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If you become seriously ill to the point where you can no longer work to earn a living, then you might need help to keep up with mortgage and debt repayments as well as general day-to-day living costs.

Critical illness cover can do just that, paying out in the event that you contract a serious illness, helping your family cover the costs if you no longer can.

In This Guide:

What is critical illness cover?

Critical illness cover is an insurance product designed to protect you in case you become seriously ill and cannot work and it’s often sold alongside life insurance policies.

It can either be bought as additional cover, which means it's bundled in as an extra benefit with your life insurance, or as combined cover, which means your life & critical illness policy will just pay out the once. This means that, if you've got combined cover, and claim on your critical illness policy, your life insurance will no longer be valid and you'll need to take out a new policy

Not all the brokers we work with offer standalone critical illness.

How does critical illness cover pay out?

When you purchase critical illness cover, both the length of the term of the policy and a list of conditions or illnesses will be set.

Should you contract one of the specified illnesses during the policy term, a tax-free lump sum of money will be paid to you and your family to ease the financial burden for you and your family.

You can then use the money paid out to put towards any debts or mortgage repayments you would normally be able to pay, as well as any medical bills that you may now have to pay.

The money will also help your family on a daily basis pay for the things that you’d normally pay for with your income.

What conditions will be covered by critical illness insurance?

Different providers will offer critical illness cover against different conditions, but generally the list of problems you can contract that warrant a payout is long, including around 40 different illnesses.

Conditions typically covered include:

  • Heart attacks
  • Cancers
  • Blindness
  • Crohn's 
  • Parkinson's
  • MS
  • Organ failure

You should always make sure you read your policies small print to identify any exclusions before you purchase critical illness cover as you want to be certain that you’re getting the cover you want and need.

Critical illness cover for children

Some insurance companies will allow you to add critical illness cover for children onto your existing policy at no extra charge, with a payout generally limited to a fixed percentage of your cover or a figure up to £25,000. This will allow you to cover any expenses associated with your child becoming seriously ill (like medical bills), reducing financial stress at a time when emotional stress can be particularly high.

You should check with your insurer to see whether or not such cover is available, and what kind of limit is imposed upon it

Note: not all providers we work with may offer this type of cover. 

How much does critical illness cover cost?

The cost of your premiums will be based on the likelihood of you making a claim, so older customers, customers with existing health problems and customers with potentially dangerous lifestyles (like smokers) will pay more than others, all other things being equal.

Full disclosure is important at this stage – if you are found out to have withheld any relevant information about your health or lifestyle from your insurer you could find your entire policy invalidated and you will not receive a pay-out.

One way to get cheaper critical illness cover is to purchase it along with a conventional life insurance policy. While this will generally keep costs down, you should be aware that often you will only get a single pay-out with such a policy. This means that if you contract a serious illness, you will get your pay-out then, but will not get a further pay-out in the event of your death.

Your critical illness cover will remain active until either the policy term comes to an end, or you can no longer afford to pay for your premiums – so you should make sure that you'll be able to maintain payments constantly, irrespective of changed circumstances, when you start the policy.

It is important to bear in mind that if either of these things happen without you falling ill, then you will not see any cash return on the premiums you’ve already paid.

Claims data and the probability of paying out

While some insurance companies might charge particularly low premiums, you should check to see if this is related to a particularly low proportion of pay-outs from the provider in question.

All insurance companies are obliged to make this kind of data about their claims publicly available so if it looks like you’re getting a suspiciously good deal, have a look at all of the information you can to make sure everything is at it seems.

 Just compare life insurance to make sure you are getting the right policy. 

Related guides

We endeavour to keep our users fully informed when it comes to making a purchasing decision. Please read through our handy guides to find the information you need.

Last reviewed: 1 February 2023

Next review: 1 March 2023