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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 48783
Experience:  Qualified Solicitor - Please start your question with 'For Ben Jones'
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I am a proofreader and editor, and a client hired me to edit

Resolved Question:

I am a proofreader and editor, and a client hired me to edit his book. He was happy with it until seven weeks later when I received a phone call from his daughter accusing me of being a fraudster, con man and 'obtaining money by deception'. I was shocked as I've never had any negative words about my work and have a very good reputation. She demanded £700 by 3pm that day else she would 'post comments about me on Facebook'. I refused, emailed her father (my client) and offered to look at the book again if he could show me what he was unhappy with (I corrected more than 9,000 errors in the book, according to MS Word's statistics). He refused and said he's going to the small claims court. Am I right in thinking he's obliged to give me the opportunity to put right anything he's unhappy with? The whole thing seems pretty cut-and-dried to me, having spoken to Trading Standards who said it's clear she's just trying to get money out of me, but her threats and behaviour have worried me a little.
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 3 years ago.

Ben Jones :

Hello, my name is ***** ***** it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today. So to this date you still do not know what the actual issues were that prompted this response by them?

Customer:

No. I got a blanket complaint which was that they weren't happy and that there were 'hundreds of errors' remaining. I asked in an email for details of what they were unhappy with and a list of some of the errors, but they refused. They claim another editor has looked at it and said it still requires work. If that is the case, I have offered to put right any errors still remaining and stated that with over 9,000 changes already made, some are always likely to slip through as the manuscript was originally in terrible condition.

Ben Jones :

Have they already paid you anything?

Customer:

Yes, the whole transaction was completed seven weeks ago and the client left happy. I only got a complaint two days ago, seven weeks later.

Ben Jones :

You are correct that they should at least give you details of what the issue are and the opportunity to rectify these before they proceed with trying to claim any money back from you. There is no legal obligation to allow you to rectify the errors though and this is simply good practice and something they are expected to do in order to try and mitigate any potential losses they may incur. For example, they do not have to give you such an opportunity if they believe that your work was below such a standard that they have lost all confidence in you and do not believe you are capable of putting things right. Nevertheless, you should still be given some details of what they believe was wrong.

As to the next steps, there is nothing stopping them from taking the matter to the small claims court if they wanted to, but it would be for them to prove that you did something wrong and against what was initially agreed and that you owe them money. This could just be used as a threat though in the hope that you just pay them back in order to try and avoid facing a claim.

As to the comments they have threatened to post, they should be careful about that because if they are untrue then it could potentially amount to defamation on their part

Customer:

Yes, the client emailed to say he was happy with the work initially, so the standard could not have been so bad that I would not be capable of putting things right. Plus it is the first complaint I've ever had (the first thing which hasn't been glowing praise, in fact) so that wouldn't be a defensible stance for them to take, as far as I can see.

Customer:

He has also claimed that I promised that the manuscript would be 'ready for publication' and that I'd format new chapters for him. I have printed off and gone through every single email and there is no mention of any of that. He claims it was spoken about on a phone call, which I dispute as there was only one phone call, a year ago, and none of that was mentioned.

Ben Jones :

these are all factual disputes between you and it could easily end up just being his word against yours or just a difference in opinions. But the ball is now in their court - they will have to decide whether this is something they need to take further and if they do it would be for them to prove that you did not adhere to the initial agreement or your work was below a reasonable standard. Even if this was to go to court you would not be risking much by defending a claim, the worst that could happen is you have to pay back what they are claiming for plus a little bit extra for the court costs which would not be that much

Customer:

Do you anticipate that that would be likely? Would a court really decide in a claimants favour based on one person's word against another? And what would be used to judge a reasonable standard? The amount they are claiming is 75% of the total transaction (they actually initially asked for half, but when I asked for details of what was wrong, they demanded 75%).

Ben Jones :

No one can predict whether they would take this further or not - only they know the answer to that. A court will not just decide based on someone's word against another's and they will look at the situation in more detail and the arguments each side presents but in the end they will just make a decision based on whatever evidence is available and on what they believe is fair. The outcome could vary depending on the judge on the day - the small claims court is not a criminal court where the burden of proof is much stricter

Customer:

No, I meant would the court be likely to decide that anything was owed to them. It strikes me as pretty extraordinary that it would be possible, based on the spurious claims they're making, the constant changing of their story and the fact that they can't back up any of their allegations, whereas I have a paper trail of everything that was agreed and the MS Word document was set up to track all of my work automatically with date and time stamps, showing three weeks of work and over 9,000 edits.

Customer:

It's the questioning of my integrity which has been upsetting. When I asked for details, I didn't get any but instead got some vague accusations that I'm 'not who I claim to be' because on one of my websites (not the one which advertises my editing services, which is the one the client found me through) I 'claim to be an actor even though it's just am-dram' and that I 'claim to be a regular Huffington Post columnist when I'm just a blogger', even though a blog is an online column. Regardless, none of this is mentioned on my business website for my editing services. I'm not quite sure what they're trying to get at with that, but Trading Standards said it was irrelevant to the case, perfectly reasonable for me to say those things and that they see no issue. Would you agree?

Ben Jones :

well anything is possible, there is of course a risk that they may decide you owe them something but that depends on the case they present and your defence to it. No one can say you have a 100% defence that would guarantee you walk away without owing them anything but this is impossible to predict as there are far too many variables that would influence that. In the end what matters is what the judge believes was the actual case and what they decide is fair and reasonable in the circumstances. The other comments are of a more personal nature and I would agree that they are somewhat irrelevant in the circumstances - the issue here really is about the work you did for them

Customer:

Yes, thanks. That's what I suspected. I think they're just getting desperate now. Also, probably worth mentioning that when he mentioned a contract before work began, I responded (this is all in writing) that I don't have a standard contract usually (I do now, after this!) but I would be more than willing to write one up for him if he'd like. He responded and said no, not to worry. He has also acknowledged this in writing since (yesterday). Not sure if this has any bearing at all.

Ben Jones :

Not that much, in these circumstances the contract would be whatever you had agreed between yourselves through your discussions before and during the work

Customer:

That's fine - that's all in writing in the emails and has been adhered to fully, so no issues there.

Ben Jones :

ok that's good at least you can show what was expected of you and you can also show what you produced following that

Customer:

Yes, I've shown the details to a few people (including Trading Standards) who all agree that I went above and beyond what was agreed. It's really only the worry that the court might pay attention to their false claims about things agreed on a phone call.

Ben Jones :

well as mentioned no one can predict that but you will both be given the opportunity to argue your case

Customer:

OK, thanks. Hopefully the written evidence will be taken more seriously than made-up claims about verbal agreements

Ben Jones :

yes generally what is in writing can carry more weight that just words, unless they can be backed up by other means

Customer:

That's fine. I always reiterate in emails anything said in phone calls, in order to keep a paper trail.

Ben Jones :

ok that's good, as mentioned now it is really up to them as to where this ends up, it could be that they were just using this as threats to try and facilitate a refund from you when they did not have the intention of taking this further but only time will tell

Customer:

Thanks. It seems they'd be rather daft to take it further, as it'll cost them even more. I've got all of the evidence and paper trails collated to defend everything.

Ben Jones :

yes it is their daft decision to take though so it depends on how they perceive this whole situation

Customer:

Indeed! Thanks for all of your advice.

Ben Jones :

you are most welcome, all the best

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