Overview of liability insurance responsibilities for people running clubs & societies
From stamp collecting to skydiving, whatever the hobbies and interests of individuals might be, chances are that a club or society exists to cater to their specific tastes. A seemingly harmless knitting club might be perceived a risk averse venture compared to a bungee jumping society.
Yet the bottom line is that those with overall responsibility for the running of clubs and societies of any kind have a duty of care that encompasses their members, and plenty more besides.
Naturally, the safety and wellbeing of club and society members, and their personal belongings, is a primary concern of group leaders. This is just as much the case regardless of whether the activities leaders put on for their members revolve around learning to play the recorder or riding motorcycles across dangerous terrains.
Yet the responsibilities of club and society leaders don’t simply begin and end with their attending members. They also extend to assistants and helpers – paid or unpaid – who provide services and support to group leaders. Furthermore, leaders have a responsibility to innocent bystanders in the form of the general public, plus the environments in which activities are carried out.
Some group leaders make personal income and generate profit from their clubs and societies. For others, the giving of their time, effort and expertise is voluntary. In either scenario they are strongly advised to start thinking of their clubs and societies like businesses when assessing their insurance needs.
Just like the numerous different types and sizes of companies across the country, some clubs and societies are, by their very natures, more of a risky business than others. Yet, just like the owners of a diverse spectrum of businesses, leaders have no crystal balls to predict when people might suffer accidents, damages and illnesses that might be directly attributed to their clubs and societies.
The accidents and damages for which people are not only entitled to instigate compensation claims, but are positively encouraged amidst a burgeoning culture of litigation, range from the sublime to the ridiculous. However, this is to neither marginalise nor mock the hundreds of thousands of very genuine compensation claims pursued and awarded every year as a result of accidents and damages caused by somebody else’s negligence.
Unforeseen incidents involving co-workers, members, the public, premises and property can prompt dissatisfied parties to act upon the principle that if blame can be apportioned, a claim is the next logical step. Whilst leaders of clubs and societies might not automatically compare what they do to what business owners do, their positions are surprisingly similar in terms of the risk of being held responsible for accidents, damages and illnesses.
Any essential differences between businesses and clubs or societies blur when claims are instigated against them. Whether misfortunes befall claimants as a result of business or pleasure, someone’s organisation is liable to pay out compensation if claims are upheld. If the organisation – be it a business, a club or a society – has been remiss in securing a public liability policy, it has done itself a grim disservice.
In effect, it has failed to provide itself with a financial safety net to cover costs on its behalf. Such an oversight on the part of a business owner or a club or society leader is often financially catastrophic, as the responsibility for paying out falls firmly at their feet when their organisation is unprotected.
So, if you head up a club or society, and put on activities for people to participate in on a free or a paid basis, here’s a leading question to ask yourself: How certain are you that your activities are 100% accident and damage proof?
Like any other organisation, your answer probably goes along the lines that you do your best, but that nothing can be 100% guaranteed. Therein lies your need to skim below the surface of what public liability is, what it does, and what you specifically need to consider to protect yourself financially.
Do all clubs & societies, regardless of the types of activities undertaken, need liability insurance?
In an absolute nutshell, the answer is yes, they usually do. Returning to the initial comparison between businesses with clubs and societies, exactly the same principles apply to people operating in either world. Whilst the perceived levels of risk can differ quite substantially, the unpredictability of accidents, damages, injuries, illnesses, even fatalities, makes risks just as real for a one man band consultancy business as a multinational construction company.
The very same risks apply to your club or society, regardless of whether the activities you supervise involve intellectual debating or cage fighting. Quite frankly, if anyone other than yourself is involved, those people are at risk of having accidents, suffering injuries or becoming ill as a direct or indirect result of your activities. So are your team members who carry out club or society work alongside you, and so are members of the public who innocently come in to contact with your club or society.
Furthermore, unless your club or society exists virtually online, you are likely to hold meetings, classes or events in public places. You might run a Women’s Institute group that holds regular coffee mornings at a local church. You might teach Zumba classes at a dance studio or gym that lets its premises to you. Or you might head up an am dram group that uses local halls or theatres for rehearsals and public performances.
Whatever your personal scenario is, your club or society involves people, premises and property. The environments in which your club or society activities take place are additional causes for concern, on top of personal safety. Should anyone involved in your activities cause intentional or unintentional damages at a hired venue, it is your club or society the venue is likely to come after to recoup costs incurred for repairs or replacements.
