We’ve had another success recently with one of our clients in the charity sector, an independent, fee-paying school. Appropriately enough, it offers some lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic.

Payment problem

The school was owed money by the parents of a pupil. Sadly, the couple were in the throes of splitting up and the outstanding payment to the school was fuelling the tension between them. One parent had, apparently, been keener on private schooling than the other which didn’t help.

But the problem arose not because the parents had fallen behind with the fees as such but because they had overlooked one of the conditions of the contract with the school – namely, that if they wished to withdraw their child, they needed to give a term’s notice.

Fees in lieu of notice

They had failed to do so – they missed the deadline for notification by a week – and were now being charged fees in lieu of notice.

It’s an issue that we encounter regularly: people see contracts with schools as ‘not quite real’ for some reason.

Sometimes mediation will work: we can sit down with the different parties and find a resolution that will, more or less, satisfy all concerned. It might be more time to pay or the school may agree to accept a lesser amount.

Mediation failed

But in this case mediation failed so it went to the small claims court where the judge ruled in the school’s favour. The parents now have to find the £3,800 owed in fees, plus interest and court costs.

We were glad to be able to get a result in court for our clients but settling earlier would, clearly, have been less expensive and time-consuming for the parents and for the school, too.

A tighter focus on reading (check the contract), writing (notify someone of a change of circumstances in good time) and arithmetic (or you could lose money on costs and interest) might have paid off all round.