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Help! Bullies taking me to court next week for non-payment of invoice - do I have a case?(10 Posts)
This is a bit long. Really sorry. But I'm seething...and a little bit worried, too:
Four weeks ago when I was home with the kids I was served with a summons for non-payment of an invoice for 2k.
I first received this invoice a year ago but it was from a surveyor I'd taken on two years before THAT, in 2007, when my ex and I were going to convert our house. We got divorced before the work got under way but not before the architect, quantity surveyor (QS) and a few others had attended meetings and done some initial drawings/costings. I told the architect in 2008 the job was not going ahead due to withdrawal of funds and she duly informed everyone involved the job was closed (I have a copy of the email) and they should invoice any costs incurred so far. They did, we paid, and that was that - or so I thought. So that was 2008.
I went through a difficult and complicated divorce and financial settlement, and it took until the end of 2009 that my ex and I (and our money) went our separate ways. It was only last summer that I suddenly and out of the blue got an invoice from this QS, in my name only, for what they claim was 2k of work. I totally accept we had agreed to work with them, for a fee that was a fixed percentage of the total budget, but - this is the thing - had nowhere signed a contract saying what percentage or amount each stage of the work would be. The surveyor had only done costings, and according to other estimates we got at the time this should have been at least £500 less.
When I first got this invoice I wrote and asked how they had got to that figure, and why it had taken them so long, when they had been asked to invoice two years ago before my now-ex and I got into our settlement discussion (argument, in fact).
They sent back the docs they had prepared with no other explanation. I referred back to the contract and said there was nothing in there that specified the amount that they should charge for this, and we had nowhere authorised this amount of money. Also that the job had been commissioned by both myself and husband, so why was the invoice now only in my name.
I got no answer at all. Not even an acknowledgement of the email (I have the sent one on record). Then, some time later, during the acrimony with my ex, I ended up changing my email address. The QS claimed at some point they emailed the old address demanding payment within 7 days, but I swear I never saw it. They did not check I got the email, or send any hard copy or anything in the post when they didn't hear back from me. So I heard nothing, after my last email querying the amount to them, until I was served with the summons last month.
I wrote them an email from my new email address asking what was going on: that they still owed me an explanation, and had not engaged in a fair exchange of letters nor given me any warning of the summons. I got an out of office reply. I chased this up with phone calls and eventually got to speak to someone, who simply said the work had been done and the money must be paid. They didn't care that I thought it was too much, billed too late, and should have been shared with my ex.
This is what they call a small claims dispute. But I really feel this is bullying: I feel the invoice is far too high, my questions asking them to justify it were simply ignored, and even if legally it's permissable to invoice (up to - what is it? Three? Five? years) after the work is done, it also feels very unfair that they sent this invoice so long after it should have been billed, especially in such difficult circumstances. Looks as though they had the auditors in and scratched around to see where they could rake in some extra money. And also that my ex has not been named on the invoice. And - DAMMIT - that this nasty sherriff came and served me with this aggressive summons in front of my kids when we were putting up the new ping-pong table I got them for the holidays. I know the law doesn't care about such things, but there are EU human rights laws covering respect for the privacy of family life, and whether it's legal or not that sort of behaviour upsets the kids and feels abusive.
I'm a schoolteacher. I've never missed or avoided a payment or been in debt before. I have filled in the court docs to say I'm defending non-payment (though, late as the invoice is, actually I am prepared to pay my 50% of the amount I feel would be fair). Will my credit rating be destroyed, and, basically, will they sue my ass?!
Have you tried Citizens Advice? They used to be able to arrange a short session with a solicitor for either free or low cost to get advice about things like this. As this is going to court I think you would be well advised to seek legal advice, otherwise you may be in the right but 'lose' on a technicality.
I'm sure someone with legal knowledge will be along too to give you some advice. My thoughts having been taken to the small claims court myself and won are get all the paperwork together in order documenting how you tried to contact them etc. You will get your chance in court to put your side forward and it comes across better if you are well organised. In my case it came down to my word againist the other persons. I won as the judge said I had a good document trail that on balance made my side more believable than the other parties.
As you and your ex entered into the contract together the QS is entitled to recover the full amount from either of you, I'm afraid. If you do end up paying you may be able to recover half of it from your ex but that is a separate matter.
The court will decide the issue on the balance of probabilities. In the absence of any written contract or quote you can certainly challenge the amount invoiced. If the QS is unable to produce any kind of justification the court will not be impressed.
Your credit record will not be affected provided you pay whatever the court decides you owe within one month of the judgement. As this is a small claim you will not have to pay their legal costs (other than the court fee) if you lose.
Wow. Thanks. That's reassuring. I mean, it's both: annoying they aren't penalised for ignoring a request to invoice, then waiting for two years then ending up invoicing only me, when my circumstances had completely changed. And annoying if it's legal to just serve someone a summons in their home before a proper exchange of letters.
But it's good to know what I should be focusing on. And very reassuring that I am within my rights to query the amount, and that the worst case that can happen is that I pay what the court decides I owe plus only a court fee - that shouldn't be very high in a small claims court in a small town, I'm guessing?
I'm afraid the fact you live in a small town is irrelevant. The fee is determined by the size of the claim. There is a leaflet setting out current court fees here.
If the QS is chartered you may be able to go to arbitration although it will probably cost you to defend your case. I do think you have behaved rather unfairly though. You instructed this firm to carry out work for you four years ago and haven't paid them yet. Imagine if your employer didn't pay you, how long would you think it's fair to wait?
but OP says they paid the invoice for costs incurred at the time, and to me that would say the matter was done and dusted! why didn't they say "You also have to pay this £2K" at the time?
however, it would be clear whether or not the QS had invoiced, wouldn't it, peeriebear?
I agree it does seem unfair (a) that the initial contract wasn't clearer in percentage terms what would be charged (and as the work didn't go ahead, makes you wonder how many stages they are invoicing for, esp if they have not broken down how they reached the figures they did), and (b) that they are only chasing one party (though that's presumably because they are aware of the split, and the work related to the OP's address, so the OP is easiest to 'chase').
As for the breakdown in communication (and subsequent visit of sheriff to serve the summons) because of change of e-mail address, I think we might learn a lesson from this and if a dispute appears to be building, to say you will expect all further correspondence by recorded delivery post, so a claim a letter has been sent, or e-mail sent, without any being received, can more easily be disputed. Certainly a lesson for me, though no consolation to OP.
I doubt a single CCJ on your credit report would "destroy your credit rating" but if you were planning to apply for any credit cards, do so now, before the date in court!
Being willing to pay 50% might not be acceptable to the court, but making an issue of the long delay from the time of the Architect's request for invoices (printed copy of her e-mail?) and lack of detail in what QS (a) proposed to charge (unfair terms and conditions?) and (b) are charging (lack of breakdown, if it is the case), may sway things for the OP.
Good luck with this, by the way!
Just to reiterate, if the case goes against the OP the judgement will not appear on her credit record provided she pays up within one month.
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