A certificate of insurance (COI) is a document that proves the existence of an insurance policy. A COI describes the policy's key features and conditions, and is supplied by your broker or insurance company. Third parties may request to see a COI to prove you have adequate coverage in place; likewise there may be circumstances under which you want to see another party's COI. Here's all you need to know about certificates of insurance.
Types of Insurance Certificates
- What is a certificate of motor insurance?
- What is a certificate of liability insurance?
- What is a certificate of employers' liability insurance?
Certificate of Motor Insurance
A certificate of motor insurance verifies that you hold the minimum 3rd party insurance for your vehicle as required by law. It will include details such as who can drive your car and what type of driving you're insured for. For more information read our in-depth article What is a Certificate of Motor Insurance?
Certificate of Liability Insurance
A certificate of liability insurance is most applicable in terms of business insurance. It proves that your business has a valid insurance policy (e.g., public liability insurance) with certain limits of cover.
While liability insurance is optional in many cases, some clients, vendors, landlords, business partners or other third parties require it before they'll work with a business. As a result, your business might need a certificate of insurance on hand to prove it has the right cover in place.
- You own a commercial cleaning company which is about to sign a big contract to provide cleaning services to an office building. Before signing, your client wants to see your certificate of insurance to ensure that your cleaning company has public liability insurance to protect against your business damaging property or causing someone to be injured.
Certificate of Employers' Liability Insurance
A certificate of employers' liability insurance verifies that a business has valid employers' liability insurance coverage. Employers' liability insurance is required by law in most cases for any business with employees. The certificate proves to anyone who asks that you have at least the minimum £5M of cover to protect your business and employees against claims they've been injured or fallen ill due to work.
- You own a construction company. To complete a large project you are in negotiations with a plumbing subcontractor. Before signing with them you ask to see their certificate of employers' liability insurance to ensure they have the legally-required coverage in place to protect against employee injury or illness due to their work on the project.
What Information is on a Certificate of Insurance?
- Name of the insurance company
- Type of insurance provided
- Name of the insured party
- The start (aka 'effective') date and end (aka 'expiry') dates of the policy (marking the policy period when you are covered)
- Issue date
- Policy limits
- Limitations/Exclusions (note, the limitations and exclusions on a COI won't reflect all exclusions—for that you'd need the policy wording)
How to read a certificate of insurance
If you're verifying the certificate of insurance from a third party, perhaps before you sign a business contract with them, there are a few details to check. Primarily, confirm the name of the insured party, the type of insurance coverage, the coverage limits and the policy dates to make sure the policy is still valid when you need it. In particular, make sure that:
- The business name on the COI is the same as the business you're planning to work with
- The policy will be valid for the duration of the expected work with a third party (read our article Claims made vs claims occurring insurance coverage to see if this applies or not)
- The business has the correct types of insurance coverage
- The limits are high enough for your needs
- You take note of any exclusions listed on the COI
Your insurance company or broker should provide an electronic pdf version of your certificate of insurance that you can download for free, usually via email or a customer portal on their website. If you want them to post a physical copy of the certificate to you, then you might be charged an admin handling fee and postage.
Third parties may request to see a valid certificate of insurance. For example, motor insurance certificate can be requested by the police after an accident. And certificates of business liability insurance or employers' liability insurance can be requested or contractually required by clients, landlords, contractors, project management companies, and more. However, in those circumstances it's best not to send a copy of your actual certificate (to help prevent fraud) but instead to request a "letter of confirmation" from your insurer or broker that effectively states the covers and levels you have in place.
You can get a certificate of insurance from your insurance company or broker (if you used a broker). Typically the certificate of insurance would be emailed to you, or be available on your insurance provider's website via the customer portal (if they have one). If you don't have a copy of your certificate of insurance or access to a portal then you can request one; some companies charge for duplicate certificates of insurance and if you want it sent in the post you might be charged an admin fee for that as well (typically between £0 and £30).
The purpose of a certificate of insurance is simply to verify that you hold a valid insurance policy. You might need it to satisfy third parties who want confirmation that you're properly insured—for instance, there are times when the police, a client, your landlord, or another third party might want proof that you hold a certain minimum amount of coverage, and the certificate is what you show them. It will display what type of insurance you hold, the dates of cover, who/what is covered and any exclusions.
A certificate of insurance is simply proof for third parties that you hold a valid insurance policy, while a policy document will contain the full details of your policy and coverage. The policy document contains page after page of definitions, explanations of coverage, exclusions and more. If you're wondering about specific, nitty-gritty details of your cover, check the policy wording.