Looking objectively at the bigger picture, it is probably becoming apparent to you that liability cover should be on your agenda if you run any of the following types of groups:-
Clubs & Societies (of any nature)
Community Groups (including Youth Groups)
Dance & Fitness Classes & Groups (such as ballroom dancing, street dancing, yoga, zumba)
Sports Clubs & Teams (from outdoor athletics, team sports and extreme sports clubs, to indoor darts or snooker teams)
Anything can happen at any time, as fanciful and scaremongering as it might initially sound. Yet scaremongering should not be the motivation behind any public liability policy for clubs and societies. Public liability cover is a common sense financial safety net that acknowledges the simple fact that the unexpected can and does happen.
Should claimants deem your club or society responsible for their accidents, damages, injuries or illnesses, the financial buck will stop with you personally for any awards ultimately upheld in their favour if your club or society is unprotected by relevant liability insurance.
Can clubs & societies simply and easily assess the liability cover needed?
Public liability cover might initially sound a little complicated and onerous, but it isn’t once you forearm yourself with a basic understanding. Think again about looking at your club or society through a business pair of eyes. Even the smallest of businesses is advised to do go through exactly the same process to assess its liability insurance needs.
When the process is completed, chances are that many businesses secure a very similar, if not identical public liability policy, to your club or society.
Assessment of the liability insurance needs of your club or society involves a simple procedure known as risk assessment. There is plenty of information online that can help you to carry out your risk assessment, although you really don’t need to go to too much time and trouble. Businesses assess the risks to people, premises and property both in the workplace and outside of it – anywhere where their people come in to contact with external people, premises and property, or where external people might come in to contact with them.
Leaders of clubs and societies need to go through the same process, which needn’t be a laborious task. Keep it as simple as possible rather than making it hard work for yourself, perhaps using the following headers to help you risk assess thoroughly:-
Accidents & Injuries
An effective and easy way to assess the potential accidents and injuries that clubs and societies might cause, and be held responsible for, is to take a dual approach:-
a) Start off thinking about your own members. Pay close attention to the single or multiple environments in which you carry out your activities. What accidents and injuries are they at risk of suffering as a direct result of your activities and the places in which you operate?
b) Next, think about other people who are not your club or society members, such as your assistants and helpers, workers at hired venues you use, suppliers from whom you buy or hire equipment related to your activities, and the general public. Ask yourself exactly the same question. What accidents and injuries are they at risk of suffering as a direct result of your activities and the places in which you operate?
The nature and length of your ‘risk list’ will understandably be dictated by the types of activities you are involved in providing. If, for example, you run a gym, a sports club or dance lessons, it is fair comment that the physical nature of what you do entails more risks than sedentary pursuits.
Whether you own your own premises, hire a studio in a local leisure centre, use school sports fields, or organise activities that take place on a rock face or in the sea, health and safety is your be-all and end-all. Yet your due diligence alone, no matter how comprehensive and well intentioned, can’t prevent accidents and injuries sometimes unexpectedly occurring, and being blamed on you.
However, this is not to suggest that it is only sports related clubs and societies that need a public liability policy in case of sprains, strains, broken bones, or even fatalities at the very worst end of the spectrum.
If you run a chess club or a reading circle, you should still avoid being lulled in to a false sense of security that your activities are risk free. They aren’t. A member of your chess club might spill a drink on the floor at the premises you use, causing another member or an innocent bystander to suffer an injury as a result of a nasty slip. You might decide one week to collectively watch a DVD about the greatest chess games ever played, causing an accompanying person to trip over an unsecured trailing television cable when collecting their spouse.
A member of the public attending the annual summer fete held by your community group might suffer burns caused an inappropriately positioned water boiler whilst buying refreshments from you. Or a delivery person might be badly cut and bruised by a collision with an incumbent footlight when dropping off costumes and props for a forthcoming production by your theatre company.
From the trivial to the catastrophic, accidents and injuries do happen as a result of the activities of clubs and societies of each and every kind, just like they happen in any public places and any workplace.
People running clubs and societies, sometimes find it tougher to rationalise how their activities might cause illnesses than they do to understand the risks of accidents and injuries. In some cases their confusion might be justified. You should avoid becoming so panic stricken that you enter a realm of make-believe about illnesses your club or society might cause!
It is almost a certainty that you have no need to start having nightmares about causing life threatening terminal diseases like those caused by businesses failing to protect their workers from asbestos exposure. Yet you might certainly give some consideration to food that you provide for your members or to the public. Whether you prepare humble sandwiches for a fishing trip, arrange a summer barbecue, or bake cakes for a bring and buy sale, your food has the potential to cause stomach upsets, food poisoning, and severe allergic reactions.
