School has sent letter in lieu of notice!(66 Posts)
Dear all, would very much appreciate your view on this issue. We accepted a place in Salcombe Prep school, London for our daughter in May 14 but cancelled it in August 14 as a place became available at a local school nearer to our home in August 14. We lost the deposit paid to Salcombe school (£800). Now Salcombe school have sent an invoice for the first term fees (£2400) and if this is not paid are warning that the issue would be forwarded to a debt collection agency! We as parents feel that it is unfair that we have to pay for a service we have not received as our daughter did not attend school even for a single day. I understand the business risk to the school but is this not something that they should insure themselves against like other businesses which have orders cancelled and retain only deposits? We were recently offered insurance by a company to be able to reclaim paid tuition fees if our daughter goes off sick!! Why cant independent schools do the same? I wonder if anyone else had this unpleasant experience before and would welcome any advice.
What matters is what it says in the contract you signed, not whether you've subsequently decided that the terms of the contract are unfair.
So what does the contract say?
Well, was this part of the contract you signed or agreed to on paying the deposit?
Without that information it's impossible to tell what's reasonable of the school.
Presumably you signed all the paperwork saying you would give a full term's notice before withdrawing our child? Not quite so sure how it works before they've even started...
Ah, cross post with Laurie!
I suspect OT was part of the contract as the post sort of dances around that bit, which otherwise would be the main point.
I think that's normal for independent schools - they require a term's notice if you wish to withdraw. They can't risk filling all their places with children who decide not to take them up because they get better offers elsewhere. I'm guessing it says this clearly in your contract and you don't have a leg to stand on.
I'm afraid that sounds pretty standard - normal private school contracts say you need to give one full term's notice, or pay one term's fees in lieu of notice. You cancelled just before the beginning of term, when it was probably too late for them to fill the place, so you are almost certainly liable for a term's fees. And yes, schools do regularly take this issue to court and win. I don't see why a school should have to find insurance to cover people not paying according to contracts they sign. Didn't you read the contract when you paid the deposit?
Yes, normal. Only slightly odd as it begs the point of a deposit which might have led you to believe that that was the amount at risk. The only thing is whether the school can in fact fill your place (which might make the term's fees a penalty), and/or whether the term's notice was hidden away in the small print in which case the Unfair Contract Terms Act might come to your aid.
The contract says we have to give a terms notice to cancel. We did not even have enough time to notify the school from when we accepted a place to when we were offered a place at the new school. I have been sent some clause in T&Cs that we should cancel the place after sending in acceptance form within 4 weeks but we were not even aware of this clause at the time we signed the contract!
It seems pretty standard and, if it is in the contract, you will have to pay it.
Private schools routinely do this otherwise lots of parents would accept multiple offers (and be happy to write off 2 or 3 deposits) for the sake of hedging their bets and hanging on to one palce whilst waiting for another.
You only gave them 3 weeks notice and, if this was routinely allowed, schools would risk losing a lot of their intake just before term started with no prospect of replacing them.
Unfortunately thats how it works and thats what the contract would say.
Not sure that insurance would work because people would simply stop giving notice to schools. I would expect them to reduce the £2400 by your deposit. But thats all you can expect.
So you took a place and signed the contract and then withdrew your child a couple of weeks before the start of term, effectively denying the school the opportunity to offer that place to another child?
Imagine what would happen if 30 parents did what you did? You signed a contract and they have every right to enforce it. Standard practice for private schools
Ignorance is no defence in English law. The law assumes that if you sign a contract, you do so meaning to be bound to its terms. The fact that you failed to read it is your fault, unless it could be argued in some way that the fee clause was not clear or it was difficult to find or understand.
You could try and negotiate a settlement with the school where you pay an amount but not the full amount. Don't know if they would accept that or not.
Well presumably the clause was in the contract you signed, and it's your job to read that, not theirs to point it out. How would the school continue to operate as a business if a large proportion of pupils dropped out at the beginning of each term and then didn't pay for the place which had been "theirs"?
Sorry, you were sent the contract and T&Cs before accepting the place - you signed them and they are perfectly within their rights to charge a full terms fees as per the contract.
Oops. Didn't see all the messages before posting my second message. This forum is great support indeed. Looks like the overall view is that we should cough up!
Nameexchange - the deposit was certainly confusing as we considered that as the maximum amount we would lose for reasonable expenses incurred by the school. I think we trusted the school system blindly and were not being alert to legal consequences like we do in other circumstances.
Thanks for all the helpful messages. Much appreciated. I think I will go ahead and negotiate with the school. Will post outcome so that someone in a similar situation to us will benefit.
"The contract says we have to give a terms notice to cancel."
And you didn't, hence the bill.
Very standard I'm afraid. I guess it must be a bit of a shock if you weren't expecting it. We've had to pay similar amounts, twice, when moving schools at short notice. Very frustrating to pay for something that you're not getting, but it is the nature of the contract.
The deposit, I think, can be paid at any time - it's unusual to only pay it a few months before the intended start date. Other parents may well have paid deposits at 2-3 schools 2 years ago and decided at the end of the Easter term which one to pick, thereby losing only deposits.
Normal prep school contract. You are lucky actually - ours is 2 terms notice, so you would have to pay more. You'd be furious if you'd turned up at the beginning of term and they'd filled the place with someone else!
I think you are being a little bit faux-naive when you say 'we trusted the school system blindly'. A prep school is a business. That doesn't mean they're out to fleece you, but it does mean that they have to cover their costs. There's no betrayal of trust here, they haven't tricked you at all.
Not sure about your terms and conditions - but ours makes the 2 terms notice very very clear, it's not hidden away in the small print. Ours also tells us that we should take out insurance to cover it (we have chosen not to.)
If some parents don't pay up, then the fees will increase, which is unfair on other parents.
viki - that's good, hopefully someone else will learn from your mistake. Reading the fine print of a contract is a PITA but necessary. As to whether schools should insure against loss of fees because of late cancellation - you can't insure against a certainty, and there are always parents who cancel at the last minute - cases like yours where a preferable place becomes available late in August are not at all uncommon. If there was no financial downside to late withdrawal then the problem of parents holding multiple offers open would only get worse.
I have to agree with everyone else I'm afraid - this is standard practice for private schools, and the fact that you did not read what you signed cannot really be used as an excuse. I would be very surprised that the school would even consider negotiating about the balance, as they are within every right to the full amount.
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