Who is the contracting party?

Problem:  I am rather embarrassed with the issue I have – I cannot identify the party that I have contracted with!

I run a small plastering company and a few months ago I was approached by a firm of consultants who said that they were project managers for a scheme that involved converting a row of shops with offices above, into flats, and wanted me to price the plastering work.


I visited site and then emailed my price over to the consultants.  A few days later, I received an email from a bloke called Barry Harper (not his real name), who said that he was the commercial manager for the company that owned the development and wanted me to start my work on the coming Monday.  Barry dis not identify the company.


About 4 weeks after starting the work, I emailed to Barry a valuation of the work carried out on the site to date, and about 3 weeks later I started to chase the money owed.  Around 5 weeks after I had sent my first valuation over (and by then I had sent over another valuation), I still had not been paid.


After a bit more chasing, I managed to speak to Barry who told me that I needed to send an invoice to the firm of consultants, which I subsequently did.  I then was contacted by the consultants who said that I had to invoice a particular limited company (who I had never heard of before), and to cut a long story short, upon receiving my invoices (which now totalled 3), that limited company said that it was not liable for the payment and that I should seek the monies from whoever gave me the order to do the work.


I have now finished the job, but have yet to be paid a penny – but who is responsible for payment?


Response:  A bit of predicament you have got yourself in!


The party that is liable for payment would be the party that a) you had offered to carry out the works for; and b) had subsequently accepted that offer.


When you sent your price to the firm of consultants, I assume that you addressed your price to the consultants.  Therefore, your offer was to the consultants and acceptance could only come from the consultants – no other party could accept your offer.


However, the problem you have is that the firm of consultants did not accept your offer – Barry Harper did.  In such circumstances therefore, Barry has not actually accepted your offer (as the offer was not made to Barry, he could not accept the same), but his email he sent to you asking you to start work, is actually an offer to you for you to carry out the work as per your price submitted to the firm of consultants, and it was you who accepted that offer from Barry (your acceptance would have been by your conduct in commencing the work).


Although Barry had said that he was the commercial manager for the company that owned the development, unless Barry had provided further details of the company and that he was duly authorised to enter into a binding contract on behalf of the company, I would say that you have a good cause of action against Barry.


All that said, what I would recommend is to write to Barry and the company he works for, set out your claim and state that you do not care who pays you, but if you are not paid, you will bring an action against Barry and the company together – that may just persuade either Barry or the company to pay up.


Best of luck.


© Michael Gerard 2021


The advice provided is intended to be of a general guide only and should not be viewed as providing a definitive legal analysis.


Author background


Michael is a Solicitor, Chartered Builder & Registered Construction Adjudicator, and is a director at Michael Gerard Law Limited, a solicitors practice regulated by the SRA.