Cancer survivors to gain access to mortgage protection after years of refusal

New voluntary code of practice will disregard cancer diagnosis where treatment ended over seven years ago

Cancer survivors will no longer be locked out of the mortgage protection market under a new code of practice agreed by Irish life insurers. Access to the life cover is generally a condition for a person to secure mortgage approval for home purchase.

The new code promises to disregard a cancer diagnosis where the person is in complete remission and treatment for their cancer ended more than seven years before any application for cover. Where the cancer had been diagnosed under the age of 18, the time limit falls to five years.

Details were published earlier this week by Insurance Ireland, the industry representative body. It will cover mortgage applications up to a value of €500,000 for a main family home but will not extend to mortgages on second homes or investment properties.

The insurers agreeing to operate the voluntary code are: Irish Life, Royal London, Zurich Life Assurance, Aviva Life and Pensions, New Ireland Assurance, Acorn Life and Laya Healthcare. They now have six months to implement the code which will “go live” on December 6th.


“Insurance Ireland and its members believe that the code will lead to a faster, more streamlined process for those impacted,” the industry group said in a statement. “They see the approach as a pragmatic solution that appropriately balance the needs of cancer survivors without causing a reduction in availability of cover for other consumers.”

The initiative follows proposed legislation last year that sought to prohibit financial service providers from discriminating against survivors of cancer accessing financial services. It provided for penalties of up to five years in jail or fines of €30,000 for any individual or company discriminating against a person who had been free of cancer treatment for five years.

Survey evidence by the Irish Cancer Society had earlier found that cancer survivors experienced considerably more difficulty dealing with insurers and, to a lesser degree, banks, sparking calls for an enforceable “right to be forgotten”. Those difficulties related to outright refusal of cover, excessively high premiums and unduly burdensome processes involved in securing cover.

Figures from the National Cancer Registry in 2021 showed that approximately 200,000 people in Ireland are living beyond a cancer diagnosis. Its figures showed that over three in five people diagnosed with cancer are alive 5 years after their diagnosis, with that number rising to four in five for children.

Brokers Ireland has, in association with the new code, published a register of 170 brokers across the State who say they are available to help people who have pre-existing conditions in securing life cover for mortgages.

In practical terms, it is close to impossible to secure a mortgage without mortgage protection, which ensures the lender will recover the money lent in the event of a mortgage holder dying before the loan is repaid in full.

Insurance Ireland noted that the Consumer Credit Act does allow lenders, at their discretion, to waive the requirement for a mortgage protection policy where the applicant is over 50 years of age, one of a group who either cannot secure cover at all or can do so only at a significantly higher premium than other applicants.

It cited 2021 data from bank industry group Banking and Payments Federation Ireland that 2 per cent of mortgage approvals involved a waiver on life insurance.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times