Dance teachers, gyms and sports clubs once again come under the spotlight due the physical activities they provide, alongside the consequent risks of accidents and injuries. When falling in to this category, you should be extremely cautious about administering non-prescription medication, such as painkillers, to people for whom you are responsible. Whilst the likelihood of such scenarios is most pertinent to health and fitness cubs and societies, it is not exclusive, and just as applicable if you supervise any other types of activities.
You might think you are doing a member or another person a good turn by offering an aspirin if they have a headache or a broken bone. However, even if you have first aid experience, you are not a medical professional with access to the medical history or medication prescribed to your members or others. Your good intentions may seriously backfire if you are taken to task for aggravating allergies or causing medical complications.
The range of damages to other people’s premises and property that clubs and societies can potentially cause is as long as it is wide. At the most minor end of the scale, you might get away with a severe warning and a little bad blood if luck is on your side, rather than a compensation claim.
However, you are unlikely to get off quite so lightly if damages caused, that can be directly attributed to your club or society, have price tags attached for repairs or replacements. It’s perfectly understandable that the individual or organisation suffering damages to their premises or property, through no fault of their own, will be adamant that the guilty party should cover costs for putting things right.
Your over zealous youth group could quite unintentionally ruin a DJ’s sound system whilst jumping around at a disco you have put on for them. Your snooker club could be sued for accidental damages to another club’s tables whilst you are playing a friendly at their premises. Or your theatre company could fall foul of a hall rented for your production when your crew causes deep scratches to their wooden floor when lugging heavy props.
However, it’s not all about the potential doom and gloom of damages to other people’s premises and property for which your club or society might be blamed. Public liability cover is very much a two way street if you have your own premises, such as a gym, or a place where you hold dance, Zumba or yoga classes.
There is just as much chance of someone – whether a member, a supplier, or a random passerby – causing damages to your premises. In such cases, your liability cover can compensate your club or society for unexpected damages that aren’t your fault.
If you don’t own premises, you are more than likely to have belongings and ‘tools of the trade’ with which you carry out your club or society activities. Exactly the same goes for these, regardless of where the damage actually takes place.
What liability cover is absolutely essential for a club or society?
The specific nature of the public liability cover you ultimately decide to plump for is your call. In fact, the only type of liability cover you are obliged to have by law is employers liability, which is applicable to you if you have any help to carry out your club or society activities from other people. It doesn’t matter if their help is given to you on a part time, casual or voluntary basis.
If they constitute your team, then you are considered responsible for them whilst they are going about club or society business.
Unless you run your club or society completely independently, without enlisting the paid or unpaid help of anyone else at all, employers liability insurance is not so much a must-have, as a have-to have. It is legally applicable to the vast majority of clubs and societies, which tend to have committees that are classed as employees, even if they carry out their roles on a goodwill basis without any remuneration.
Should a committee member or any other casual helper have an accident, become ill or injured, or experience damages to their possessions whilst carrying out activities, they are legally entitled to pursue a compensation claim if their misfortunes are considered to be the fault of your cub or society.
Many clubs and societies take out a public liability policy as a matter of caution and of common sense, either alongside employers liability, or in its absence if employers liability is deemed unnecessary. Public liability cover is applicable to all sizes and all types of clubs and societies, and is a great launch pad in to insurance protection.
It might also be a finishing post for some clubs and societies, proving more than adequate in its own right. For others, supplementary cover is advisable, dependent upon individual circumstances and requirements.
Your public liability insurance offers you the same cover against accidents, damages, illnesses and injuries as employers liability does. However, your public liability policy protects your club or society against claims instigated by anyone who doesn’t work for you or form part of your team, such as your members, suppliers, and, of course, the general public.
The public liability cover you opt for provides you with what is referred to in the insurance businesses as indemnity. Simplistically, your level of indemnity is the amount of money that your liability insurance will pay out on behalf of your club or society in settlement of successful claims made against you. Standard liability insurance offers indemnity levels that are fixed at either £2million or £10million, based on the size of your club or society and the nature of your activities.
How can clubs & societies be sure that the public liability policy they choose incorporates all the cover they need?
Between employers liability and public liability cover, hundreds upon thousands of clubs and societies are forearmed with ample insurance cover against any and every worst case scenario. However, there are hundreds of thousands of clubs and societies that are not obliged to take supplementary cover, but should consider doing so to protect themselves against incidents that employers and public liability policies don’t cover.
