What is critical illness cover?

Critical illness cover is a type of insurance policy that pays out if you’re diagnosed with one of the serious illnesses or conditions covered by your particular policy. A typical policy covers 40-60 critical illnesses or conditions – often including things like cancer, heart attack and stroke, though different insurers and policies cover different lists of illnesses.

This kind of insurance is designed to help you (and your partner or family) cope financially in the wake of a serious diagnosis. It can help you pay the bills and cover the essentials while you adjust or recover.

How does critical illness cover work?

When you buy a critical illness insurance policy, you choose how much you want to be covered for, for how long. You can make a claim on the policy if you're diagnosed with one of the illnesses or conditions it covers. The policy will pay out a lump sum if you make a valid claim. You'll get the full amount if it's one of the policy's core illnesses, and a proportion of the lump sum if it's one of the policy's additional illnesses.

What illnesses are covered by critical illness insurance?

It varies from insurer to insurer, but generally a critical illness insurance policy covers 40-60 severe illnesses (the core benefit) and 30-50 less severe illnesses (the additional benefit). The kind of illnesses you'll see in a policy include cancers, heart attacks, strokes, organ failure, loss of limbs, loss of hearing or sight, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's. To make a valid claim, you'll need to meet the insurer's definition of the illness, to the required level of severity.

Will my children be covered on a critical illness policy?

Most insurers will include children's cover in your critical illness insurance at no extra cost. Typically they'll be covered for the same core and additional critical illness as you, as well as some child-specific illnesses in some cases. This includes type 1 diabetes, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, and Down's syndrome.

What’s the best critical illness policy for me?

Lots of factors determine what’s the ‘best’ critical illness policy for you, but we always recommend making sure the policy you buy is suitable for:

  • Your needs (i.e. it would be enough to give you a decent financial cushion, especially if you couldn't work after a diagnosis, and peace of mind that you could cope financially)
  • Your profile (i.e. it's the most suitable policy and insurer for you based on your age, health and lifestyle)
  • Your budget (i.e. it's sufficient but also affordable, especially as you could be paying monthly premiums for many years)

Beyond that, different critical illness insurance policies all cover different lists of illnesses and conditions, and often come with different features and benefits too. Depending on your life, family circumstances and health history, some critical illness insurance policies may be more suited to you than others.

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How much critical illness cover do I need?

The amount of critical illness cover you need very much depends on your personal circumstances and how much a diagnosis could affect you financially. Whether or not you have a partner and children who rely on you financially, for example, is a big factor. What you’d need the payout money for could also vary depending on the type of diagnosis.

It’s difficult to measure these things before they happen – so, as a general rule of thumb, it can help to consider how much cover you might need in place to help pay for your household expenses for a year (and multiply it, depending how much protection you want to have in place). Knowing this will help you decide on the best amount of cover to buy when you decide to get critical illness cover.

Should I buy critical illness cover with life insurance cover?

Many insurers offer combined critical illness and life insurance cover – which is why it’s common to get both critical illness cover and life cover at the same time. This means you’d be covered by the same policy if you died or if you were diagnosed with a critical illness – but you’d only be able to claim the payout money once, for whichever scenario happens first. For this reason, some people also choose to take out an additional, separate life insurance policy too, so you’re always covered for both death and illness (so long as you hold both policies).

Best critical illness cover insurance companies

The ‘best’ critical illness insurance company is the one that has the right policy for you and your unique needs. This is likely to be different per person. Many people might think the ‘best’ company is the one that offers the most affordable policy, but there are many other factors to take into account when buying critical illness cover that mean this isn’t always the case – including whether or not to buy a combined or standalone critical illness product.

The ‘best’ critical illness insurance company is the one that has the right policy for you. This is likely to be different per person. Many people might think the ‘best’ company is the one that offers the most affordable policy, but there are many other factors to take into account when buying critical illness cover that this isn’t always the case – including whether or not to buy a combined or standalone product.

Comparing critical illness cover products and companies is often about finding the best value for money based on your unique circumstances. Since it’s lump sum cover, you can’t compare how much would be paid out (because that amount would be the same, depending how much you buy) – but you can compare the cost of insuring that amount over the same period of time; the number of illnesses and conditions covered; the additional features, benefits and degree of flexibility a policy has; and what % of claims providers pay out. And so on.

