Hobby sewist needs help with unhappy customer

hi! first time here. I can see lots of threads about people being unhappy with bridal shops for messing up alterations etc - nothing similar to my issue.
I am a hobby sewist - have been for years and have recently branched out to cover alterations for bridesmaids - no complaints and lots of happy people returning. 
I have recently had one lady come to me - friend of friends/acquaintances so I do not know her personally. 
Long story short - mother of the bride - wanted a dress to fit her bottom half (bought size 18 and asked me to basically make the bottom a 16). Must add that it was a fishtail style dress that does actually need to be tighter at the bottom to give the effect.
I explained before touching the dress that all alterations are a risk, I cant work miracles, I am a hobby sewist and not a business - she was happy to proceed. 
I did fittings before, all markings correct, altered the dress - she came to try it on and it was too tight - so I took the dress apart and altered the back seam giving  some more wiggle room. I then had her  back to try it on before finishing all seams as this was only tacked in place. She was super happy, left happy, sent a bank transfer then collected the  dress. 
I woke to a message saying she was not happy, sent me photos - the dress had rips and tears all through it and she couldn't wear it. It didn't leave my house with those tears and rips :-( after a bit of back and forth finding out what she wanted from me, whether it be to alter again or refund for the work, I was happy to refund for all the alterations and apologised profusely. Deeply upset and saddened. I thought that was the end of it, but then had a message from an insurance broker claiming to be the client's file handler and again a few back and forth messages, she informed me that I will be getting a claim against myself. I am not a business so I'm guessing its small claims court. After a friend doing some digging, it turns out this insurance broker is really good friends with the lady who had the alterations so I'm not even sure if it's legit. Wondering if anyone has had this kind of experience before? Court scares me, it's my first time having this kind of issue -  Please don't comment any hate or abuse, I am absolutely devastated and did all I could for this lady :-(
What do I expect? A letter from the court telling me I need to go in? I don't have insurance as i'm not a  registered business - All legal sides of it have been covered, not registered with HMRC as I'm not earning enough from it and its only starting out - I have a while before I decide to register as a business and carry on - this has totally put me off and I'll be going back to it purely being a hobby - so I really could do without that advice too :-( Please don't post unless its helpful, I can't cope with any more negativity - thanks so much in advance.
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Comments

  • Aylesbury_Duck
    Aylesbury_Duck Posts: 13,944 Forumite
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    It sounds like she's a chancer.  I'd await the court papers.  I suspect they won't materialise but if they do, let us know and people on here will help.  Don't engage any further and don't offer anything else now you've made the offer to refund the alteration cost.
  • xToshTxx
    xToshTxx Posts: 2 Forumite
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    It sounds like she's a chancer.  I'd await the court papers.  I suspect they won't materialise but if they do, let us know and people on here will help.  Don't engage any further and don't offer anything else now you've made the offer to refund the alteration cost.
    Thank you so much - I've already provided a refund of everything she paid - She originally asked me to do the bridesmaid dresses too - found out after doing it all that the wedding is not until July - not sure why she had the dress done now to be honest.
  • Okell
    Okell Posts: 777 Forumite
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    xToshTxx said:
    ... I explained before touching the dress that all alterations are a risk, I cant work miracles, I am a hobby sewist and not a business - she was happy to proceed...

    ... All legal sides of it have been covered, not registered with HMRC as I'm not earning enough from it and its only starting out - I have a while before I decide to register as a business and carry on...
    You might consider this "unhelpful" - although I wouldn't - but if you are earning money from providing this service then the law might well decide that you are "a business" even if you don't need to be registered with HMRC.  If anybody charged me money to provide a service I would consider that they were a business.

    (You may consider that unhelpful but sometimes you need to be told what you need to be told...)
  • DullGreyGuy
    DullGreyGuy Posts: 10,186 Forumite
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    You are receiving payment in exchange for services, that legally makes you a business. You may receive less than £1,000 a year and therefore don't need to register with HMRC as self employed but that doesn't change the fact of what you are. As soon as you receive money (or technically other things) for services you are trading as a business.

