Designers Challenge: Bullied out of business!
Two of the biggest problems designers usually face in business are lining up the next project and getting paid the final instalment of the project in hand. The latter is rarely talked about but after a recent experience, I feel it is time to end the taboo and discuss this issue more openly.
I recently won a legal case against administrator Keith Algie of RSM UK Group LLP acting against my client who was unfortunately pursued relentlessly by the administrator’s solicitor; Matthew Whyatt formerly of Cassell Moore Solicitors (no longer trading) now trading as Alexander Whyatt LLP. They wound my client’s company up for a debt of £13,000. Unfortunately, they had failed to correctly serve the payment request at the correct address provided by the client. Papers were served at an address entirely unknown to my client which resulted in their rightful ability (due to non-payment) to wind up the company and also bankrupt my client for non-payment. The claim was unopposed (due to my client not receiving the documents served by Whyatt).
After my client was put into administration, together they (Whyatt on instruction from his client Algie) tried to reclaim the designer’s fee I’d received by incorrectly claiming that no design work was carried out and that the fee therefore belonged to the administrator. My client ceased works when administrator’s fees were added to their sole debt of £13,000 for court costs. The administrator claimed £7 million. Proof of design boards, research and sourcing materials and prices was provided as evidence however it was rejected without explanation.
The solicitor, Whyatt, and his client, Keith Algie of RSM UK Group LLP, seemed hellbent on destroying my client’s business. Together they were relentless in their claim to recover the first payment of my design fee (£32,500), claiming it was a deposit and no work had been carried out. Despite supporting evidence confirmed that was not the case, they ignored this and continued to pursue me tirelessly for the repayment across a total of three years, finally ordering me to give financial evidence in court, which I did this year.
Why would I give someone my money purely because they demanded and put pressure on me over a long period of time to do so? That’s bully tactics, which I absolutely despise. I had earned my fee and proved it, so was not going to back down. When it became clear to me that they would not stop, I instructed law firm Mischon de Reya. After three years of unrelenting pursuance generating almost £150,000 in legal fees and other costs to me and £100,000 in fees for RSM, they lost their case and I was awarded over £100,000 costs.
In the vindictive pursuit of £32,500 the tables were turned. Now Mathew Whyatt’s business, Alexander Whyatt LLP, is itself in administration, just weeks after the order was made.
The first payment of £35,000 has since been received from RSM Group via Algie, the claimant, complying with the court order and advising that his solicitor had since gone into administration.
I will never walk away from a bully. When things don’t make sense to me in finance and compliance there’s usually a reason more complex than the surface suggests. Sometimes it takes years to conclude as in this case but over many years in the past, I have won several successful cases where I have challenged a bully or a conglomerate.
It is my right and my duty to stand up for my profession and for myself. I could not walk away from an injustice, regardless of personal or financial risk.
If you find yourself in a legal dispute, especially when it comes to being challenged for your work. My advice would be to stand your ground if you know you are in the right. You can buy insurance to cover legal costs, you can use mediation and you can lean on the SBID for support on legal direction and introduction without prejudice. Designers are often caught up in the issue of non-payment; largely due to the misunderstanding of the role of an interior designer on a project; and in some cases it can destroy a designer’s business. When you are paid to provide a service and fulfil the brief, regardless of gender, age or industry, you deserve to be paid.
Written by Dr Vanessa Brady OBE
Award-winning Interior Designer, CEO & Founder of the Society of British and International Design