Insurance Explained: Why Church Organisations Need Professional Indemnity Cover

February 1, 2016 - 4 minutes read

aspea_front1It could be easy to assume that Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance is designed only for commercial businesses and is therefore not relevant for churches involved in ministry and pastoral care. However church bodies can be (and sometimes have been) sued for breach of duty to people in their care, and such an occurrence has the potential to be pretty costly! This situation makes PI cover for churches very relevant.

What is PI insurance?

PI cover is designed for professionals who provide services (such as financial or legal advice) to their clients. It provides financial protection against claims made for harm or loss caused by those services, and covers legal and other costs and damages.

In relation to church organisations it can provide cover for such areas as counselling, prayer ministry, leadership, pastoral care, and even preaching. If for example a party feels they have been wronged and suffered a loss as a result of your conduct or that of a member of your ministry team or workforce, and they decide to sue for damages, you could be in a very vulnerable financial position without insurance cover for such an event.

Reducing your risk

Of course the best way to avoid a claim against you is to have high standards of conduct and excellent risk management procedures in place. This involves setting appropriate boundaries and rules regarding behaviour and conduct amongst various other measures.

Some of the considerations for reducing your risk level are outlined below.

Counselling:

  • Use of fully qualified counsellors in all situations.
  • Counselling only in areas of expertise and referring clients on if necessary.
  • Involving a third party in sessions if required and appropriate.
  • Keeping detailed written records of all sessions.
  • Taking steps to prevent clients from becoming too dependent on their counsellors, such as avoiding long-term counselling by one person.
  • Asking permission before touching counselees in any way.

Leadership conduct:

  • Establishment of appropriate boundaries.
  • Setting ethical behavioural standards that are beyond reproach.
  • Establishing lines of accountability.
  • Designating a responsible person to appoint leaders.
  • Adequate training and guidelines for leaders.
  • Taking care of the health and wellbeing of leaders in your organisation.

Prayer ministry:

  • Using seated prayer lines rather than standing. People have been known to suffer injuries in standing prayer lines from falling and some have successfully sued for damages. Types of injuries have included fractured skulls, broken bones, back injuries and even brain damage.
  • Ensuring enough catchers are available for standing lines. It’s also important to ensure they are well-matched size-wise to their ‘catchees’.
  • Looking after the wellbeing of catchers so they do not suffer injuries.

Pastoral care:

  • Remaining in view of others rather than going somewhere alone where allegations of misconduct could be made.
  • Possibility of having a third person present where appropriate.
  • Asking permission before laying on of hands.
  • Respecting privacy and confidentiality, whilst still complying with mandatory reporting regarding child abuse or criminal behaviour.

Health / disability / aged care:

  • Provision of appropriate care.
  • Ensuring adequate numbers of appropriately-qualified staff members.
  • Taking steps to avoid loss of client documentation.
  • Avoidance of acting outside client instructions.

Other areas:

These may revolve around the use of intellectual property, copyright infringement, preaching that involves using an individual as an example without his or her permission, and / or libel, slander or defamation.

CCI’s PI insurance

Details of our PI cover can be found on page 11 of the Churches of Christ Insurance’s ‘Summary of Insurance’ document available for download from our website. Any queries regarding professional indemnity cover or general insurance solutions for churches should be directed to Russell Hoath or Liz Matheson.

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