Am I liable for school fees in lieu of notice?

(20 Posts)
Brillo2003 Tue 03-Jul-12 17:38:03

Hello

I'd be grateful for comment from anyone with similar experience or legal insight.

I moved child from independent school over school holiday due to bullying which was not identified by the school. The school has billed me for terms fees in lieu of notice. I responded asking them to reconsider given their failure to address bullying. After exchange of letters there is no resolution nor recognition of any failure on the part of the school. The last letter from the school still asks me to pay the bill.

As far as I know the school has not started legal procedings. I am advised the cost of legal action both for me or for the school would be higher than the fees due. Should I offer a reduced sum in settlement now in the hope of concluding the issue or wait to see what action the school takes next?

Many thanks!

ontheedgeofwhatever Tue 03-Jul-12 18:38:25

You will almost certainly have signed a contract saying you'll give at least a full terms notice - if you didn't give that notice, you'll have difficulty if they do take legal proceedings.

You could try offering them something in full and final settlement but be prepared for it to be rejected. Schools will often have insurance for legal fees in perusing this kind of thing. However, they may weigh up the potential for negative publicity and choose to settle. I'd keep everything in writing from now on in case they do decide on legal proceedings

ontheedgeofwhatever Tue 03-Jul-12 18:53:49

You may find this rather long thread interesting. Sadly don't know what happened at the end What are my rights to withold school fees

Brillo2003 Tue 03-Jul-12 23:21:02

Many thanks, I've read that thread and responded to see what the outcome was.

I also found this article written by a lawyer to advise independent schools about fee recovery:
http://www.fismagazine.co.uk/strategic/legal/fees_recovery.html
The three points I find most interesting are that failure ... to protect a child from bullying is considered a "possibly valid issue", that the school faces a commercial decision about whether to pursue the debt, and that a parent can raise defences to fees claims at any time, following formal letters before action sent by solicitors on the school's behalf and even in response to the service of court proceedings.

I have not responded to the last letter from the school. I wonder if I should offer something in full and final settlement now, or if my position would be any worse or could perhaps be better if I wait and see what they do next!

Toughasoldboots Wed 04-Jul-12 00:57:22

I was sued for a terms fees by a school that I was very unhappy with.
The letters went back and forth over about 18months before it went to court.

I was pretty sure that I wouldn't win as I had not exhausted the complaints procedure before pulling my DS out, however I refused to wait that long.

I wanted to put up a fight if only to inconvenience them as I was so angry at how they behaved.
The judge was pretty reasonable, I self reppped and only had to pay the basic fee. They were refused all costs including travel ( they tried to claim first class grin) and interest.

That was a good result for me.

betterwhenthesunshines Wed 04-Jul-12 20:04:29

I would say it depends on the paper trail leading up to your decision to remove your child. Do you have evidence of meetings and action plans where the school put in place a way of dealing with this bullying? And proof that this was not followed through / recognised as effective? Presumably you didn't just pull the child out without any written form to the school that this was a serious issue?

If you did, just pull out, then I don't think you'll get very far and would just pay up to avoid further costs.

Do you also know if they managed to fill the place over the holidays? If so, then you could argue that they suffered no finanical loss as a result of your child's withdrawal.

EdithWeston Wed 04-Jul-12 20:19:32

The only cases of this sort where you stand a chance of winning are those with a paper trail which clearly shows incidents, schools (inadequate) response, and use of every stage of the grievance procedure. Do you have such a written record? If you cannot show that you exhausted all means for redress within the contract, then your case for breaking the contract is very weak.

The difficulty with the case in the other thread is at there was no such record - indeed the poster there didn't even know whether the school had a grievance procedure, showing she had not even attempted to resolve it within the contract terms she had signed up to. Unfortunately, there has been silence on that thread for several months, so I suspect the OP there does not have good news she wishes to share.

