Question - 20 month old daughter not taking place at private school as we are moving out of London - is there anyway we can ask for our deposit back?

(30 Posts)
AlicePalace99 Wed 31-Jan-18 11:15:46

I've seen some threads on this previously. In terms of our situation then we obtained a place for our daughter last year when she was 6 months. We are now having to move away from the area to be closer to family - which was unforeseen at the time. We've not applied to any other schools in the area and we only ever intended on sending our daughter to this particular school. We paid a £1200 deposit which the school says is non refundable now despite the fact that we have not taken the place (she is 20 months old) and we are giving 20 months notice of not taking the place. Its a well regarded school with a waitlist so I have no doubts it will fill the place.

My question is do we have any leg to stand on asking for the deposit back? I know there is all the "non-refundable" text etc - but the aim of these clauses is to deter gaming of the system - something we aren't doing as we are moving away unexpectedly.. Any thoughts/advice please?


OP’s posts: |
MrsHathaway Wed 31-Jan-18 11:20:54

No, I don't think you'll get your non-refundable deposit back. Not least because it will be built into their funding model ie already spent.

Good luck with your move. School places are generally a bit less nuts outside London so you shouldn't have to jump through such expensive and ridiculous hoops again.

user789653241 Wed 31-Jan-18 11:52:25

I am sorry but it's all to do with your circumstance, not school's. So, I don't think it's reasonable for you to expect refund.

Ivymaud Wed 31-Jan-18 12:03:07

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sirfredfredgeorge Wed 31-Jan-18 12:11:35

*•If you cancel the contract, the business is generally only entitled to keep or receive an amount sufficient to cover their actual losses that directly result from your cancellation (eg costs already incurred or loss of profit).
•Businesses must take reasonable steps to reduce their losses (eg by re-selling the goods or services).
•Non-refundable deposits should only be a small percentage of the total price.
•Cancellation charges must be a genuine estimate of the business’ direct loss.*

I cannot see how the school has suffered 1200 pounds worth of loss, given 20 months to find a replacement. I would welcome their explanation.

prh47bridge Wed 31-Jan-18 19:12:06

It depends. You can ask. If they don't give you your deposit back you can try taking them to court.

The post by sirfredfredgeorge outlines the law on deposits. However, if it was a reservation fee rather than an advance payment it is a little different. Provided it is reasonable and genuine the school can keep it.

If you go to court you will be arguing that the contract terms are unreasonable based on the fact that they have 20 months to mitigate their losses.

Pengggwn Thu 01-Feb-18 05:28:50

Message withdrawn at poster's request.


godricshollow Thu 01-Feb-18 07:40:40

Just explain your extenuating family circumstances and ask nicely. I have known deposits be refunded but it's rare.

prh47bridge Thu 01-Feb-18 08:44:57

Surely the point of the deposit is that, if you change your mind, they keep it

Yes, that is the point. However, as it is 20 months until the OP's child was due to start and it seems the school will have no trouble filling the place, a non-refundable deposit may be an unreasonable contract term. If it is a genuine estimate of what they will lose as a result of the OP's actions the school is entitled to keep the deposit. If it is excessive the contract term is unreasonable and the school can be required to return some or all of the deposit.

Serendipityme Thu 01-Feb-18 09:22:37

I think it's worth asking. Ultimately, you will have to accept their decision if they say No but where's the harm in trying. As you are moving away, it's not as if you are going to be damaging any relationship with your daughter's school and be known as CF parents. Perhaps assume it'll be a No and then any positive outcome will be an unexpected bonus. smile

MrsHathaway Thu 01-Feb-18 11:37:15

I think you have a stronger case if the school isn't "full" for your child's age group, having pondered.

If someone applied six months ago and was turned away because the list was full, that's a customer who's gone away and made other arrangements who they won't get back. But if your "reservation" made no difference to their ability to offer services to other people (because there were and are still 5 places available, say) then it would be far less reasonable for them to claim a loss.

Hoppinggreen Thu 01-Feb-18 11:47:48

Ask nicely but I doubt it - why would they ?

herethereandeverywhere Thu 01-Feb-18 11:56:21

sirfred's post is excellent advice.

I have a friend who successfully challenged exactly this situation with a London pre-prep.

The legislation used to be the Unfair Contract Terms Act and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regs but I've been away form this kind of law for a while so not sure if they're still in force.

Friend sent very formal, dare I say threatening letters referencing the law and stating they'd take the school to small claims court if the deposit was not returned.

If you're not worried about maintaining goodwill, what have you got to lose? Good luck.

sotiredtoday Thu 01-Feb-18 12:02:49

I was in a similar situation last year: I told the school that my son would not start Reception with them when they asked for payment of 1st term fees. They refunded the deposit I had paid 1 year before.

As many people pointed out, they don't have to, and I was very grateful but they may choose to for various reasons (easy as you suggest to fill the place + upkeeping of their good name among community of local parents).

I would make an appointment with the head, explain my circumstances and ask kindly. Best of luck

AlicePalace99 Thu 01-Feb-18 12:12:43

We spoke on email with the head and bursar and were quoted the terms of the agreement etc. They were quite abrupt and effectively told us the answer would be no. The school certainly has a reputation in the area so I wasn't surprised.

OP’s posts: |
prh47bridge Thu 01-Feb-18 12:40:33

I think you have a stronger case if the school isn't "full" for your child's age group, having pondered.

That is the opposite of the truth! It isn't about their ability to offer services to others. It is about whether the school can mitigate its loss. If they are unable to fill the place the school will have suffered a loss due to the OP's actions. If they are able to fill the place with another child that will reduce their loss.

