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Critical illness cover

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What is critical illness cover?

Critical illness cover is an extra you can add to your life insurance policy. It pays out if you’re severely injured or develop a serious illness. The insurers we work with don't currently offer it as a standalone product, so you’ll need to take it out alongside a life insurance policy.

If you make a successful claim, your pay-out will be given to you in one tax-free lump sum.

It’s up to you how you use the money. You might choose to use it to support your family if you can’t work, pay off your mortgage, or to make your home disability-friendly if you’re badly injured.

Some policies will also cover your children. If they’re left with a permanent disability or develop a serious condition, you’ll get a pay-out to support them with.

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How does critical illness insurance work?

If you choose to add critical illness cover to your life policy, you’ll pay slightly more in monthly premiums. But it’ll then give you that extra level of protection by covering you for both critical illness and death.

If you make a critical illness claim, it’ll pay out while you’re still alive. With standard life insurance, you’ll only get a pay-out if you pass away.

To make a claim, you may have to provide proof of your diagnosis, so bear this in mind.

What are the types of critical cover?

There are two types of cover to choose from:

Combined cover merges your life and critical illness insurance into a single policy. It only pays out once – either when you suffer a critical illness or pay away – but not both. If you make a critical illness claim, your whole life insurance policy ends once you get your pay-out. You’ll no longer be covered, and your loved ones won’t get a second pay-out when you pass away.

Additional cover splits your life and critical illness insurance into two separate policies. If you claim for a critical illness, you’ll get a pay-out. Your critical illness cover will then end, but your life insurance cover will carry on. When you do die, your loved ones will get a second pay out - as long as you pass away during your life insurance cover period.

The type of cover you take out also affects how much you get in your pay-out.

  • Combined cover pays-outs the same as your life insurance cover amount. So if you’re covered for £350,000, you’d get a one-time pay-out of that amount whether you claimed for a critical illness, or if you passes away.
  • Additional cover policies let you decide exactly how much you’re covered for. You could take out £300,000 of life cover and £50,000 of critical illness cover, for example. If you suffered a critical illness, you’d get that pay out while you were still alive. If you then passed away at a later date, your family would get your £300,000 life insurance pay-out too.

What illnesses are covered by critical illness insurance?

A critical illness is one that severely impacts your quality of life. It could be a stroke or heart attack, or an injury that leaves you with a disability. It could even be a chronic condition like MS.

With critical illness cover, exactly what counts as critical depends on your insurer. When you add this cover to your life insurance policy, you’ll be given a list of conditions that you’re covered for. If you suffer one of these, you’ll be able to make a claim.

In most cases, critical illness cover will pay out for:

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Non-terminal cancers
  • Life-changing injuries
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s
  • Organ transplants

Some policies may cover other conditions, so it’s worth checking before signing up.

Do I need critical illness cover?

If you’re unable to work after an illness or injury, sick pay can help. But current statutory sick pay in the UK is £96.35 per week, and only covers you for a limited time. If this isn’t enough to support you and your family, then critical illness cover may be the right option for you.

The right cover can make sure:

  • You’re not left struggling if the worst happens
  • You won’t need to dip into your savings to support yourself
  • You don’t have to cut back to keep your family afloat if you can’t work

This is especially useful if you’re self-employed.

It can also help fund any changes you need to make to your home, or even your car, if you’re left with a disability. Some people even use it to pay for private healthcare to speed up their recovery, although health insurance may be a better option here.

Even if you’re not the main earner in your household, it can still be useful. Any loss of income could affect your family - critical illness cover can help ensure it doesn’t.

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How much critical illness cover do I need?

How much critical illness cover you need depends on what you want your pay-out to do.

Most use their pay-outs to:

  • Pay off a mortgage
  • Cover bills
  • Support family outgoings

Some people also use their pay-out to pay for private healthcare, or to make their home or car accessible if they’re left with a disability after an accident.

It’s worth considering all this before you take out a policy.

If you want your pay-out to cover your mortgage, think about how much you have left to pay. If you want to ensure your family can maintain their standard of living, think about how much you’d need for them to do that – and for how long your children are likely to be dependent on your income.

How much is critical illness cover?

The insurers we work with only offer critical illness cover as a life insurance add-on. To get it, you’ll have to take out a life insurance policy first.

With that in mind, here’s what each age group typically pays for life insurance with additional critical illness cover:

Age Monthly cost1
18-24
£19.08
25-34
£30.32
35-44
£43.12
45-54
£56.25
55-64
£51.49

1.Data from June 1st 2020 to June 1st 2021. All data for single applicant life insurance policies of all cover types with a cover amount of less than £350,000, including critical illness cover. This represents 96% of all single applicant policies with critical illness cover.

What our life insurance expert says

It’s crucial to understand the two types of critical illness cover. Combined cover can be cheaper, but it only pays out if you’re sick or pass away. Additional cover pays out in both scenarios, but it can be a little pricier. Think about what’s right for you before you take out a policy.

expert comment signature Louise Thomas personal finance

Louise Thomas

Life insurance expert

How to get a quote

When getting a quote, you’ll have the option to add critical illness cover.

You’ll then be able to choose whether you want combined or additional cover, and choose your cover amount if you go for the latter.

There’re a few things we’ll ask you, so it’s worth having the information to hand before you start.

We’ll need:

  • Your name and age
  • A brief outline of your medical history
  • Details of any pre-existing conditions you may have
  • How much life insurance and critical illness cover you want
  • How long you want to be covered for

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How long does critical illness cover last?

Your critical illness cover runs for as long as your life insurance policy, or until you make a claim.

If you have mortgage life insurance, it’ll run for as long as your mortgage.

