Compare Critical Illness Cover and Life Insurance

  • Critical illness cover can provide financial peace of mind by paying out a lump sum if you fall seriously ill
  • The payment is tax-free and can be used however you wish
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What our Nerds say about over critical illness cover



Critical illness cover is a type of insurance designed to pay out a lump sum if you’re diagnosed with certain illnesses and health conditions during the time the policy runs and can pay out tax free.

With no restrictions on how any payout must be spent, critical illness cover can provide invaluable financial peace of mind for you and your family in case you fall seriously ill. If your income drops because you can’t work, the money paid out by a critical illness policy might be useful to cover the mortgage or other bills. Alternatively, if your diagnosis brings unexpected expenses, the payout could help pay for medical costs or changes to your home to make things a little more comfortable, if that’s what you need.

What is critical illness cover?

Critical illness cover is a type of insurance that pays out a lump sum if you’re diagnosed with certain serious illnesses or health conditions during the term of the policy. The payment is tax-free and can be used however you wish, whether that is to support your income if you’re off work, cover your mortgage or medical bills, or to pay for adjustments to your home, should they be needed.

How does critical illness cover work?

When applying for critical illness cover, you’ll need to decide the length of time that you want the policy to run – this policy term will often be somewhere between two and 50 years. With a combined life insurance and critical illness policy, the term will be the same for both. You must also have in mind the amount that you would like the cover to pay out if you were to make a successful claim.

The premium you must pay for critical illness cover will depend on the policy term and cover amount, along with a number of other factors, including your age, health, lifestyle and job. Some critical illness policies also include a certain level of cover for children at no additional cost.

Crucially, critical illness cover will only usually pay out if:

  • you’re diagnosed with one of the conditions specified in your policy
  • the diagnosis is made during the policy term
  • you’re up to date with your premiums

After you are diagnosed with a critical illness, you’ll also need to live for a certain amount of time in order for the policy to pay out. If you do not survive the survival period – which is often 14 or 28 days after diagnosis – the claim will be rejected, and the premiums that have been paid under the policy will be returned to your beneficiaries instead.

Should you qualify for a payout, the lump sum you get from a critical illness policy is tax-free because it isn’t counted as income.

It’s important to be aware that critical illness cover will only pay out once. At this stage the policy will end.

A critical illness cover policy might be invalidated and not pay out if you withhold information or aren’t honest with the insurer about your health or family history when you apply.

If your policy term ends without you having made a claim, your cover ends. You no longer pay premiums to the insurer, but you won’t get any money back and won’t receive a payout from the policy if you’re subsequently diagnosed with a qualifying condition. You’ll therefore need to set up a new critical illness policy if you require cover going forward.

What does critical illness cover?

The conditions that are covered by critical illness policies will vary between insurers, so it’s vital to check exactly what a policy covers before you sign up. Some might cover upwards of 50 serious illnesses and conditions, while others will cover fewer.

Some of the conditions commonly covered tend to include:

  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • certain cancers
  • organ failure and transplant
  • multiple sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • traumatic head injury
  • loss of limbs
  • loss of sight or hearing

Many policies will cover permanent disability due to illness or injury, and include protection for children for certain conditions.

Some insurers also include cover for less serious conditions that could lead to a smaller payout. For some illnesses, such as cancer, the type and severity or stage it is at can dictate whether you receive a full payout or something less.

What are the different types of critical illness cover?

Critical illness cover can be taken out as a standalone policy or you might have the option to combine it with a life insurance policy at an additional cost.

Standalone critical illness cover

With standalone critical illness cover, you take out an individual policy that will only pay out if you get one of the illnesses or conditions stated in your policy within the policy term. So if you die without ever getting seriously ill or injured, there will be no payout from the policy.

Life insurance and critical illness cover

Life insurance combined with critical illness cover is different because it will pay out for any of the conditions included in your policy or if you should die within the policy term.

It’s important to note that the cover only pays out once and then ends. This means you could receive a payout due to a critical illness but there will be no payment to your loved ones under the policy if you die. But if you die during the policy term without ever getting a serious condition, your beneficiaries will receive a payout.

