cover you, but there are policies that cover more than one person:

  • Joint policy: This would cover you and another person, e.g. your partner

  • Family policy: This would cover you, you partner and your children

If you are not sure what type of policy to choose, speak to an independent financial adviser. An adviser can give you guidance and recommend a policy, but they may charge you a fee.

Compare critical illness cover here

Critical illness cover FAQs

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

This depends on the condition you have. Speak to each insurer to see if they can offer you cover with the exception of your condition.

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 not offer you cover for the specific condition.

The right cover can help protect your future and your loved ones by providing for you when you need it most.

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