If you have level term life insurance, you can choose how long you want to be covered for. Most people tie this to how long their family will be dependent on their income. If you have young children, this could be 20 years, but it could be longer.

You can even get whole life insurance that’ll cover you until the day you die, with added critical illness cover that’ll do the same.

There’s no expiration date for your critical illness insurance. As long as it’s within the cover period of your life policy, you’ll be eligible for a pay-out.

What can I use my critical illness cover pay-out for?

You can use your pay-out for whatever you want, but most people use it to:

  • Cover their expenses, or their family’s expenses, if they’re unable to work
  • Pay off their mortgage, taking some of the financial strain off their loved ones
  • Pay for private healthcare if they need it, although health insurance is often a better option
  • Make changes to their home or car if they’re left with mobility issues after an accident or illness

Is critical illness cover different to terminal illness cover?

Terminal illness cover pays out if you’re diagnosed with a condition that limits your life expectancy to 12 months or less. Most life insurance policies will include this as standard, meaning that you’ll get your pay-out while you’re still alive, whether you have critical illness cover or not.

But if you’re diagnosed with a non-terminal condition - one that isn’t expected to kill you immediately - you won’t get a pay-out from your life insurance. Critical illness cover ensures you will. As long as your condition is covered by your policy, and is severe enough to be classed as critical, you’ll be able to claim.

What isn’t covered by critical illness cover?

There are also a few conditions that are not normally covered, which include:

  • Some pre-existing conditions
  • Some hereditary conditions (things like cystic fibrosis)
  • Temporary conditions (like a broken leg)

Some insurers may still cover these, so it’s worth checking with them before taking out a policy.

The severity of your condition can also affect whether you get a pay-out. If you suffer a minor heart attack and are able to carry on living as you were before your illness, your cover may not pay out.

Check with your insurer for a full rundown of what illnesses are covered by your critical illness insurance.

Can I claim on my critical illness insurance more than once?

No, critical illness cover is a one-time safety net. Once you claim, your cover ends.

With additional cover policies, your life insurance cover will continue after you claim on the critical illness aspect of your policy. You just won’t be able to claim for a second critical illness.

If you have combined cover, both your life insurance and critical illness insurance policies stop after you claim. If you want your life insurance cover to continue, you’ll then have to sign up for a new policy.

If you still want critical illness cover after claiming, you can take out another policy. To do this, contact your insurer to see what they can offer you. Or get another quote.

What happens if I don’t claim on my critical illness cover policy?

If you reach the end of your life insurance cover term without claiming on your critical illness policy, your coverage will simply end. You won’t be able to get back what you’ve paid in premiums.

The same is true if you pass away during your cover period without having claimed for a critical illness. Your loved ones will get your life insurance pay-out, but they won’t get back what you’ve paid in critical illness cover premiums.

Even so, the peace of mind that critical illness insurance can bring is often worth the extra you’ll pay in premiums. With it, you’ll be protected no matter what life throws at you.

Income protection vs critical illness cover

Both income protection insurance and critical illness cover can help keep you afloat if you’re ill or injured. But they work in very different ways.

Where critical illness insurance pays out a lump sum to help you focus on your recovery if you become severely ill, income protection is designed to cover your outgoings if you suffer a milder illness or injury. It pays a portion of your salary to help you maintain your standard of living while you’re on the mend. If you have a physically demanding job, but hurt your back and can’t work, for example, income protection can help bridge the gap until you’re fit to work again.

Critical illness cover is designed to ease the financial burden of a life-changing illness or injury, taking some of the stress out of an already stressful situation. What policy you choose to take out depends on what you want to be covered for.

Can you get critical illness cover for children?

Yes. Some critical illness policies will cover your children at no extra cost. Others may ask you to pay a little extra to cover them.

Cover for a child works in much the same way as an adult. If your child is injured or develops a serious condition, your policy will pay out. But the amount you’ll receive is usually lower for a child than for yourself, with the maximum being around £25,000. This can still help ease some of the financial burden of having a seriously ill child, giving you some breathing space to focus on what really matters – them.

Is critical illness cover taxable?

No, the pay-out you’ll get from a successful critical illness claim is tax free. You’ll be given it in one lump sum payment that you can spend how you wish.

This isn’t the case with life insurance, where your pay-out might be subject to inheritance tax if it’s over the £350,000 tax-free threshold.

If you want to make sure your loved ones get your full life insurance pay-out tax free, see our guide on writing your life insurance in trust.

Can I get critical illness cover without life insurance?

Although some insurers may provide it, it can be tricky finding critical illness cover as a standalone product. The insurers we work with provide critical illness cover as a life insurance add-on. It’s there to give you an extra level of protection, ensuring that you’re covered no matter what happens.

Do I still get a life insurance pay-out if I claim on my critical illness cover?

If you have additional critical illness cover, yes. Once you claim, your critical illness policy ends, but your life policy continues. As long as you keep paying your life premiums and pass away within your cover term in a way that’s covered by your policy, your beneficiaries will get a pay-out after you die.

With combined cover, you’re merging your life and critical illness policies into one product. You’ll only get one pay-out, either after you die or if you become critically ill. After that, your life policy ends and you’re no longer covered.

When should I get critical illness cover?

As with life insurance, the younger you are when you take out critical illness cover, the cheaper it’ll be.

Most people take out life insurance after a big life event, like buying a house or having a child. Once you have dependents, and serious financial commitments like a mortgage, it makes sense to cover yourself in case the worst happens.

However, it’s never too late to take out cover. Over 50 life insurance is available, no questions asked, until age 84. Even if you’re not in the best of health, you’ll still be able to find cover.

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