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Legislation, Liability & Insurance in British Astrology


The APAI exists to support the professional concerns of trained, practicing astrologers, and periodically sends out a newsletter to its members. The following is reproduced (with permission) from the latest newsletter: autumn 2010, and relates to the legal situation regarding the practice of astrology in the UK

APAI Chair and newsletter editor, Sharon Knight, introduces a comment from liability insurance expert David Balens, which is followed by advise from the Office of Fair Trading which was sought by APAI council member Robert Anderson. Sharon introduces the articles by explaining:

"Back in 2008 there was a lot of concern among astrologers and others about new consumer protection legislation that was introduced after repeal of the Fraudulent Mediums Act. Although a couple of years have passed, alarmist emails are still being circulated from time to time - usually with the object of parting people from their money! One of our members has recently brought such a mailing to our attention - so now seems an opportune time to repeat the advice and guidance we received two years ago. On behalf of APAI members I approached David Balen of Balens Insurance and his advice at the time was as follows:"





Changes in the Law - An Insurer's View
On 1st April 2008 The Fraudulent Mediums Act (1951) will be repealed and replaced by New UK Legislation (CPRs = Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations; and UCPD = Unfair Commercial Practices Directive). This change will have wide-reaching legal effects on all mediums, psychics, astrologers, complementary therapists and teachers in related spiritual and psychic charitable and professional organisations and disciplines, or anyone who interacts with, or supplies services to, the public.

The new legislation will incorporate a major change of emphasis. No longer will the onus be on an aggrieved client to prove fraudulent intent by the astrologer. Instead, if allegations are made, the onus will be on the astrologer to prove that he or she did not act fraudulently. This is understandably causing a lot of concern in the professional astrological world. But in this short article I hope to reassure readers that, provided certain guidelines are followed and precautions taken, APAI members should not have too much to fear.

It is my experience in dealing with professional indemnity insurance claims that complaints arise if clients have paid for a service before being properly informed about what they were getting for their money, that the service has then not lived up to their expectations, and that they have been left feeling as if they have been duped.

My recommendation to APAI members is to draw up a statement of services offered - with an explanation of what the services entail. Make it as clear as you can what your clients should expect for their money.

Although general disclaimers of responsibility are morally questionable and in fact have little legal validity, it is perfectly acceptable to include in your statement of services a comment that astrology is not an exact science and for this reason no reading can be 100% accurate. However your statement should also make it clear that you will use your best endeavours.

In repealing the Fraudulent Mediums Act it appears that the government are distancing themselves from the criminalisation of misdemeanours involving faith and belief, in favour of a secular consumer protection approach. In this legal environment the over-arching principle is reasonableness. If you can show you have acted reasonably in dealing with a client then complaints against you are less likely to be upheld.

Of course this does not prevent a client making allegations and potentially embroiling you in court proceedings. It is in this situation that appropriate insurance cover comes into its own. Although the policy offered by Balens to UK APAI members does not provide cover for any form of prediction or forecasting, it does offer general protection in cases where negligent or criminal activity has been alleged. Although some may feel that the annual premiums are high (typically under 100 in 2007) it is as well to remember that a single consultation with a solicitor is likely to cost a lot more. For Balens customers who would prefer to spread the cost of their insurance cover, a direct debit scheme is being introduced which will allow payment by instalments.

I hope this brief overview of the forthcoming legal changes has been useful. Balens staff are always available to discuss your individual insurance requirements.

DAVID BALEN Cert PFS, Managing Director BALENS LTD - http://www.balens.co.uk/




Advice from the Office of Fair trading - by Robert Anderson
On 5th June 2008 I rang Consumer Direct which is part of the OFT (Office of Fair Trading). I was directed to a Trading Standards Officer from the OFT . I explained that I was making an enquiry on behalf of professional astrologers who were concerned about the CPR (Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations), and the UCPD (Unfair Commercial Practices Directive) which activates these regulations. He said he was familiar with the legislation and confirmed it had only recently come into force.

I said that there was concern among astrologers about how they should conduct their consultations in order to comply with the law. His reply was that the new regulations are designed to protect the public from dishonest suppliers who make untrue or misleading statements in order to part customers from their money. He added that an example of an unfair practice in this context would be to make a statement purporting to be factual which in reality could not be proved to be factual.

In reply I suggested that this could put astrologers in some difficulty since astrology is rarely totally accurate either in character delineation or prediction. His response was that this does not necessarily render astrological readings unfair or misleading. He cited polygraph testing as an example of a well-established procedure which, although it requires considerable biometric expertise on the part of the polygraph operator, is not considered to be scientifically proven. He went on to suggest that if astrologers wish to minimize the risk of being reported for breach of the new regulations they should adopt the following procedure before accepting payment from a client for a consultation: Explain briefly and in general what astrology is and what astrologers do:
  • Explain the limitations of the techniques employed e.g. astrology is a symbolic language & offers a balance of probabilities rather than specific certainties
  • Describe the service(s) to be provided e.g. character analysis, compatibility assessment - and the scale of fees
  • Emphasize that astrology is not scientifically proven and that no reading can be 100% accurate
  • Explain nevertheless that the astrologers(s) will work to the best of their knowledge and abilities in the preparation and delivery of the services to be provided.
It is not necessary for the client to sign their acceptance of a disclaimer. It is sufficient to communicate the five points above to the client verbally, in writing, or via the astrologer's website according to the circumstances of the reading or consultation.

I was left feeling reassured that, as David Balen said in his article, it is all about "reasonableness" and fair dealing. There is nothing to stop an awkward client from complaining about an astrologer but the conscientious astrologer can minimize his or her legal exposure by following the steps above.
Robert Anderson, Treasurer APAI

Also, in these litigious times, it is worth remembering to insert somewhere in your written or spoken consultations, the following disclaimer:

Disclaimer notice. In this consultation the information provided is intended as a guide only. Whilst the information provided is believed to be correct, I take no responsibility for any actions you may undertake based on this information.






© The article made available on this page is copyrighted to the APAI and is offered here for private, non-commercial use. Permission must be sought for reproduction. Published online September, 2010.




Professional Astrology
See also:
Starting out in a Professional practice and Setting Fees
by Linda Reid
Five Issues in Astrological Counseling
by Joseph Crane









       
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