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What our Nerds say about public liability insurance



Public liability insurance protects your business if a member of the public is injured or if their property is damaged and they hold your business responsible. This might be a customer, a supplier or a visitor.

Getting public liability cover isn’t usually a legal necessity, but some industry bodies expect you to have it as standard. Whether your business needs it may also depend on the type of clients and contracts you work with.

If you’re not sure how public liability insurance works or what features you might need, look no further than our guide to public liability insurance below.

What is public liability insurance?

Public liability insurance protects your business if it’s held responsible for personal injury to a member of the public, a client or other visitors, or for damage or loss to their property.

The cover helps pay for any associated legal fees for defending a claim, including the cost of a solicitor, as well as compensation costs, including medical fees after injury, or property repair bills after damage.

What does public liability insurance cover?

Public liability insurance covers injury or death and damage to property of members of the public. This might include clients, visitors and participants in events, and even passers-by – simply put, a third party who you don’t employ.

The incident may happen on your business premises or while you operate at another site, and could be anything from a customer tripping on a café step to a loose tile falling on a pedestrian while a builder carries out work.

How much public liability cover do you need?

Your level of cover will determine the maximum amount your insurer would pay out for a claim. How much cover is right for your business depends on a few factors, including:

  • your type of business and the risks associated with its activities
  • how often you deal with the general public.
  • any requirements of membership or trade bodies, your industry or your clients

For example, government contracts tend to require a minimum level of public liability cover of between £5 million and £10 million.

You can usually find public liability cover between £1 million and £10 million. This may sound a lot, and not all businesses will need the maximum amount. But it’s important to consider all possibilities, and how compensation and legal costs can mount up, so you don’t find yourself underinsured and footing the bill for expensive claims.

Check client contract terms and guidelines of any trade associations or membership bodies you are a part of, for any minimum cover requirements.

How does public liability insurance work?

When you take out public liability cover, you pay an agreed premium for the term of the contract, usually with the option of paying annually or monthly. You can also get shorter, one-off cover, perhaps if you only come into contact with the public when exhibiting at public events and need cover for a day.

Make sure you shop around, so you get the best deal and aren’t paying more than necessary for the level of cover your business needs.

Then, if a member of the public makes a claim against your business, you will be protected up to a maximum amount against compensation costs and legal fees your business is held responsible for. This might include court fees, compensation claims, medical bills and ongoing care costs, loss of earnings, or repair bills for damaged property.

When you make a claim on your policy, you will usually be charged an excess, which means the insurer won’t cover the full cost of the claim. The higher the excess, the lower the premium tends to be – but make sure you can afford to pay that amount on a claim.

Why have public liability insurance?

If your business comes into contact with the general public, public liability insurance is an important consideration. Without it, you may face a substantial bill if your business is held responsible for damage to property or injury to someone.

You will also be protecting the public and your clients by having sufficient cover. This can apply to all types of work, from hair stylists to tradespeople, such as builders and plumbers.

You may find that having cover is required by a membership body or trade association, or is a condition of a client you want to work with. For example, you may need proof of cover if you are selling in a public space or are a contractor carrying out work on a building site.

Who needs public liability insurance?

Public liability cover is for all types of sectors and businesses of all sizes. Accidents happen, and whether you work from home and have clients visiting, exhibit at conferences or carry out a trade in customers’ homes, your business will face certain risks if it comes into contact with the public.

Having cover in place means the reassurance of knowing that if your business is held responsible for injury or property damage, you have protection from legal fees and compensation costs.

What happens if I don’t have public liability insurance?

Without cover, if a member of the public has an accident or their property is damaged on your premises or off site, and your business is held responsible, your business would be liable to pay legal fees and compensation costs.

This may include medical bills, loss of earnings, damage repair bills and solicitor costs. So while it’s not compulsory cover, consider that these costs could be extremely high. And for some types of work, not having cover may exclude you from bidding for contracts or taking part in off-site events.

How much does public liability insurance cost?

The cost of cover will depend on a few factors relating to your business, including:

  • how many people you employ
  • your sector or trade
  • your business’s claims history
  • the level of cover

The excess amount you choose will also have an effect. As there are lots of factors that go into the price your insurer charges, it’s best to get a quote and compare the premiums along with the level of cover, based on your business and its individual circumstances.

Public liability insurance is tax deductible, as an allowable expense.

How to get public liability insurance

You can buy public liability cover through a provider or through a broker. You’ll save time and effort if you’re looking to compare deals using a price comparison tool, as you’ll only need to provide the information once to get quotes from a number of insurers.

To get a quote, you will need to supply some personal information, including your name and address, and information about your business. This will usually include:

  • trade or sector
  • number of years trading
  • number of employees
  • annual turnover or income
  • details of past claims
  • cover start date

You may also be asked if you want to add professional indemnity cover or product liability cover as a business insurance bundle.

You can then review the quotes and choose the provider that offers what your business needs, for the best price.

