Legalities and Paperwork for Piano Teachers (The Boring Bit)

Don’t be put off by the title – in any case, maybe you don’t find legalities and paperwork boring … I’m afraid I do. Fortunately, I think I can keep this fairly brief.

Criminal Records Bureau Check

When I started teaching, I approached my local school with a view to teaching pupils either within the school itself or in my own home. The school arranged for me to have a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check (this is standard practice for anyone in the UK working with young people or vulnerable adults) which involved filling in a form about any previous criminal convictions I may have had – fortunately there were none.

At that time, a standard CRB check (which currently costs £26) was sufficient but these days, schools are likely to request an enhanced check – at a cost of £44. The good thing is, these checks do not ‘run out’ as such and only need renewing if the school requests it.

This CRB check (now called the DBS – Disclosure and Barring Service check) is not currently obligatory for piano teachers who teach solely in their own homes … in fact, it’s not possible to obtain one without it being requested by an authority such as a school.

However, if you are not involved with any ‘authority’ but still wish to have ‘proof’ of your suitability to work with children, you can approach your regional police headquarters, speak to the Data Protection Department and ask to submit a Subject Access Request – at the current cost of £10 – which will provide any personal information held about you. For advertising purposes (or to reassure any anxious parents) it may be worth obtaining this.

Of course, the above information (and some of what follows) relates specifically to piano teachers in the UK – different countries will have their own rules and may require different types of checks.


If you are a home-owner with a mortgage, you also need to inform your mortgage and insurance companies of your intention to set up a business at home. Don’t worry, a piano-teaching business is unlikely to upset either of them but there could be consequences if they weren’t informed.

I was advised by a fellow piano teacher to take out public liability insurance. For anyone who doesn’t know (as I didn’t), this is to insure against negligence causing injury to a ‘customer’. For example, if my piano stool had a damaged leg, which I hadn’t bothered to repair and a pupil fell off it and cracked his head open (hopefully very unlikely!) – the insurance would cover me for any compensation claims and legal fees.

As piano-teaching is not exactly a risky business, the premiums are reasonably low: I currently pay £50 per year and could probably find a slightly cheaper quote if I made the effort to shop around.

Income Tax

Finally – what I consider to be the most tedious and time-consuming ‘legality’ – the dreaded income tax. (You must inform the tax department as soon as you become self-employed).

I absolutely hate those forms and find it hard to believe they come round only once a year – it seems much more frequent. The best way to minimise the ordeal of completing one is to keep clear, detailed records – on paper, on computer, or both – of absolutely everything you earn and spend (as part of your business) over the year. The earnings total should be pretty straight-forward, as long as you make sure you take account of lessons which have been cancelled or rearranged.

Calculating your expenditure is a little more complicated but among the things you should consider are piano-tuning costs, piano books used for teaching purposes, (stationary, notebooks, manuscript paper, pens, pencils etc.), lighting and heating (this is more difficult but you have to work out what portion of your gas/electric bill covers your piano-teaching room … I think most people would struggle to be totally precise about this), workspace maintenance (cleaning, replacement light-bulbs etc), telephone calls (again as a portion of your total telephone bill) and a portion of your mortgage interest, council tax and water rates.


You may also be able to claim costs related to your computer if you use this to keep records of your pupils or business finances. Or, if you travel as part of your work (to schools or pupils’ homes) you can claim for petrol and other car-related costs. For these, and all your other expenses claims you must keep your receipts together ready to show in case of an investigation by the tax office.

In the box headed ‘capital allowance’ on the tax form you need to consider any expensive items you have bought for your business – such as a piano. You must half the cost of it and then claim 90% of that (assuming that 10% is for your own use).

I try to get my tax form over and done with as soon as I receive it, rather than waiting for the final submission date. I fill in the form and submit it online, although I can’t pretend this is any less time-consuming than doing it by hand – in fact sometimes it seems even more complicated with various numbers and codes to remember. As well as your National Insurance Number and Unique Tax Reference (you’re given one of these as soon as you become self-employed) you’ll also need to remember your User ID (for filling in the form online) and password (a random selection of letters and numbers which you can’t possibly recall without writing it down) and finally, when you submit the form, you’re given a submission number … which is around 30 characters in length!

But, don’t be downhearted (as I am, just writing about such things!) – the good news is, filling in your tax form does get slightly quicker and easier the more times you do it.


So, that’s the legalities out of the way. The only other ‘boring bit’ in my view is the paperwork. Actually, most of my ‘paperwork’ is carried out on the computer. The files I have include:

1) An introductory letter with details of books to buy, practice recommendations and an outline of my ‘rules’.
2) A waiting list with name, contact number, date of first contact (so that I give priority to the parent/potential pupil who asked for lessons first) and any other details.
3) General notes on each pupil currently learning to play piano, including full name (for exam certificates), date of birth (for exam entry, unless over 18), weekly lesson time, contact numbers and any other details. (I also keep these notes when pupils become ‘ex-pupils’ – in the hope that they might one day come back).
4) Weekly notes on each pupil, updated after each lesson with a record of what has been achieved and what needs to be achieved next time. (You may not feel this is necessary if you’re already keeping notes in the pupil’s notebook. However, I prefer to consult these computer records before the next lesson and jot down a few points, as pupils so often forget their notebooks and I have no chance of remembering what went on in the previous lesson).
5) Teaching timetable (which includes names of pupils who have requested to swap to a different weekly lesson time, with a note of their preferences and the days and times when they are not available).
6) Template letter to parents regarding piano exams (details of fees, books required, exam dates, exam venue etc.)
7) A list of pupils working towards exams with likely exam period entry time (e.g. spring, summer or autumn term) and the final date on which entries can be made.
8) Detailed list of exam results with marks for each section (this helps if, for example, a pupil has low score for sight-reading in one exam, then, having checked my list, I remember to give more time to sight-reading preparation for the next: pupils can’t always be relied upon to remember their own scores).
9) Wording for advertising (although I have only once used this).
10) Information needed for tax forms.
11) Teaching notes for examinations, such as a sight-reading checklist and summary of requirements for theory exams and higher grade aurals.
12) A template receipt for pupils or parents who pay for several weeks’ lessons at a time.

Please don’t be put off by this list! I’m sure plenty of piano teachers operate successfully without so much (or indeed any!) ‘paperwork’ – I just need the reassurance of something concrete to refer to if my memory lets me down.

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