If you did your risk assessment comprehensively, you are probably already thinking about the things you flagged up that aren’t mentioned in relation to fundamental employers and public liability insurance. There is no need for undue concern, as there are other insurance types that you can secure to supplement your employers and public liability policy on a bespoke basis. They might include:-
Commercial Vehicle Insurance
Whether you use your own car or van for club or society activity, or whether your club or society owns its own coach, minibus or van, commercial vehicle insurance is highly advisable. If you had assumed that this was only applicable to businesses that ultimately generate income via the use of their vehicles, you assumed incorrectly.
Your vehicle is classed as commercial if it is:-
- Unusual, such as community group float that you use in a local carnival,
- Used to transport special equipment, which, in the case of clubs and societies, might range from canoes to parachutes to treadmills,
- Used to transport people.
If any of the above apply to your club or society, commercial vehicle insurance is a handy tool to have at hand, as it doesn’t appertain to other people making claims against you. Instead, it offers you the possibility of recompense in case of unexpected accidents or damages involving your vehicle.
The specific nature of your club or society might dictate that you become ever more proficient in event organisation and management, either on an occasional basis, or as something that you do regularly. Dependent upon what your club or society actually does, your annual events calendar might not extend beyond Christmas drinks in a local pub. On the other hand, you may be responsible for arranging gymkhanas for your pony club, family fun days for your community group, or seasonal public performances for your theatre company.
You have considered the importance of public liability cover for the financial protection of your club or society in view of the limitless unforeseen mishaps that can occur as you go about your activities… Now, imagine how these risks might multiply in the context of events.
Your pony club gymkhana may not be the Grand National; your community group family fun day may not be the Olympics; and your theatre company performance may not be Madison Square Gardens. Yet your events, whilst seemingly harmless, have far more in common with larger world renowned equivalents than you initially think.
Gatherings of people naturally increase the potential for accidents, injuries, illnesses and damages, as covered by your public liability insurance. However, club and society events entail a different raft of potential unforeseen problems relating your money and other people’s money. Numerous club and society events involve the booking of venues or sites, plus suppliers.
Many also involve ticket sales. The inability of your club or society to meet your financial obligations to your suppliers and your customers, due to circumstances beyond your control, doesn’t bear thinking about.
Thankfully, insurance companies have already done the thinking for you, by formulating policies that offer specific event-centric financial cover, and sit very comfortably alongside your employers and public liability cover. Furthermore, event insurance is available to clubs and societies on a permanent or a one-off basis, allowing you to purchase only what you need dependant upon the regularity of your events.
In both cases, financial coverage is offered against any event organiser’s worst nightmares, such as:-
- Cancellation or disruption caused by bad weather conditions,
- Door or ticket monies being lost or stolen,
- Monies owing to venues and other suppliers for late event cancellation or shortfall in attendance numbers,
- Monies owing to ticket holders for late event cancellation or enforced reduction of venue capacity,
- No show of pre-booked suppliers,
- Cancellation or disruption caused by technical faults or failure,
- Cancellation or disruption caused by terrorist threats.
If you or any of your team offer professional advice to your members or other people, it might be wise to indemnify your club or society against the possibility of bad advice that results in accidents, damages, illnesses or injuries.
Health and fitness clubs and societies automatically spring to mind. You should think carefully about professional indemnity insurance if you are involved in physical instruction. Say you teach yoga classes and continuously encourage one of your members to get in to a position they don’t think they are capable of. When they finally manage the position, their over exertion beyond their natural ability causes a hernia.
Yet professional indemnity is not exclusive to health and fitness clubs and societies. A member of your DIY club could ask you for advice about carrying out woodworking at home as part of their renovation plans. The advice you give, which they follow to the letter, could result in their rafters collapsing.
Examples of this nature can sound comedic, but they illustrate the point. Professional indemnity insurance doesn’t exist to promote unhelpfulness, or to terrify you in to reluctance to offer expert advice and opinions. It protects you financially if the advice and opinions you offer backfire on the recipients.
Many comparisons have been drawn between running a club or society and running a business. Whilst you might have previously thought such comparisons wildly exaggerated, you might now agree that heading up a club or society is not too dissimilar from running a private business in terms of the responsibilities you shoulder – for people involved with your club or society, people completely uninvolved, and a variety of premises and possessions.
As the leader of a club or society, it is your responsibility to ensure that suitable liability insurance is in place. Claimants seeking compensation for accidents, damages, illnesses or injuries are legally entitled to pursue you as an individual if your club or society is lacking liability insurance to pay out on its behalf.
It is likely that your club or society, including the premises and possessions it has acquired, is the result of a labour of love for many people besides yourself. Therefore, it is also your responsibility to supplement your liability cover with relevant additional cover that offers recompense for unforeseen misfortunes that may befall your club or society.