BeingFluffy Thu 05-Jul-12 08:03:13

Brillo, I also removed my children from a private school and refused to pay the notice period (the circumstances were a bit different but the story was so weird I would out myself if I posted it).

I wrote a letter to the head teacher explaining why. I heard nothing for two years and then they sent a particularly threatening and nasty debt recovery company (a very unprofessional solicitor) after me. I was harassed by letters for a while; they threatened home visits etc and it was a bit of a worry, even though I knew it was just threats. I looked on their website, at the package they offer schools and it was fairly obvious that the drafting fees would be too high for the school to pay should the case to go to court, as I was putting up a fight.

I therefore made it clear that I was happy to go to court and for the whole story to come out there and that I would also ask the local press if they were interested. They dropped it eventually. I think the time lag also didn't help their case much. However, I had also destroyed all the documentary evidence in the meantime, so I was bluffing but got away with it.

BeingFluffy Thu 05-Jul-12 08:09:14

Brillo just to mention that I did pay what I owed until the end of term (I paid monthly so the payments were out of sync with terms). We left the school at the end of the summer term. I think your idea of offering a reduced sum in settlement is a good one and both you and the school can walk away from it feeling that you have won. TBH I would try and avoid the possibility of debt recovery and a court case. It just takes a lot of time and causes worry apart from anything else.

Brillo2003 Thu 05-Jul-12 14:30:23

Many thanks for all the messages and sharing of information. Like BeingFluffy there are aspect of the story that I cannot post. I so wish it had been more straightforward with a clear paper trail!
For me, it started when the school told me at one of the term reviews my child was not working, was below the standard of peers and needed extra tuition. I was surprised this had not been raised in previous years and cross they had waited and not advised me as soon as they saw a problem.
I sought independent advice / assessment and was told there were no ability issues but child lacked confidence in ability. My state of confusion only increased when child became fearful about going to school. Finally child admitted to being bullied by one child in the class supported by a group of others.
I spoke to the school immediately, they denied it. Only when child described situations did they admit it but not consider it to be serious - i.e. serious enough for my child to fall behind with work but not serious enough for action from the school.
By this time it was only a few days before the end of term. I discovered there was a place at another school and told the current school I was considering moving as my child was so distressed and I had no confidence in their ability to address the issue; indeed they had not even identified it. I advised the school in writing at the end of term that child would not be returning after the holiday. My fees were up to date as I had paid fees for that term in advance.
I did not really have a chance to document the true issue. The truth came to light in the last week of term, after I had wasted weeks investigating a problem with the child's ability (mis-identified by the school). I was now faced with a very distressed child - how could I leave child to work through terms notice knowing the true situation which had already been suffered for a whole term?
There has been an exchange of letters and I've received a bill for fees in lieu of notice, but as yet nothing legal. I contacted Citizen's Advice and was told I could get 30mins free with a lawyer, however even though I phoned each of the names on the list, each one only spoke over the phone outlining their fees and advising it could cost more for me to fight than the fees due. The only good news is that I think this could be the same situation for the school so they too may need to consider the legal costs and time involved in pursuing the fees. Children have joined the class since child left so I beleive the class may now be larger than before - no financial loss for the school.
I'm weighing up the options - whether to offer a settlement and be done with the time and worry; or to wait and see what happens next. I think there would still be an option to offer a settlement if they send a solicitor's letter and there is always the possibility of no further action on the part of the school. I think there is a chance of them not pursuing fees as failure to address bullying could be a failure in their duty of care.
Good news now is child very happy in new school, doing fine and lots of friends!

EdithWeston Thu 05-Jul-12 14:44:10

I wouldn't try to second guess the school's willingness to retain lawyers.

Unfortunately for you, allegations of bullying made at the time of precipitate withdrawal are an extremely common tactic of parents who simply want out of their contract. Someone from GSG, I think, described this in a press interview, and this has the effect of making schools very sceptical.

