County Court Advice

markjay

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We have an issue at work with a contractor that stopped working for us. The last invoice submitted by the contractor two month ago is still outstanding. The reason is that it was incorrectly invoiced - we disputed part of the invoiced amount (around 20% of the invoice total).

We asked the contractor to re-invoice correctly, but he refused and replied that we should pay the amount we agree with as partial payment on the original invoice.

We did not want to do this, mostly for administrative reasons, and asked again that he re-invoice correctly. Last week we received a County Court Claim Form where the contractor is claiming the original amount, plus interest, plus court fees.

There is a history to this, I would say mutual dissatisfaction that led to acrimoniousness termination of our arrangement. In that context I suspect that the contractor either thought we are trying to avoid paying him, or perhaps he is bitter about how things played out. Or perhaps he is just the litigious type - I do not know.

Either way, I would have thought that submitting a County Court Claim when the invoice is less than one month overdue, and when we have offered an avenue for amicable resolution, is a bit rash and also irrational.

Possibly he knows that we do not have the time or energy to engage in litigations, and that as business we can't risk having a County Court judgement against us (courts are always a bit of a lottery) because it might affect our ability to raise credit with suppliers. And having the Claim Form served just before the holiday period with fourteen days to reply is likely not a coincidence - he is probably aware that it will be difficult for us to deal with this properly or get advice etc within the required time frame.

I am not familiar with County Court procedures... I would have thought that the would be a requirement for the claimant to make reasonable effort to settle to claim before proceeding with County Court claim. We had an exchange of emails where we made our proposal which he refused, but that's about it.

How should we go about this? If he thought we would not want to waste time on this then he is quite right, but at this point it is not clear to me what is the best way forward. We are reluctant to pay the interest and court fees he is asking for and it seems to me that he is making a point of making our life difficult, rather than simply trying to get paid what he is due.
 
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Peter103

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He should have written to you to say that unless his invoice was paid in full within seven days of this date, then he will be applying for a summons against you for non payment of invoices. That is at least how it always was, and included in this letter would be his final invoice. Whenever I took main contractors to court, and it happened a few times, we always had to give them notice, to either come to an agreement, or expect a summons. I never lost a court case yet.
 
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markjay

markjay

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He should have written to you to say that unless his invoice was paid in full within seven days of this date, then he will be applying for a summons against you for non payment of invoices. That is at least how it always was, and included in this letter would be his final invoice.
Is this a mandatory requirement? He sent us emails (which we do not deny) but not a written/printed letter.
 

Bombardier

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You are requesting legal advice from strangers on the internet?
Seems a strange thing to do!
 
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markjay

markjay

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You are requesting legal advice from strangers on the internet?
Seems a strange thing to do!
Just gauging the views of trusted forum members... no action will be taken before 3rd January anyway.

As for strangers.... virtual relationships are very real (and this is not an oxymoron). There are members here I know for several years now.... I would not regard them as strangers.
 

Peter103

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Is this a mandatory requirement? He sent us emails (which we do not deny) but not a written/printed letter.
Years ago when this first occurred, the court sent me instructions on correct procedure, whether it was law, or simply standard practice I don't know, but I always gave them one last chance.
 

Meldrew2

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I believe there is an option to admit part of the claim.

You could admit the part you agree on, defend the balance and defend the court fees in full on the grounds that court action was precipitate and not necessary.

I'm not an expert - but I have used (and defended) CC claims reasonably successfully over the course of a number of years running a SME.

When the festive season is over you will no doubt have access to professional advice... are you a member of a Trade Association or Chamber of Commerce that has free advice lines for members?
 

CabrioDave

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> He sent us emails (which we do not deny) but not a written/printed letter. <

Emails ARE written correspondence, and I think they're fully accepted as such in law.
 

HughJarse

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Emails are and can be used if he has already sort your permission to use them and you have not said otherwise. He would also have to prove that you received them. This is possible so don't discount it.
Do not ignore the CC letter - Im guessing it's from Moneyclaim (.gov)
If you ignore it, the judge will rule in his favour. Before a date is set, you will get the opportunity to go to court, pay up, part pay up and/or mediation.
Mediation involves a person ringing you and ringing them ( for up to an hour) and trying to sort things out. However both parties have to agree this.

