Critical illness cover

Protection for the unexpected

Critical illness policies are the type of policy nobody wishes to have to claim against, yet evidence shows that these are vitally important policies that can support families and secure their financial wellbeing during the worst of times.

Most people buy critical illness cover when they take on a major financial commitment, but it’s important to receive professional advice. It also pays to start young when premiums are relatively cheap, rather than leaving it until later in your life when the price of cover can rise substantially or you may not be able to obtain the level of cover you need.

Critical illness cover is a long-term insurance policy designed to pay you a tax-free lump sum on the diagnosis of certain life-threatening or debilitating (but not necessarily fatal) conditions such as a heart attack, stroke, certain types/stages of cancer and multiple sclerosis. A more comprehensive policy will cover many more serious conditions including loss of sight, permanent loss of hearing and a total and permanent disability that stops you from working. Some policies also provide cover against the loss of limbs.

But not all conditions are necessarily covered. In May 2003, insurers adopted new rules set by the Association of British Insurers that tightened the conditions under which you could claim on critical illness insurance policies.

If you are single with no dependants, critical illness cover can be used to pay off your mortgage, which means that you would have fewer bills or a lump sum to use if you became very unwell. And if you are part of a couple, it can provide much-needed financial support at a time of emotional stress.

The illnesses covered are specified in the policy along with any exclusions and limitations, which may differ between insurers. Critical illness policies usually pay out only once, so are not a replacement for income. Some policies offer combined life and critical illness cover. These pay out if you are diagnosed with a critical illness, or you die, whichever happens first.

If you already have an existing critical illness policy you might find that, by replacing the policy, you would lose some of the benefits if you have developed any illnesses since you first took the policy out. It is important to seek professional advice before replacing or switching your policy, as pre-existing conditions may not be covered under a new policy.

Some policies allow you to increase your cover, particularly after lifestyle changes such as marriage, moving home or having children. If you cannot increase the cover under your existing policy, you could consider taking out a new policy just to ‘top up’ your existing cover.

A policy will provide cover only for conditions defined in the policy document. For a condition to be covered, your condition must meet the policy definition exactly. This can mean that some conditions, such as some forms of cancer, won’t be covered if deemed insufficiently severe.
Similarly, some conditions will not be covered if you suffer from them after reaching a certain age. For example, many policies will not cover Alzheimer’s disease if diagnosed after the age of 60.

Very few policies will pay out as soon as you receive diagnosis of any of the conditions listed in the policy. Most pay out only after a ‘survival period’, which is typically 28 days. This means that if you die within 28 days of meeting the definition of the critical illness given in the policy, the cover would not pay out.

How much you pay for critical illness cover will depend on a range of factors, including what sort of policy you have chosen, your age, the amount you want the policy to pay out and whether or not you smoke.

Permanent, total disability is usually included in the policy. Some insurers define permanent total disability as being unable to work as you normally would as a result of sickness while others see it as being unable to independently perform three or more ‘Activities of Daily Living’ as a result of sickness or accident.

Activities of daily living include:

Dressing and undressing
Transferring from bed to chair, and back again