The Unfair Contract Terms Act is still in force. As stated above, if the deposit is not a reasonable estimate of their loss this may be an unfair contract term.

AlicePalace99 - It is now a question as to how hard you want to push this. If it were me, I would write to them referencing the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, stating that you do not believe they have suffered £1,200 loss as a result of your change of circumstances and asking them to justify withholding your deposit.

AlicePalace99 Thu 01-Feb-18 13:01:59

prh47bridge thank you for all the wise advice. I think I am going to take a look with a friend who is a lawyer and will push again. I want to be 100% certain of our rights before doing anything more as I don't particularly want to waste time. I will certainly keep you posted! Many thanks!!

OP’s posts: |
sirfredfredgeorge Thu 01-Feb-18 13:08:13

If they have suffered that large a loss (ie they cannot fill the lost place) then I would be asking questions about misselling - the whole reason for demanding a deposit 3 years before providing the service is because the places are in such high demand.

Even if they could demonstrate places are not in such high demand they can't fill them - would they really want to? But of course, that's going to be much, much harder to get any money back.

MrsHathaway Thu 01-Feb-18 13:17:25

If they are unable to fill the place the school will have suffered a loss due to the OP's actions. If they are able to fill the place with another child that will reduce their loss.

Yes, I think I got myself very muddled up because I had forgotten about the waiting list. I was pondering in the shower blush grin

* OP - did you get an answer from the school about whether it was a "deposit" or a reservation fee or something else?

I wonder if they think they have already sewn this up in their Ts&Cs with lawyers by calling it something like a registration fee and claiming that you have already had £1200 of service from them which sounds unlikely unless the welcome pack was printed on actual vellum. It does seem an odd amount of money as it's neither representative of their actual costs nor high enough to be a term's fees (which would be a typical amount to have to forfeit in lieu of notice). Is it 10% of annual fees perhaps?

herethereandeverywhere Thu 01-Feb-18 13:25:24

All private schools in London do this as a money spinner - you also have to pay a fee (much smaller, £50-100 back about 10 years ago) to register on a waiting list, even if no real chance of a place. They know there is high demand, shortage of places and a greater turnover of families than in other cities (people move out or relocate internationally). They think they can get away with it, the law they are relying on is grey at best.

MrsHathaway Thu 01-Feb-18 13:38:31

Waiting list registration fee sounds defensible as a genuine administration cost (even if easy money) and I'm certainly familiar with putting a term's fees down up front <syntax>

But this fee seems oddly somewhere between the two. If it's standard practice then it sounds as though it would be difficult for the OP to pursue - school is likely to double down to avoid precedent.

OP is only a special case because (1) family circumstances which she has not detailed but sound unforeseen are causing a relocation which makes the school completely impractical - this would be provable and unusual - and (2) she didn't register with any other school - again this is provable and would be very unusual if they expect people to play the system.

I imagine the school gets the most claims for reimbursement of deposits the week after state school primary allocations are announced in April <cynic> when relieved parents give up their "just in case" private place. As OPDD is 20mo this clearly doesn't apply.

I mean, I don't think that OP will be able to get her money back, but I can see why she should.

prh47bridge Thu 01-Feb-18 14:53:55

Nothing wrong with the waiting list registration fee. A non-refundable deposit is another matter. If £1200 is a reasonable estimate of the school's loss they are fine. However, if their true loss is only, say, £200 this may be an unfair contract term.

minipie Thu 01-Feb-18 15:02:03

I'd write a letter like herethere describes.

I'm a lawyer and have always thought these "non refundable" payment clauses could be challenged legally and might well be found to be unenforceable in court, particularly in the case of oversubscribed schools who will easily fill the untaken place.

My guess is that the schools quietly refund anyone who makes a fuss (ie sends a legal letter) so as to avoid having the fight in court and potentially losing it.

Go for it - you have nothing to lose.

By the by, £1200 at age 6 months is insane! In our area (SW london) they ask for £50 when you first register, then the big deposits only kick in the year before entry. Much more sensible.

ripple11 Thu 01-Feb-18 20:23:41

"My guess is that the schools quietly refund anyone who makes a fuss (ie sends a legal letter) so as to avoid having the fight in court and potentially losing it."

This!...from experience.

Note if you have to go to the small claims court, its an easy process and very cheap. The court letter will probably be enough ;-)

Good luck

AlicePalace99 Fri 02-Feb-18 08:26:41

@ripple11 @minipie @herethere many thanks for the advice. I will write up a letter this weekend and send.

My initial hunch when we realised we had to cancel the place was that the school would be less than forthcoming on the deposit front and I was proved right. Its a school in the area that gets results but the head is known as a "my way or the highway" sort of character and indeed she made this clear to us at our "interview" and said children have left on the back of this mantra, where parents disagree. That said, when I think about the clause of this agreement, then the spirit in which it is written is simply to deter parents from picking and choosing places at the 11th hour. I can 100% support that rationale and understand that as a business essentially, they are building safeguards into their planning. However this isn't the case here - we haven't applied to any other schools in the area and given the intake is maximum of 11 pupils a year and I know that my daughter took spot 7 in September 2016, then I have no doubts that the place will be filled with minimal cost to the school. I was more than happy to forfeit the reservation fee of £200 (within the £1200) which covers the time and admin spent on our application (more than adequately I would argue). So at stake here is £1k. A nice profit. I will let you know how I get on. Many thanks for the time taken to write your responses everyone on this thread.

OP’s posts: |

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