Here's a ukulele question I get asked a lot. If ever there is a subject guaranteed to cause disagreement in forums it's the subject of Insurance for bands and performers who are going out gigging. Rules and regulations on this can be complex, misleading and confusing and it is not helped by many people spreading false information as to what is what. Actually though, I consider the subject quite simple. For me it comes down to two things. Do you want to be able to play every gig and do you want to lose the shirt off your back if something goes wrong?
First things first, I appreciate that the ukulele world is global and I suspect different things apply in different countries. I write this as a good practice guide that should apply pretty much everywhere, but please bear in mind that these comments are related to my country and experience (The UK).
First up, lets get one thing clear. There is NO law that makes insurance a strict requirement. You are playing gigs, not driving a motor car. Insurance is all about risk and protection. As such, many bands don't carry insurance and many do. And this is where the mis-information starts to spread.
And why are we talking about insurance anyway, and insurance for what? Well in the main I am dealing here with Public Liability Insurance or PLI. This is distinct from Insurance for your gear and instruments (although I would recommend that if you are gigging that you check whether your home contents insurance does actually cover your kit - it more than likely doesn't).
So - PLI - this is insurance that covers you / your band in the event that an incident happens for which the blame falls with you. Without insurance you could be required to foot the bill which could be anything from thousands of pounds (in the event of a minor incident) to eye watering numbers in the event of a catastrophe. We are talking here about several sorts of costs. Firstly there is repair or replacement of something that is damaged ( such as walking past a punters car in the car park and scratching it with your instrument case, or damaging the venue negligently). Second is the cost of compensation. That is to say the cost claim brought by someone who is injured or harmed (or worse) or suffers some sort of loss on account of your actions (so things like trips, falls, electrocution and the like). Finally we have the wonderful concept of legal costs (yes, if you are to blame you are probably liable for those too). Add them all up and the bill can be huge, even for minor things.
So we now come to the first myth - the 'It will never happen to us' defence, and therefore you don't 'need' insurance. Are you sure about that? The horrible fact of life is this - firms exist to specifically chase claims for negligence for the smallest thing. You will have seen the TV adverts. So this could be something as simple as somebody tripping over one of your music stands, instrument leads or similar and breaking their ankle. That really isn't so unlikely when you think about the fact that a lot of venues contain people who contain a lot of alcohol! Of course, that is the very mild end of the scale. What if one of your PA speakers falls on a crowd member? What if some of your electrical equipment blows the venue fuses or worse, catches fire? What if your wiring electrocutes somebody? (More on electrics below). Yes, you may think these are all unlikely, but in my experience, life has a funny habit of making the most unlikely things happen when you least expect them. If blame for any of these incidents can be attributed to your or your band, you could be staring at a claim.
Second myth - the 'Insurance is the responsibility of the venue' claim. This is not actually true. Most venues that host anything involving the public will indeed carry their own insurance, but they are totally at liberty to ask you to insure yourselves also. Besides, are you willing to rely on their insurance? I see many people get quite sniffy about this point and claim that its 'an outrage' and 'I would refuse to play'. But the really simple fact is this. An increasing number of venues ARE asking for bands to have insurance so it really then comes down to the question of 'do I want to play this gig or not'? There is no point arguing with the venue if that is their policy - you won't win and the only result will be that you won't get the gig. In my experience, wedding venues, council property and the like will almost certainly require it, and an increasing number of theatres and even pubs are starting to ask for it too. However much you may disagree with the point, do you really want to rule out so many venues on a point of principle? Seems like cutting your nose off to spite your face to me.
But now lets bring both of those myths together. Even if a venue doesn't ask you to carry insurance, are you prepared to take the chance that if there is an incident that you can rely on them to be fully covered, (and rely on the lawyers to not try to mount a tandem claim against you)? The reality of life is that a claims lawyer will look at targeting absolutely anyone who they think could have liability. It might be the venue, it might be you, it might be both of you. In short - are you prepared to defend yourself by relying on a statement that the claim should be directed at the venue and not you?
So, as you can probably tell, I personally think insurance is a damn good idea if you are performing regularly. And the real bonus here is that PLI insurance is not actually all that expensive. I am not a financial advisor so I won't be giving specific recommendations here apart from to say that in my own experience, insuring a band of 8 people playing with all electric gear cost about £70 for 12 months. That is peanuts to each player for the peace of mind it provides. Joining the Musicians Union could be an option too as this gives you cover as part of a lot of other things, but if you want to shop around just google 'PLI cover for bands'. So I personally hold the view that when it's such a low cost, why WOULDN'T you hold insurance? Perhaps you wouldn't on a point of principle, but I am afraid your principles are not a valid defence to a negligence claim.
So to sum up. There is no legal requirement for you to have insurance, but an increasing number of venues are asking for it. Even if the venues you play don't ask for it, are you prepared to rely on their insurance in the event of an incident? I personally wouldn't. Please don't get me wrong, I am not a fan of the vulture mentality of the Insurance and Legal worlds and it would be marvellous if we didn't have this stuff. But we do. In playing a gig you are offering a service and you are working. Things can go wrong and you could be the target if they do. Your decision will be based on where and how often you are playing, but with increasing numbers of ukulele clubs going out now and playing gigs every month, I would say that is frequent enough to need to look into insurance. Even if you are just busking in town do you think the local Council will take responsibility for a member of the public who trips over your instrument case and breaks their wrist?
And now a final word on something connected to electrical risk and Insurance - PAT testing. PAT testing is a 'Portable Appliance Test' that is in accordance with the Electricity At Work Regulations and is essentially a test and certification of anything that plugs in to the mains for safety. This is not a legal requirement but you may find that venues ask to see your certificate and that your Insurance requires you to have it if using electrical gear. PAT testing is required for any electrical item over 12 months old and needs to be renewed yearly (or in some cases, more often). It will cost you about £5 per item and I would say it is highly recommended. You will know how Insurance companies like to wriggle when they get a claim so you need to carefully read your policy and ensure that you are complying with it in every way. In fact, most band insurance policies will place a responsibility on the band to ensure they take reasonable precautions to avoid damage or injury, and PAT testing is part of that. A PAT certificate for your gear in the event of a claim for something damaged by electrical causes (like a fire) will certainly assist your case. Insurance aside though, I have played venues who asked to see the equipment certificates before they would let me plug anything in. Annoying perhaps - but it's another one that leaves you with the question 'do I want this gig or not?'
© Barry Maz