Do you have a contemporaneous record of the school telling you they would take no action? A copy of their write up if the meeting, or a letter/email from you in which you provided an account? Do you have a copy of their anti-bullying policy - because I'm ready to bet it doesn't say an appropriate response is to do nothing. Put that with a record of the meeting, and you strengthen your case. Without it, it doesn't look so good.

dramafluff Tue 21-Aug-12 13:29:53

Any progress?

audigirlq5 Sat 25-Aug-12 19:39:40

I had to remove my son from his school Beaconhurst in Stirling this year because of bullying. My son was bullied for four years and this was reported to the school and resulted in assault and injuries which my son will suffer for the rest of his life. This school believes in the no blame policy which resulted in a culture of bullying my son. I have had to pay a full term in notice. I was basically told I didn't have a leg to stand on as they had no record of my child being bullied even though I had emails from the school. My lawyer said that it would be all one sided as they could just say that I didn't report it and could take years. I paid as I just want to forget it but I have the ability to move on and forget about it. The law is rubbish as it protects the school and not parents paying. They are providing a service and should be liable to the same consumer laws as other service providers. My son starts his new school soon and I can only hope that it is the end of it. I word of advice for anyone who has a child who is being bullied get everything in writing, your complaint and what the school are going to do. Getting proof is the most important thing.

boatduji Sat 21-Nov-15 06:18:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

EdithWeston Sat 21-Nov-15 07:21:01

Another poster has responded on your other thread.

You need to send a copy of the head's letter to the bursary setting out the agreement on notice period, and that should be the end of it.

user1475065478 Wed 28-Sep-16 14:07:10

Hi, we are being chased by private school for a terms fees even though our child has not joined the school. We were offered admission for starting autumn sept'16 term which we had accepted. The contract asked for a terms notice but did not specify exact term dates. Their summer term started 20th april'16. We informed them a week later that we wont join in sept'16. they are telling us this is not a terms notice even though its more than 4 months in advance of the joining date. they have sent us the invoice. This feels totally wrong to have to pay £4.5K for not having taken any service from the school. Can someone please advice on our rights or how to argue our case. This is too stressful, we dont know how to proceed ahead. The bursar has refused to cooperate and is sticking to his stand which completey confused us.
Should we contact the head master? or any regulatory body?
Has anyone successfully argued their case before? if yes, how?
Any help would be much appreciated.

TeenAndTween Wed 28-Sep-16 14:10:52

imo You owe the money and should pay it.

If the school is full and filled the space you may be able to reach a compromise, but if they aren't full then I don't think you have a leg to stand on.

AnyTheWiser Wed 28-Sep-16 14:12:27

You will have signed to agree you will pay a terms fees in lieu of notice. I'm sorry, schools won't hold a place unless you sign this. The onus is on you to give notice by the required time, as you signed.
If the school have filled the place, they may release you from the contract, but they are under no obligation to do so.

Caroian Wed 28-Sep-16 14:29:26

You need to look back carefully at your paperwork - as above you are likely to have signed something to this effect. Independent schools are businesses are they rarely make mistakes with these things. If the paperwork states a "term" that would reasonably taken to mean the commencement of the preceeding term - in other words you were a week too late. Our school wrote to all parents in the preschool and on their waiting list in January asking for an indication of plans and we had to agree that had we not informed them of withdrawal by a given date (in mid April), a terms fees would be due.

I'm not sure schools can be blamed for taking this stance. So many parents put their children's names down for private schools as a "back up" and then wait to see which state school they get allocated, shifting things around at last minute. This can make it difficult for the schools to plan numbers and may prevent them offering a place to someone who really wants it, who then goes elsewhere. As a business they do have the right to mitigate their losses. Those who object to the mixing of education and business are not well suited to the private education sector.

Dixiechickonhols Wed 28-Sep-16 19:59:12

I assume you delayed giving notice as you were wait for a state school place. The time to negotiate the amount of notice was before you signed the contract. If the contract is notice by x date then you will be liable. The school is a business.

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