Generally, the premium payable on this combined option will tend to work out cheaper than taking out equivalent cover through separate life insurance and standalone critical illness policies, where there is the potential for two payouts.

Note that when you search for critical illness quotes here, through our partnership with LifeSearch, the premiums you see will always be for combined life insurance and critical illness cover policies.

» COMPARE: Life insurance and critical illness cover quotes

Pros and cons of critical illness cover

There are definite advantages of critical illness cover, but also some potential drawbacks that you need to think about before taking out a policy too.

Benefits of critical illness cover

  • It offers a financial safety net if you fall seriously ill during the policy term.
  • You can spend any payout as you wish.
  • The lump sum paid is tax-free.
  • Many policies offer some additional cover for children too.

Disadvantages of critical illness cover

  • Not all illnesses and conditions are covered, or they may need to reach a certain severity to qualify for a full payout.
  • A combined life and critical illness policy will only pay out once, potentially leaving you without life cover.
  • Premiums can be high, especially if you’re older, already have medical worries, or have a family history of health problems.
  • If you have pre-existing medical conditions, these won’t usually be covered.

How much critical illness cover do I need?

The level of critical illness cover you need will depend on a number of factors. Think carefully about the outgoings that would need to be covered if you couldn’t work, such as your mortgage or rent, debts from personal loans or on credit cards, and your everyday cost of living. How reliant your family and dependants are on your ability to work should be considered too.

It’s also important to check the level of support your employer provides if you can’t work because of illness or disability, and consider any other protection you might have, perhaps from income protection insurance or mortgage payment protection policies. Having a suitable level of savings you could call on might also mean you need less critical illness cover.

Finally, think about how much you can afford to pay out on premiums, as this will dictate the maximum level of cover you’re able to arrange. You can discuss your individual requirements with a LifeSearch adviser if you are unsure of the amount of cover you may require.

How much does critical illness cover cost?

The cost of critical illness cover will depend on the level of cover you want and for how long – the higher the amount and the longer the term, the more it will usually cost. The cost of the same cover for the same term can also vary from person to person, depending on a wide range of factors including your:

  • Age: The older you are when you apply, the greater the risk insurers think there is that you might get ill, and so the more you can expect to pay.
  • Health: Ongoing medical problems, or a family history of certain conditions, will usually lead to higher premiums.
  • Lifestyle: Being a smoker, heavy drinker or having a risky hobby can raise the cost of critical illness cover.
  • Job: Having a dangerous job tends to increase premiums.

The type of premium you choose is important too. Guaranteed premiums, where the amount you pay won’t change for the term of the policy unless your cover alters, tend to cost more at outset than reviewable premiums. However, while reviewable premiums will stay the same for a certain period of time, they could rise significantly when they are reviewed by the insurer at the end of this period.

If critical illness cover is combined with life insurance, the type of life cover you take out – level, decreasing or joint – will also affect the cost of premiums overall.

If you’re not sure how much critical illness cover you might need, you can contact an adviser at our partner, LifeSearch, for guidance. Simply leave your phone number and an adviser will call you back to discuss your options.

» COMPARE: Life insurance and critical illness cover quotes

How can I compare critical illness cover?

We’ve partnered with LifeSearch so that you’re able to compare critical illness cover combined with life insurance right here. You’ll choose the life cover you want first before adding the critical illness cover that you want a few steps down the line.

If you want standalone critical illness cover that isn’t combined with life insurance, that isn’t available through our quote system. However, call LifeSearch directly and they will be able to help.

» COMPARE: Life insurance and critical illness cover quotes

Critical Illness Cover FAQs

Am I eligible for critical illness cover?

The eligibility criteria for critical illness cover varies between insurers, but generally you’ll need to be a UK resident and over 18 to qualify. Usually there will also be an upper age limit for taking out cover, often in the mid-60s.

Applications are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. So if you have a pre-existing medical condition or a particular family history, it’s still entirely possible you’ll be able to get critical illness cover, but perhaps with that condition, and maybe others, excluded.