Critical illness cover price comparison based on smoker status

The following cover prices are based on:

  • 30-year-old, male or female office worker
  • £50,000 of level critical illness cover for 20 years
Insurer/product Non-smoker premiums Smoker premiums Review
Aviva
Standard adult and standard child cover
£13.47 £17.39 Read our Aviva critical illness cover review
Legal and General
Standard adult and standard child cover
£13.14 £17.12 Read our Legal & General critical illness cover review
LV=
Combined life and critical illness cover (includes child)
£16.55 £21.27 Read our LV= critical illness cover review
Scottish Widows
Protect (includes child)
£14.26 £17.49 Read our Scottish Widows critical illness cover review
Zurich
Personal Protection: Standard adult and standard child cover
£13.29 £18.77 Read our Zurich critical illness cover review

Quoted on 14/02/2020

Critical illness cover price comparison based on age

The following prices are based on:

  • Healthy, non-smoking, male or female office worker
  • £50,000 of level critical illness cover for 20 years
Insurer/product 25 year old's premiums 35 year old's premiums 45 year old's premiums Review
Aviva
Standard adult and standard child
£10.43 £18.42 £36.78 Read our Aviva critical illness cover review
L&G
Standard adult and standard child
£10.25 £17.99 £35.18 Read our Legal & General critical illness cover review
LV=
Combined life and critical illness cover (includes child)
£12.66 £22.39 £46.28 Read our LV= critical illness cover review
Scottish Widows
Protect (includes child)
£11.11 £18.93 £37.37 Read our Scottish Widows critical illness cover review
Zurich
Personal Protection: Standard adult and standard child cover
£10.78 £18.52 £38.63 Read our Zurich critical illness cover review

Quoted on 14/02/2020

Understanding critical illness policy features

The most common features you’ll come across in critical illness policies are: core benefit, additional benefit, and child benefit. Below is a quick summary of what each means:

Critical illness policy feature What it means for you
Core benefit This is the core benefit of your policy – which pays out the full lump sum amount if you get diagnosed with one of the serious illnesses or conditions listed in it. You can only claim this once, and when you do, the policy ends.
Additional benefit This is an additional benefit – which pays out part of the lump sum amount if you get diagnosed with one of the less serious illnesses listed in your policy. You can make multiple additional benefit claims (but not for the same condition), but only before you claim the core benefit – after which, the policy ends.
Child benefit This covers your children, paying out if they’re diagnosed with one of the children’s illnesses listed in your policy – which can be the same as the adult ones or sometimes child-specific. Again, child benefit pays out part of the lump sum amount, but can be claimed in addition to your core benefit (only if you haven’t claimed the core benefit yet).

Will your critical illness policy pay out?

Worrying about whether or not a critical illness insurance policy will pay out when you need it to is not uncommon – especially because there’s often a number of illnesses and conditions included, with varying severity stipulations. But if you’re diagnosed with one of the illnesses listed in your policy, and your diagnosis meets the severity threshold, your policy will pay out. Of course, it’s very important to be as honest and accurate as possible when applying for your policy – most rejected claims are due to people failing to do this (it's called 'misrepresentation').

It’s also worth bearing in mind that your policy will only pay out the core benefit once. And if you have a combined critical illness and life insurance policy, it’ll only pay out for whichever event happens first – critical diagnosis or death.

Should I buy critical illness with life insurance?

You can either buy critical illness cover on its own (standalone cover) or with life insurance (combined cover). Lots of insurers offer combined policies, which is why it's common for people to buy the two together. The best critical illness insurance for you depends what you value most: how simple your cover is; how affordable it is; how comprehensive it is.

There are pros and cons to both standalone and combined policies. Combined critical illness cover is simpler from an admin point of view. It means you've only got one policy to think about and pay for, while being covered in case of both scenarios – death or illness. It could work out cheaper than having two separate policies.

The thing to bear in mind is that a combined critical illness and life insurance policy would only pay out the main lump sum benefit once, for whichever event happens first. This means that if you claim for a critical illness, you'll no longer be insured in case you die. To negate this, you could take out an additional life insurance policy, so you're not left uninsured if you do claim on your combined policy for a critical illness.

We make it easy not only to find the best critical illness cover – but to find the right critical illness cover for you. By analysing your profile, we can calculate your cover needs and quickly match you to products based on their suitability for you.

How? Well, we’ve delved into the policy details across all the major insurers’ products, unpacked it all and plugged it into our online service. In other words, we’ve done all the hard work – so you don’t have to. Giving you a quick and efficient way to buy the right cover.

Good to know: Our recommendations are regulated, completely impartial – and free. And we also have a team of human advisers who can help over the phone, if you prefer.
Is it worth getting critical illness cover?
Critical illness cover is worth it if you think you’d struggle with the financial consequences of getting seriously ill. It’s also worth it if you value the financial peace of mind it can provide.
What illnesses are covered under critical illness insurance?
Each critical illness policy covers a unique list of illnesses and conditions, and it’ll only pay out if you’re diagnosed with one of the illnesses listed in yours. Typically, policies cover cancer, heart attack, stroke, organ failure, loss of a limb, loss of hearing/sight, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Can I have two critical illness policies?
Yes, you can have more than one critical illness insurance policy. However, it’s always worth checking whether you can amend your existing policy to suit your needs, as this could work out simpler and cheaper.
Is Covid-19 classed as a critical illness?
No, Covid-19 (coronavirus) is not one of the illnesses listed in any critical illness policy, so it wouldn’t pay out for that. However, if a Covid-19 diagnosis led to other serious complications (e.g. a stroke, heart attack or kidney failure), these might be defined as critical illnesses in your policy – in which case, you’d be able to claim.

This guide is intended for informative purposes only and does not constitute advice.