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Saturday26 July 2014

Has my client cheated me out of my fees?

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I have had a planning application rejected and my client claims no fee is due, what can I do?

istock cheat

Question: We were appointed to produce a planning application with fees due in instalments, the final payment being due on the

application’s determination by the local authority.

When the authority said it would be recommending the application be rejected, our client withdrew it and returned our final invoice, claiming that we had not reached a stage where a fee is due, what can I do?

Richard Brindley

Richard Brindley, executive director, RIBA Professional Services

Answer: What a difference a word makes.

If your appointment contract had used “submission” rather than “determination”, you would be on much firmer ground for your fees. You now have to rely on the intent behind the words in your appointment agreement. From the information you have given, I assume you did all the work to lead to a determination or a planning application, even if it was a potential planning refusal, and that it was the client’s decision and actions, not yours, which stopped the application being determined. If so, under the intent of the contract, you could argue that the client should pay the final instalment.

You can pursue payment of your fees but you will have to negotiate a settlement or use some form of dispute resolution (your appointment contract should include some provision for this) or litigation for a third party to interpret the intent of the contract. But this can be time-consuming and costly, particularly litigation, including going to a small claims court.

Sometimes just threatening to take action to reclaim your fees encourages a client to pay up, but be prepared to go through with it in case threat alone doesn’t do the trick. The lesson is to check the implications of each word in your contracts. If you are not well versed in contract law, use a legal adviser. And at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, I would strongly recommend the use of standard forms or appointment contracts where possible — RIBA Agreements 2007 would have protected you in this instance.

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