Critical illness cover is designed to protect you financially in case you get a serious illness or condition. It pays out a lump sum if you’re diagnosed with one of the illnesses or conditions listed in your own policy, providing a financial cushion while you recover or adjust.

All policies tends to have the same benefits, though each covers a different list and number of illnesses – but is this the only way, or the best way, to tell them apart? Not always. If one policy covers more illnesses than another, it could simply be down to the way the insurer has categorised the illnesses. Similarly, it might be important in your particular circumstances to make sure a certain illness is covered, not just as many illnesses as possible.


Critical illness policy features

All critical illness cover policies come with these two features: the core benefit (or main benefit) and the additional benefit. Almost all policies allow you to add children’s cover to your policy too, known as the child benefit. Here’s what each benefit provides:

Core benefit You can claim on the core benefit of your policy if you’re diagnosed with one the core illnesses or conditions listed in it. These are usually the most serious or advanced illnesses.

If you claim on this benefit, you receive the full lump sum. So if you’ve got £50,000 of critical illness cover, you’d receive £50,000. This can only be paid out once, so your policy ends after you’ve claimed the core benefit.
Additional benefit You can claim on the additional benefit of your policy if you’re diagnosed with one the additional illnesses or conditions listed in it. These are usually less serious or less advanced illnesses.

If you claim on this benefit, you receive a proportion of your lump sum – usually 25% or £25,000 (whichever is lower). So if you’ve got £50,000 of critical illness cover, you’d receive £12,500. You can usually make more than one additional benefit claim, but not for the same illness or condition. Your policy continues after an additional benefit claim, so you can claim again in the future.
Child benefit You can claim on the child benefit of your policy if your child is diagnosed with one the children’s illnesses or conditions listed in it. The children’s illnesses usually mirror the adult illnesses, but sometimes include child-specific illnesses too.

If you claim on this benefit, you receive a proportion of your lump sum – usually 50% or £25,000 (whichever is lower). So if you’ve got £50,000 of critical illness cover, you’d receive £25,000. You can usually make more than one child benefit claim, after which your policy continues, so you can claim again in the future.

Standard vs. upgraded critical illness cover

Some insurers only have one kind of critical illness policy, while others sell standard and upgraded versions. The main way to compare any of these is by the number of illnesses and conditions covered in each.

If an insurer doesn’t offer ‘upgraded’ cover, it’s not necessarily a bad thing; the policy they offer could still cover an adequate number of relevant illnesses for you and your circumstances. Again, the way different insurers categorise different illnesses and conditions will play a part in the number covered.

Here are the number of illnesses covered per policy from some of the major insurers:

Standard (adult) Upgraded (adult) Standard (child) Upgraded (child)
Aviva critical illness cover 39 core benefit illnesses

2 additional benefit illnesses
55 core benefit illnesses

42 additional benefit illnesses
38 core benefit illnesses

2 additional benefit illnesses
44 core benefit illnesses

3 additional benefit illnesses

9 child-specific illnesses
LV= critical illness cover 39 core benefit illnesses

2 additional benefit illnesses
59 core benefit illnesses

48 additional benefit illnesses
38 core benefit illnesses

3 additional benefit illnesses
58 core benefit illnesses

48 additional benefit illnesses

8 child-specific illnesses
Legal & General critical illness cover 47 core benefit illnesses

20 additional benefit illnesses
45 core benefit illnesses

19 additional benefit illnesses
Scottish Widows critical illness cover 47 core benefit illnesses

29 additional benefit illnesses
46 core benefit illnesses

5 child-specific illnesses
Zurich critical illness cover 46 core benefit illnesses

2 additional benefit illnesses
58 core benefit illnesses

57 additional benefit illnesses
45 core benefit illnesses

2 additional benefit illnesses
57 core benefit illnesses

56 additional benefit illnesses

6 child-specific illnesses

N.b. True as of 06/01/2020.


How to choose a critical illness policy

When you take out a critical illness policy, you’ll decide how much cover you want (i.e. the amount that would be paid out if you made a claim) and how long you want to be insured for (i.e. the policy term). The amount and term will be the same whichever policy you choose, so you can’t compare policies based on these factors. What you can compare is:

  • The cost of being covered for the same amount and term
  • How many illnesses are covered
  • Any additional features and benefits
  • How flexible the policy is
  • What % of claims are paid out

Our guide to the best critical illness insurers will be useful if you're interested in seeing some ballpark prices. And speaking to an adviser can be very helpful when trying to unpick all of this policy detail. They’ll also be able to factor in any requirements from your side – relating to your personal health history, perhaps.


  • Critical illness policies tend to have the same three features – the core benefit, additional benefit, and children's benefit
  • Different insurers categorise illnesses and conditions differently, so it can be difficult to compare like for like
  • The number of illnesses covered is one way of comparing policies – but there are other factors to consider too
  • An adviser can help you work out the right critical illness policy for you and your circumstances
What is critical illness cover?
Critical illness cover is an insurance policy that pays out a tax-free lump sum if you’re diagnosed with one of the illnesses or conditions listed in it. It’s designed to protect you against the financial consequences of becoming seriously ill.
Who needs critical illness cover?
Anyone who’d be financially affected by becoming critically ill, especially if it left you unable to work. In particular, those with financial commitments or dependents. Having this kind of protection in place provides a financial safety net.
What illnesses are covered by critical illness policies?
Each critical illness insurer covers a unique list of illnesses and conditions. This usually includes cancers, heart attacks, strokes, and more. Your policy will only pay out if you’re diagnosed with one of the illnesses listed in it.
Are my children covered by my critical illness insurance?
Most insurers will allow you to include children’s cover in your policy at no extra cost. They’re usually covered for the same illnesses as you, and sometimes some additional child-specific illnesses too.
Will my critical illness cover pay out?
Your critical illness insurance will pay out straight away if you’re diagnosed with one of the illnesses or conditions it covers. It’ll pay out the full lump sum for the core illnesses covered and a proportion of the lump sum for the additional illnesses.

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