Insurance requirements for editors

 

In 2004, societies of editors kindly distributed a questionnaire for freelance editors about insurance. I’m happy to report on the responses now – responses that give very sensible and resourceful advice. Twenty-two people responded to the survey, three of whom had not been bothered about insurance. The following information is drawn from the eighteen respondents who had. Most communicated strong feelings! I’m very grateful to everyone who replied, many of whom wrote extensively about their experiences and suggestions.

Q1: Have you been required to take out insurance in order to fulfil a contract?

Eighteen people replied that they had been asked to, but not all of them took out the insurance specially. Most editors had negotiated their way out of it; some had refused the work; and one had stalled on signing a contract until the work was completed and the contract became redundant.

Q2: What kind and level of cover was required?

The most common requirements were for professional indemnity cover of up to $5 million (thirteen respondents) or $10 million (two respondents), and public liability cover up to $10 million (thirteen respondents). Other requirements were for workers’ compensation cover (three respondents), loss of income insurance (two respondents), and accident insurance (one respondent). One editor was also asked to sign a client’s Statements of Safety and Health, and Environmental Principles. Some of these requirements were concomitant.

Q3: Have you retained, or do you intend to retain, that insurance after taking the work?

Of those who had agreed to take out insurance, seven kept it on afterwards and eight did not renew it. One editor said that it had been necessary to continue the cover because some contracts require professional indemnity insurance to be kept current for three years after completion of the project.

Q4: Have you ever refused work because of insurance requirements?

Five editors said Yes and eleven people said No, although several of the no-sayers had faced an insurance requirement and successfully negotiated their way out of it. Of the five who replied Yes, all had told the clients why. Two editors said they had told prospective clients that the cost of the editing for a specific job, or their rates more generally, would have to cover the cost of taking out insurance, and that this had changed the clients’ attitude.

Q5: Can you recommend an insurance broker or insurance company?

In reply to this question, several people had harsh words to say about insurers and their industry generally. Others had simply stayed away from insurance. A member of the Canberra Society of Editors attempted negotiations with a broker some years ago on the basis of bringing numerous clients in return for a realistic premium price. Unfortunately the firm found the proposition too difficult. The general feeling communicated was that it’s better to avoid getting into insurance just because clients require it (however unthinkingly) than to capitulate. A minority of editors had taken out insurance voluntarily, usually either public liability or professional indemnity.

Recommended firms were Greater National Group (03 9572 5755), Australian Better Business Insurance (GPO Box 2470, Adelaide 5001), RACV, AOL Risk Services (Melbourne), Hadrill Insurance and Bugg Goninon (GPO Box 1932, Hobart 7001, 03 6265 2999).

Q6: Do you have suggestions for other editors facing insurance requirements?

Respondents were generous with advice:

  • Negotiate with the client. Explain that you can’t be sure of getting other work during the period of the insurance for which the same cover will be required. Explain that insurance requirements increase your charges – either for a specific job or for all jobs, depending on the circumstances. Describe the lack of danger involved – at all levels – in what you will be doing. Explain that the client is responsible for the final product, not you.
  • Refuse the job if it is conditional on insurance cover that you don’t already have. Other jobs will make up for it and other editors will be grateful for the solidarity.
  • Make it clear that you won’t get the insurance until you have been told in writing that you have the job. Otherwise, you’re betting the cost of the insurance.
  • Give two quotes: one that includes the cost of taking out insurance, and one that doesn’t.
    Put it in writing to the client that you require them to examine and accept or sign off on your work and that they are responsible for what is published.
  • Use a contract of your own that includes a statement to the effect that your services are provided by way of advice only, and that all responsibility for the final publication remains with the client. (At the Editors’ Association of Canada publishes a Standard Freelance Editorial Agreement, which individuals can adapt for their own use. See also the suggestions for societies below.)
  • If you are forced into buying insurance, shop around and haggle. Don’t accept the first price offered.
  • Check the client’s and insurer’s requirements. The insurance may need to be kept up for some years after completion of the project. Some companies require you to be insured when the claim is made even if it is some time after the work was done.
  • One editor asked her client – a state government department – to contact their own insurance company to get a risk assessment. Because the risk was minute, cover wasn’t required. This editor has since asked other clients to do the same, but only one has actually done so; others have seen her point and waived the requirement.
  • Keep clients from coming to your home office. (One editor has found her lack of public liability insurance a useful tactic in discouraging clients from visiting.) Keep contact to phone calls and email messages, or visit clients at their offices if this is practical. Some clients welcome an opportunity to get out of the office and meet in a cafĂ©.
  • Form a pool of CASE-affiliated or CASE-accredited editors and ask jointly for tenders for professional indemnity insurance.
  • If you have a home office, check what is covered by your home contents policy. Some insurance companies won’t insure business items under a home policy, so it pays to shop around.

Q7: Do you have any suggestions for action that societies of editors or CASE could take?

  • Produce a short statement that editors can use in their own proposals, quotes, letters or contracts saying why professional indemnity insurance is unnecessary.
  • Prepare a standard response to the standard contract clauses about insurance.
  • Prepare a brief statement of the main risks faced by editors and the consequences (so that editors have something to show to their risk-assessors and insurers) and a major claims history against freelance editors (if any). This could form the basis of advice from the society on what would be reasonable maximum limits for coverage (more reasonable than $5 million or $10 million).
  • Lobby against the growing trend among clients to require professional indemnity. (The editor who suggested this also acknowledged that it is difficult to know whom to lobby for best effect.)
  • Approach the ACCC because (a) it is a competition issue if quoting requirements are unfair or change during the quoting period as a result of tenderers objecting to insurance conditions and (b) governments and businesses are imposing unreasonable conditions on small businesses, making it difficult for them to compete.
  • Approach the ministers for small business at state/territory and national levels because they meet together from time to time. Insurance is one matter where small businesses are disadvantaged in requests for quotes or tenders. Some Requests for Tenders (RFTs) assume that only incorporated entities will reply and word their RFTs accordingly, even though they invite any interested suppliers to respond. This could be seen as anti-competitive and unsupportive of small business.
  • Approach agencies that have lists of approved suppliers or service providers, some of whom require insurance cover before allowing firms onto their lists.
  • Negotiate with insurers for a good deal and publicise it to editors.

Conclusion

If the response to the questionnaire I received is a reasonable indicator, then not many of our profession have been bothered by insurance requirements, but those who have quite rightly see some requirements as very unreasonable, if not just plain silly. The suggestions that respondents made for individuals and for societies show the resourcefulness of sensible, intelligent people who refuse to be bullied. I hope that sharing the suggestions will give confidence to freelance editors worried about these matters and that societies can see their way to supporting these members in some or all of the ways suggested. Strength to your arms, comrades!

by Robyn Colman, Society of Editors (Tasmania) Inc.