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Critical illness cover

Get cover for serious illness and injuries

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What is critical illness cover?

Critical illness cover is a type of insurance that pays out a lump sum if you’re diagnosed with a critical illness or life-changing injury.

It's usually offered as an optional extra when you buy life insurance, and is designed to help you cope with the financial effects of a long term injury or illness.

People who receive critical illness payouts typically use them to:

  • Financially support their family if they’re unable to work
  • Pay off a mortgage
  • make adaptations to their home if they’re disabled
  • Pay for private healthcare if they don't have private medical insurance

What types of critical illness cover are there?

There are 2 main types of critical illness cover to choose from:

Combined cover merges your life insurance and critical illness cover into a single policy. This policy pays out once, either when you make a critical illness claim, or when your family make a life insurance claim after you die.

If you make a critical illness claim, the whole policy ends, so your family won’t get another pay-out after you die.

Additional cover splits your life and critical illness cover into 2 separate policies. You'll decide how much each policy pays out. If you make a critical illness claim, that part of your policy ends, but the life insurance side continues.

This means, when you die, your loved ones will get a second payout if you die during your life insurance policy’s term.

There are also 3 levels of cover to choose from:

  • Level critical illness cover means you’ll pay the same amount in monthly premiums throughout the policy. You’ll also get the same payout amount no matter when you claim.
  • Index-linked critical illness cover links your critical illness insurance amount to inflation. As inflation rises, your payout amount rises too. But it can also mean your monthly payments get more expensive over time.

  • Decreasing critical illness cover is popular for people looking to cover their outstanding mortgage. Your payout amount decreases over time with the amount you owe on your mortgage. So your monthly payments could decrease over time too.

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How does critical illness insurance work?

You'll normally need to take out life insurance to get critical illness cover.

If you opt to take it out, here's how critical illness insurance works:

  • You choose how much cover you want. This is the amount you’ll get as a payout if you make a claim.

  • Next, you'll choose how long you want your cover to last. Insurers will set a minimum and a maximum term for critical illness cover – usually ranging from 5 to 50 years.

  • Once you've decided on a cover term, you'll pick the type and level of cover you want. There are a range of policies to pick from, to suit a variety of needs.

  • If you become seriously ill or injured in a way that’s covered under the term of your policy – and during the time the policy is in place – you’ll then be able to claim. If your claim is successful, you'll get your cover amount as a payout.

What does critical illness insurance cover?

Most policies will cover you for:

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

There are also some conditions that usually won’t be covered.Typical critical illness exclusions can include:

  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Self-inflicted injuries
  • Injuries or illnesses resulting from drug and alcohol misuse

But remember that in most cases your illness or injury will have to be ‘life changing’. Insurers may not cover something like a mild heart attack that has little impact on your day-to-day life.

Some policies might also cover a longer list of conditions, so check with your insurer to see exactly what you’re covered for.

Are terminal illnesses covered by critical illness insurance?

No, terminal illnesses usually aren't covered by critical illness insurance.

But terminal illness cover is usually included as standard by life insurance policies anyway. So if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness, you may be able to get your life insurance payout before you die. This means it works similarly to critical illness cover.

Terminal illnesses are usually defined as illnesses that give you a prognosis of 12 months or less, although insurers can sometimes have their own definitions.

Do I need critical illness cover?

Would your family struggle financially if you or your partner suffer a critical illness or life-changing injury? If the answer is yes, then you could need critical illness insurance.

Statutory sick pay can help if you can’t work, but it’s unlikely to be enough to cover your loss of earnings.

And as statutory sick pay is paid for only 28 weeks, you could soon be left with no income at all.

But there are some scenarios where critical illness cover is more useful than others.

You may need it if:

  • You have financial dependents
  • You’re still repaying a mortgage
  • You’re renting

But it might not be suitable for you if:

  • You have no dependents
  • You have savings you could live off
  • You’re of retirement age

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How much critical illness cover do I need?

The amount of critical illness cover you need depends on you and your family’s outgoings. Mortgage payments, bills and other regular spending can vary greatly from one family to the next, so getting it right can be tricky.

There’s no single formula for working out how much cover you need. But try to think about:

  • How much is left on your mortgage
  • Your family’s monthly bills and outgoings
  • How long your kids will be financially dependent on you
  • Any debts you have that might need repaying

You should be able to land on a rough figure. Tailor your cover amount to that figure and you can’t go too far wrong.

Help calculating your cover

How much is critical illness cover?

Generally, the higher the level of cover you choose, the more expensive your monthly payments will be.

Insurers will look at multiple factors to calculate the price, including your age, health condition and medical history.

In general, 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 and work out how much cover you'll need.

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

Age Monthly cost1

1. Data from Jan 1st 2023 to 15th April 2023. 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.

What our life insurance expert says

It’s crucial to get the right cover, or you could be left short when it really matters. 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.

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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 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, with the aim of giving you the level of cover that you need. As always, we recommend that you check the level of cover that your policy provides before purchasing.

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.

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.

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. Cover can vary between insurance providers, so it's important to check the level of cover that your policy provides.

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 the total value of your estate is 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.

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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