If its not possible it will then be assigned a date via a court - this generally will be your nearest court
Only if it went to court, judgment was made against you/company and then you didn't pay up would CCJ's and /or bailiffs turn up.

As said above do not ignore any letters and there are specific timescales involved in replying.
 

s500colin

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Hi Mark
I had to go through the county court two years ago over a problem with a car dealer. Although the whole thing looks very daunting at first, it is a relatively simple process and does not normally require legal professionals.
If the process is the same as in my case the first step is to go through a hour long phone mediation appointment with a trained court mediator who will try to resolve this with both parties before going to court.
The best way to defend yourself is to be able to prove you have tried all reasonable steps to try and resolve this outside the court process and the other party is being heavy handed and using the court process to bully you into paying.
The CAB has a really helpful phone support line to give you guidance on the correct path the take.
 

400ixl

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Good question for risk vs reward assessment, but may not be best to give details on an open forum as the other party may be reading and see what the thoughts being played out are.
 

abecketts

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Your business insurance will have legal advice support and will most likely provide support.

I thought you needed to give someone 28 days in writing or via email before you move to this stage.

Hope you get it sorted
 
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markjay

markjay

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Your business insurance will have legal advice support and will most likely provide support...
Good point. Will give them a call.
 

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Initial reaction (with beer glasses on) is that if an invoice is incorrect it should not be paid.
You have invited them to resubmit a correct invoice & this has been ignored.
I have suppliers who sometimes invoice incorrectly. Initially I
take the soft approach & request a credit invoice. Eventually i stop payments & they get ****y. Then I submit the email trail & they go quiet for a few weeks & eventually submit the credit notes due ti enable the invoices to be cleared.
Be sure in your facts, offer a settlement, then if it goes to court, defend your corner.
 

l5foye

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You state the original invoice was submitted 2 months ago , later you state the invoice was submitted less than a month ago. I would have thought it would have been better to have paid the undisputed amount. Not paying for administrative reasons seems rather weak to me. I would be concerned if the matter goes to court, a judge might see things differently from what you do.
As things stand, interest is now due on the undisputed amount.
 
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markjay

markjay

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You state the original invoice was submitted 2 months ago , later you state the invoice was submitted less than a month ago.
The invoice was submitted two month ago with 30 days payment terms. So it is now one month overdue.

I would have thought it would have been better to have paid the undisputed amount. Not paying for administrative reasons seems rather weak to me. I would be concerned if the matter goes to court, a judge might see things differently from what you do.
As things stand, interest is now due on the undisputed amount.
Paying part of an invoice is of course not impossible but we then need to make allowances in our books, and ensure we claim back only partial VAT, etc. I suggested to him that if he re-invoice the agreed amount then we will pay this invoice in full immediately, and he can then raise a second invoice for the disputed amount which we will discuss separately. The response was a refusal followed two weeks later by the Court papers.

As I said I don't think this is a simple matter of someone trying to find the best or quickest way of getting paid.
 

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How much is the total value of the claim? Or the difference?

It is not an issue to pay what you owe as part payment against that invoice. Send a written offer detailing exact terms & conditions of the offer, explain you need a credit note for the balance. Also explain in writing your opposition to the invoice and why the amount is incorrect.

Once this has been done put a realistic timeframe on the offer and let them take you to court if they don't agree. It will cost them more time and money to carry on pursuing. Unless the debt or difference is a big number only a stupid person or an idiot would pursue that debt. Be careful though and know the person pursuing the debt...I have been that stupid person or idiot pursuing a debt earlier this year! Wasn't so stupid after we won & was paid but I couldn't justify my time that I put into it. It was good fun & an experience to learn something new though.
 
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markjay

markjay

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... after we won & was paid but I couldn't justify my time that I put into it...
This is the real issue for us...
 

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