How to choose the best public liability insurance

When you are comparing providers it isn’t just about the lowest price, though premiums will need to be affordable. Check that the level of cover and maximum cover amount are right for your business. If you choose an excess amount, make sure you can afford to pay it if you have to make a claim.

It’s also key to read the full details of the cover, so you are clear about when the insurer would and wouldn’t pay out. You may also want to consider other factors, such as if the provider charges admin fees if you make a change to your policy.

Public liability insurance FAQs

Is it a legal requirement to have public liability insurance?

Public liability insurance isn’t a legal requirement, unless you own a horse-riding business. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn't get it.

Any business that comes into contact with the public should consider getting cover, as it offers protection for legal and compensation costs after injury to a member of the public, or damage to their property, caused by your business.

You will need this cover if you bid for government contracts, and some clients and membership bodies may ask that you have a minimum level of cover.

Do I need self-employed public liability insurance?

If you run your own business as a sole trader or freelancer, if you come into contact with the public, it could make sense to consider public liability insurance. Perhaps clients visit your home, or you exhibit or sell at public events. Or maybe you provide a service to clients in their home.

If your business causes injury or even death, or is responsible for damage to their property, you could face compensation claims and legal costs. With public liability insurance, these costs would be covered, up to a maximum amount.

Is public liability insurance the same as employers’ liability insurance?

No, they cover different things. While they are both types of business insurance, public liability insurance is not generally compulsory, while employers’ liability insurance is a legal requirement if your business has employees. The penalty for not having employers’ liability insurance is £2,500 a day.

Public liability insurance covers legal and compensation costs if a member of the public, a client or visitor is injured, or their property is damaged, and your business is responsible. Employers’ liability insurance protects your business if one of your employees is ill or injured while at work and claims compensation.

Can I get public liability insurance as part of my business insurance?

Yes, insurers offer packaged business insurance deals. Public liability insurance is only one type of insurance your business might need. If you have one or more employees, you will need employers’ liability insurance. Other types of cover this might be bundled with are professional indemnity insurance, commercial property insurance and product liability insurance. Always read your policy in detail, so you know you have the level of cover your business needs.

Do I need public liability insurance for a private party?

You won’t need cover for self-employed, independent If your business is providing services for a private party, or hosting it, you might want public liability cover. That way, if your business activities cause injury to a guest or customer, or damage to their property, you would be covered for compensation or legal costs made against you.

Some venues will require that you have public liability cover to operate on the premises. You can buy public liability insurance for events as a one-off, with flexible terms, depending on how often you need it.

Do you need public liability insurance for a craft stall?

If you are trading at a public event, whether that’s a craft fair or exhibition, you will be dealing with the public. Public liability cover will protect you if your business is held responsible for injury or damage to the property of visitors to the craft fair.

You may find that the overall event organisers require all exhibitors to arrange this cover before attending, and will ask for proof that you have this cover.

Do I need public liability insurance for a wedding?

Any business that comes into contact with the public, including those carrying out services at a wedding – from caterers to DJs – should consider public liability insurance.

Accidents happen, and if a guest trips over your equipment or their belongings are damaged and your business is held responsible, you could face legal and compensation costs if you don’t have cover.

The venue may also require businesses operating on the premises to have public liability cover.

Do I need public liability insurance for a holiday let?

If you have home insurance for a holiday property, which you let out commercially, it may include a level of public liability insurance as standard. This helps protect you from costs if a guest is injured or their belongings are damaged and they hold you responsible.

Always check the level of cover included in your policy before buying a separate policy. If you employ anyone to carry out work in your home, such as a gardener, you will need employers’ liability insurance.

Is business insurance the same as public liability insurance?

Business insurance is an umbrella term for a few types of business insurance products. Public liability insurance is just one type of business insurance.

» COMPARE: Business insurance

Does professional indemnity insurance cover public liability?

No, they are different types of business insurance. Professional indemnity insurance protects a business if a customer claims they’ve received negligent or poor professional knowledge, skills or advice. Some occupations, such as solicitors and accountants, must have this cover.

Public liability insurance offers protection if your business is held responsible for injury to the public, a client or visitor, or for damage to their property.

Can you get public liability insurance for a day?

Yes, it’s possible to arrange public liability cover that lasts a day for one-off events. This might be if your business runs or attends events such as fetes or client dinners only occasionally.

How do I claim against public liability insurance?

As soon as a claim has been made against your business, or even if you’re aware of injury or damage, which has happened but no claim has yet been made, you should follow the steps advised by your insurer. This includes not negotiating with the injured party and contacting your insurance provider as soon as possible. Have your policy details ready when you contact your insurer.

Bear in mind that if you are making a claim for an amount below your agreed excess, you won’t be able to make a claim against your policy and will need to pay the bill yourself.

About the author

Holly champions clear, jargon-free writing. She’s been creating finance content for leading organisations for over 10 years. Read more

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