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Public liability insurance for the self-employed

20/03/2023

man tripping over cable

Being your own boss means wearing lots of different hats. The risk-minimising, reputation-saving, insurance-buying hat being just one of them.

And when you’re wearing that particular hat and weighing up what self-employed insurance you need, it’s a fair bet that public liability (PL) might not sit top of your list.

Except that it should...or come in a close second, at least. Because if the dreaded shade-throwing, compensation-seeking finger of blame has to come from somewhere, it might as well come from Joe Public as anywhere else.

Problem is, insurance terms are murky at best and people aren’t always sure what PL actually means. So, let’s tackle that bit before we do anything else.

What's in a name?

As always, the clue’s in the name: public liability.

‘Public’ refers to any member of the public (not employed by you) you come into contact with through your self-employment – from the clients you meet face-to-face, to the postie who stops on your doorstep most mornings.

The ‘liability’ is the blame-allocating bit. It means being responsible for actions and practices that could hurt or damage others. In this case, members of the public.

So far so good. Except there’s another aspect to PL insurance – that’s not covered by its name. And that’s that it exists to cover bodily injury, illness, or even death caused by accidents. Slips, trips, spills, and all the rest of it.

Public enemy number one

Here’s the other side of the coin: for public liability insurance to trigger, there's got to be a claim. A claim that exists because you accidentally hurt someone or damaged their property and they want compensation for it.

Because you left a computer lead trailing across the office. Or forgot to put up a safety sign after mopping the floor… causing someone to slip a disk or break their ankle and wind up in hospital.

Maybe you spilled a glass of water over someone's top-spec PC, rendering it completely useless. Or knocked over a priceless antique vase when visiting a client's office, smashing it to smithereens.

You can be as careful or conscientious as you like. But there's countless scenarios where someone gets hurt or their property damaged, both on and off your premises. And the injured party can take you to court for it, whether you think you’re at fault or not.

As a self-employed person, you don’t have an employer to step in on your behalf. So, if a third party claims against you for compensation or damages, you’ll have to answer for it.

Unless, of course, you let your public liability insurance do the talking. And by talking, we mean pay for a solicitor who can offer expert legal advice. As well as cover your legal fees and, depending on the outcome, pay for any damaged property or compensate injured parties. Or both.

Which self-employed professions need public liability insurance?

We’d hesitate to say, ‘all of them’. But it’s not far off. Certainly anyone working in a capacity where they meet clients, have visitors, visit others, or deal with the public.

And while public liability insurance isn’t a legal requirement, clients are within their rights to ask for it before doing business with you. They can even specify how much you need or ask for proof of insurance.

Which is fair enough, really. As there are plenty of self-employed professions, especially the machine-handling ones, where there's a risk of injuring a member of the public or damaging their property.

Also, some workplaces are inherently risky. Think construction sites with their multiple levels and uneven surfaces underfoot. Or hair salons with their slippery floors and sharp tools. Even office environments come with a fair number of risks. Trailing computer cables, loose carpets, and the like.

Unsurprisingly, public sector workers often need PL insurance because, by definition, their work brings them into close contact with the public. Teachers, nurses, and social workers have a duty of care to the people they help and so are under extreme scrutiny when there’s an accident.

So it makes perfect sense they’d want to protect their reputation with insurance. Not to mention their pockets.

To arrange a self-employed public liability insurance policy, call us on 0345 561 0320. Or simply start a quote.

Image used under license from Shutterstock.

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