What is the best critical illness cover for me?

Finding the best critical illness cover for you will depend on a combination of factors, including price and the extent of the cover on offer. In particular, you should make sure a policy covers as many of the conditions that you want protection against as possible and note whether there are any exclusions. Always check policy documents carefully to see what is and isn’t covered, and whether there are any caveats regarding the severity of illnesses and conditions that might affect your chances of receiving a payout.

How long will I be covered if I have a critical illness?

As critical illness cover usually only pays out once, as soon as you’ve successfully claimed with a qualifying condition your policy will come to an end. So if you want ongoing protection against further illness and injury, you’ll need to arrange new cover.

What does critical illness not cover?

This will differ between insurers, but some common exclusions might include:

*high blood pressure, or hypertension *non-invasive cancers that stay in the original tissue and do not spread to other parts of the body *broken bones and similar injuries

It’s always vital to check what a particular policy covers and the severity any condition must reach before a payout will be approved.

Is critical illness different from terminal illness cover?

Yes, it is different. Terminal illness cover only pays out if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness which is likely to lead to death within months rather than years, whereas critical illness cover can pay out for serious, but not necessarily life-threatening, conditions. A terminal illness benefit that is part of a life insurance product may not apply in the last 18 months of a life insurance policy.

Is critical illness cover different to life insurance?

Yes, they are different because critical illness cover pays out if you get certain illnesses or health conditions, but life insurance will only pay out if you die.

» COMPARE:Life insurance

Can children get critical illness cover?

Critical illness cover for children isn’t available as a standalone policy, but might be included automatically in some adult policies if you’re a parent or guardian, or can perhaps be added for an additional cost. The conditions covered on child critical illness cover will often vary from those on an adult policy, so checking the terms and conditions is essential. The amount of cover offered for the child will likely be a reduced amount compared to the cover in place for the parent.

What do I need for a critical illness cover quote?

To get a critical illness quote through our partnership with LifeSearch, you’ll need to begin a life insurance quote and choose to add critical illness cover when given the option to do so. That’s because LifeSearch only offers critical illness cover in combination with life insurance, rather than as a standalone policy in this quote system.

All you need to do to get that quote is to give details about the type, amount and length of cover you need, and provide your name, date of birth and some contact details.

Can I claim for more than one critical illness?

These policies will usually only make a single payout on the diagnosis of a critical illness or condition covered in the policy terms and then the policy will end. If you’re unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with more than one critical illness at the same time, critical illness cover will still only usually pay out once.

Will I get my money back if I don’t need to make a claim?

No, you won’t get any money back from a critical illness cover policy if you don’t make a claim. A policy has no cash value if it reaches the end of the term without paying out.

Can I cancel my critical illness policy?

Generally, you’ll have 30 days to cancel a new critical illness cover policy and potentially receive a refund of your premiums, assuming you’ve not submitted a claim.

Once 30 days have passed, you’re still allowed to cancel your policy, but are unlikely to get any of your premiums back and won’t have any critical illness cover under that policy. You might have to pay administration charges for exiting the plan early too.

Can you get critical illness cover on its own?

Yes, some insurers offer standalone critical illness cover policies. Alternatively, critical illness cover might be offered as an optional extra attached to life insurance cover – this is the type of cover you can get a quote for through our partnership with LifeSearch.

» COMPARE: Life insurance

About the author

Tim draws on 20 years’ experience at Moneyfacts, Virgin Money and Future to pen articles that always put consumers’ interests first. He has particular expertise in mortgages, pensions and savings. Read more

This life insurance comparison and quote service is presented via our partnership with LifeSearch Limited. The information you provide is used to generate quotes from LifeSearch. Nerdwallet Ltd does not form part of the service beyond presenting quotes.

LifeSearch Limited is registered at Wentworth House 440 Parkway, Solent Business Park, Whitely, Hampshire PO15 7FJ and is an Appointed Representative of LifeSearch Partners Limited and regulated under the Financial Conduct Authority ref: 402349.

LifeSearch Limited is not part of Nerdwallet Ltd or other Nerdwallet entities.

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