Personal trainer legal issues

Personal trainer motivating client who is using barbells to do pushups

Businesses and self-employed professionals who deal with members of the public must comply with consumer protection legislation. This exists to protect your customers from unfair trading practices and covers matters such as fair trading, contracts, making sure claims and descriptions are honest, and avoiding using unscrupulous practices like scare tactics. For example, it is against the law to claim to your customers that you are a member of a trade association when you're not, to pretend that you hold a recognised qualification, or to convince people that they are guaranteed to lose a large amount of weight with your help when they are clearly unlikely to.

Your local Trading Standards Department should be able to answer any queries you have about consumer protection legislation and your business. You can also get information and guidance on the and Trading Standards Business Companion websites.

What licences does a personal trainer need?

There are no compulsory national licensing requirements relating specifically to personal trainers. However, you will generally need to hold a recognised qualification at the appropriate level if you want to get work from sources such as gyms and leisure centres, and you may well need this qualification to be able to get public liability insurance too. In any case, it is strongly recommended that only properly qualified individuals should work as fitness instructors or personal trainers, and many potential clients will want to confirm that you have an appropriate qualification. You will generally need a recognised level 2 qualification to work as a gym or fitness instructor, and a level three qualification to work as a personal trainer. A level three qualification will also enable you to take NHS referrals under an exercise referral scheme. There's more about personal trainer qualifications on the National Register of Personal Trainers (NRPT) website.

As well as being properly qualified, you should obtain a recognised first aid certificate. These are valid for three years before they need renewing.

Be aware that businesses which keep computerised records of individuals' personal details may be required to register as data users with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). You'll probably be keeping quite detailed records of clients' progress, abilities and training programmes, particularly if you do NHS rehabilitation work through an exercise referral scheme. You can find out more about data protection rules and any registration requirements on the ICO website.

Also be aware that in some areas, the local authority requires fitness professionals like personal trainers who work in public parks and other open spaces to obtain a permit, sometimes called a 'personal training park permit'. These permits can cost several hundred pounds a year. In some cases the local authority will only grant permits to personal trainers who hold recognised qualifications and have completed a detailed risk assessment. To find out more, contact your local authority or check their website.

If you work with children - perhaps coaching children for a club or organisation, or taking referrals from a GP - then you may need a background check by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). This also applies if you work with vulnerable adults such as mental health patients. You can get a basic check done on yourself through Disclosure Scotland, but if you need a 'standard' or an 'enhanced' check then as a self-employed person you may need to get it through a registered umbrella body. You can find out more on the DBS section of the website.

Trainers who hold sessions to background music need to ensure that they are not using the music in public without having the necessary copyright licensing in place. Licences for the public performance of copyright music are issued by PPL PRS Ltd. A ProDub Fitness licence from PRS for Music enables fitness instructors to copy up to 1,000 tracks a year to digital format for use in their work. In many cases the fitness centre where you work will be responsible for obtaining these licences, but in some cases it may be down to you. The trade body UK Active has negotiated a special 'exercise to music' tariff with PPL and a 10% discount for members.

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Voluntary registration

Suitably qualified personal trainers can choose to join the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs). REPs provides a system of regulation for instructors and trainers to ensure that they meet the industry's National Occupational Standards. You will need an appropriate level 3 qualification to join the register as a personal trainer. By becoming a REPs registered trainer you will demonstrate to your clients that you have the knowledge, competence and skills to perform specific roles - and that you maintain a high standard of professionalism. You will also be eligible to undertake exercise referral work. You can find out more about REPs on the Exercise Register website.

Trainers who specialise in water-based fitness - for example aqua fitness instructors - could consider joining the Register of Aquatic Professionals (RAPs).

Working in public spaces

Be aware that in some areas, public spaces such as parks are covered by local by-laws which prohibit their use for 'profiteering' and set out other restrictions on things like playing music. It's best to find out about this sort of thing before planning to use a particular public space for activities such as 'boot camp' training sessions or circuit training.

Data protection

You'll probably be keeping quite detailed client records, particularly if you work with NHS patients who have been referred to you through the exercise referral scheme. As well as basic details like name, address and age, you may well be keeping a record of far more personal matters like health and lifestyle.

You'll need to be aware of your obligations as a data user under data protection legislation to protect this information and prevent it from being misused or falling into the wrong hands. From May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation has introduced additional protection for personal data. You can find out more about data protection laws on the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) website.

You should obtain a first aid certificate to demonstrate that you are properly trained to give first aid in the event of an accident, injury or illness affecting one of your clients or a member of the public.

Health & Safety, fire

You must comply with workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation.

You'll need to take steps to make sure you and your clients - and any staff you employ - stay safe. This could include making necessary checks to gym equipment, and ensuring that training programmes and exercises are appropriate to the individual's health and abilities. If you're working outdoors - for example running or cycling on the roads - then you'll need to take additional safety precautions. A detailed risk assessment may be necessary.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include recruitment, employment contracts, pay, working hours, holidays, employment policies, sickness, maternity, paternity, discrimination, discipline, grievances, dismissals, redundancies and employment tribunals.

Insurance for a personal trainer

Contact an insurer or insurance broker and explain exactly how your business will operate - they will then explain what insurance cover you must have by law, and other cover you should consider. This might include:

  • public liability
  • professional indemnity
  • sports equipment
  • personal accident
  • critical illness
  • cash
  • business interruption
  • employer's liability (if you have any employees)
  • motor insurance

The National Register of Personal Trainers (NRPT) checks and requires that prospective new members have adequate personal trainer liability insurance and can arrange a specialist personal trainer insurance package for members. The NRPT website includes further details.

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