Public liability insurance

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What is public liability insurance?

Public liability insurance is designed to cover your business if it’s sued by a member of the public.

This could be for injuries or illnesses it causes them, or damage it inflicts on their property.

It's designed to cover the cost of any compensation payouts you’re ordered to pay, as well as any legal fees you end up owing.

It’s for any business who interacts with the public.

And ‘the public’ doesn’t just mean passers by. It includes:

  • Customers

  • Suppliers

  • Couriers

  • Anyone who isn’t an employee

Who might need it?

To give you an idea of how public liability insurance could benefit your business, here are some examples of what it could cover. Just bear in mind that these are only examples, and you should always check your policy documents to see exactly what your insurance covers you for.

Hairdressers who could cause harm to clients with things like hair dye they could react to

Shopkeepers who could be held liable for customers injuring themselves in their shops

Tradespeople who could injure clients or damage their property while on the job

Online retailers who could sell a product that injures a customer

Confused bINS Secondary public liability

What does public liability insurance cover?

Exactly what’s covered by public liability insurance can differ from provider to provider, but most policies cover:

Compensation payouts you could be ordered to pay if your business is found to have hurt a member of the public or damaged their property.
Legal expenses your business may run up defending a claim for compensation. This could run into the hundreds of thousands for serious cases.
Replacement or repair of items your business is found to have damaged. You'll usually be given a set amount you can claim for.
Medical fees that your business could be found liable for. Even if the treatment was provided by the NHS, you could still be ordered to pay.

There are a few things that aren’t usually covered, though. These include:

Injuries you suffer, as public liability policies are designed to cover claims for injury to others and their property, not you and yours.
Damage to your personal property as policies will only cover third parties. Your home insurance and car insurance should cover your own items.
Your employees and their property, as this should be covered under your employers’ liability insurance, or things like business car insurance.
Damages as a result of your work that cause a client financial or reputational harm. This is typically covered by professional indemnity insurance.

What our business insurance expert says

It’s a common misconception that only customers count as members of the public. In fact, anyone who isn’t on your payroll could be counted as the public. And any injuries your business causes them could see you sued. If you use suppliers, couriers or work in public places, public liability cover could be worth considering.

Do I have to have public liability insurance?

Public liability insurance isn’t a legal requirement. But you may still need it in order to operate. Some trade bodies and industry regulators insist their members have it in place. If yours does, you'll need cover in order to trade. Trade bodies that insist on it include, among others:

There are other scenarios in which you may need cover too. If you work on a contract basis, your contracts might insist you have it. If you work for local councils as a contractor, they'll often insist you have it in place too. As a quick guide, you may need it if:

  • Your business works on a contract basis

  • You work with the council or another public body

  • Your clients want you to have it, as you could lose out if not

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What affects the cost of my cover?

A range of factors go into what you pay for your public liability insurance.

These include:

The size of your business, as the more people you employ, the higher the risk of an accident

The type of business you have, as some are more likely to cause harm or damage to the public or their property than others

How much cover you take out, as the higher your cover amount the more you pay. Here at we compare quotes for £1m to £10m of cover.

How often you interact with the public, as dealing with customers day-in-day-out puts you at higher risk than a rarely public-facing business.

Confused bINS Secondary public liability

What other types of business insurance might I need?

Other types of business insurance you might benefit from include:

Employer's liability insurance

This is a legal requirement for most businesses with employees. It works in a similar way to public liability insurance, but is designed to cover your business against any claims made by employees. This could be for physical harm they suffer on the job, or illness they develop as a result of their work. As with public liability insurance, it can help you cover the cost of any compensation you’re ordered to pay and any legal fees you’re liable for.

Professional indemnity insurance

This helps protect businesses against claims of financial or reputational damage. This could be due to advice you give that leads to a client losing money, or it could be for things that damage your client's reputation. This might be something like leaking sensitive documents that are picked up by the press. As with other types of business insurance, it’s designed to help you cover the cost of compensation payments and legal fees your business may be found liable for.

Who's Simply Business?

The quotes you'll get from us are provided by Simply Business, one of the UK’s best known business insurance providers.

Having served more than 3 million businesses since 2005, they’ve helped everyone from sole traders to large, multi-site operations find the right cover at the right price.

They’re regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority too, meaning that everything they do is out in the open. Just like every other partner we work with, you can rest assured you’re in safe hands with Simply Business.

Get a quote today and find the cover you need in minutes.


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How much public liability cover do I need?

The amount of cover you need depends on your personal circumstances, and the details of any contracts you’re bound by.

Here at, we compare policies from £1m to £10m of cover.

Depending on your business, you may find £1m isn’t quite enough protection.

To get the right amount, think about:

How often you interact with the public or their property, as the more chances for something to go wrong, the more cover it might be useful to have.

How likely you are to cause them or their property harm, as riskier businesses involving things like heavy machinery may do well to have more cover in place than less risky ones.

How many employees you have, as the more people your business employs, the higher the risk of something going wrong. The more employees you have, the more cover you’re likely to need.

Do I need cover if I'm self employed?

While it isn’t a legal requirement to have it in place, public liability insurance can benefit self-employed traders as much as owners of bigger businesses.

If your business harms a member of the public or damages their property, it could be held liable for damages, regardless of its size. Without public liability cover in place, as a self-employed trader, liability for those damages falls on you.

So, while self-employed traders don’t ‘need’ it, the peace of mind in knowing your business is protected can often justify the cost of having public liability insurance in place.

Page last reviewed: 27/11/2023

Reviewed by: Matthew Harwood Business Insurance is provided by Simply Business. Simply Business is a trading name of Xbridge Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Financial Services Registration No: 313348). Xbridge Limited (No: 3967717) has its registered office at 6th Floor, 99 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7NG. Our service is free and compares a range of trusted household names. is an intermediary and receives commission from Xbridge Limited which is based on a percentage of the total annual premium if you decide to buy through our website. We pride ourselves on impartiality and independence – therefore we don't promote any one insurance provider over another.