    You say the dress had rips and tears... do you mean your altered seam gave way or something else?

    Do you have any terms and conditions to the services you provide? If you don't and you intend to continue to provide this as a business and not just a hobby (ie doing it for free) then its highly advisable you get some before talking on the next project. 

    If they follow due process then they should send you a letter before action (could be email or paper) which will outline their demands and a timescale for you to act in. If you don't agree or don't complete in time they would then most likely file online in which they have to give the basics of the case, what happened, what the allegations are, what they are claiming etc. You then receive a copy of this from the courts as a claim form and the clock starts ticking. 

    Initially you need to simply acknowledge receipt and say if you intend to defend/dispute the claim or pay in full. Assuming you intend to defend then you must submit your defence to the court and the claimant. Assuming this is done in time a questionnaire is sent to both of you which will determine if it goes to Small Track, Fast Track etc, generally anything under £10,000 goes to Small Track, but will also help the court to decide if there needs to be a hearing or if its just judged on written submissions, if the hearing is in person or online etc. 

    The vast majority who say they are going to sue, never do. It bluff and hope to scare you into doing something. Some go as far as sending pseudo lawyer letters (never heard of one doing an insurance broker letter before though) but it makes it no more material.

    Given you have already refunded in full what are their claims? A refund of the purchase price of the dress? How much was it? How much is your time and stress levels worth to you -v- your principles?
  • sheramber
    sheramber Posts: 18,992 Forumite
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    Has she explained how the rips and tears have happened as, if the wedding is not until July, presumably she has not been wearing it?

    Have you seen the dress? Photos can be photoshopped.
  • Okell
    Okell Posts: 777 Forumite
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    xToshTxx said:
    Okell said:
    xToshTxx said:
    ... I explained before touching the dress that all alterations are a risk, I cant work miracles, I am a hobby sewist and not a business - she was happy to proceed...

    ... All legal sides of it have been covered, not registered with HMRC as I'm not earning enough from it and its only starting out - I have a while before I decide to register as a business and carry on...
    You might consider this "unhelpful" - although I wouldn't - but if you are earning money from providing this service then the law might well decide that you are "a business" even if you don't need to be registered with HMRC.  If anybody charged me money to provide a service I would consider that they were a business.

    (You may consider that unhelpful but sometimes you need to be told what you need to be told...)
    Thank you, It's unhelpful because I've already been told that - only here for the other query - didn't want the thread to get over run with the HMRC info that I already have - thank you all the same :-)
    I'm not sure you've understood...

    I'm not commenting on any HMRC info you may have.  I'm pointing out that if you are charging the people you are providing this service to, then you might be in business from a legal point of view - regardless of what HMRC may think.

    That means that you might have the legal responsibilities and obligations of a business and all that entails, and not just be a hobby sewist. 

    If, for example, you were to ruin a client's wedding dress, do you have business insurance to cover the loss?

    (Sorry.  I'm not trying to scare you.  It's quite possible that this particular client is trying it on - no pun intended - and nothing will come of it.  What I'm doing is pointing out that if you are providing a service to people and charging them for it, then you are in business and not a hobby sewist.  That carries extra responsibilities)
  • soolin
    soolin Posts: 72,134 Ambassador
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    I'm sorry but I echo the above, as you are a business then you are potentially subject to more rules so it is important to understand that any legal action will be taken against you as a sole trader- not as a private individual. I don't think the posters above were trying to just make a point or start an argument, but to warn you that this isn't just a simple case of doing a favour for a friend in which case you would almost certainly find it easy to defend. 

    I would wait for something official to land on your doorstep and then potentially seek legal advice depending on what is being claimed. Again I'm not trying to be unhelpful, but businesses, even small hobby businesses are advised to have some sort of insurance in place to cover these sort of claims. You might be lucky and your household insurance might have a legal advice line that will assist.

    Ultimately though it all depends on what they are actually going to try and make a claim for and it might all just end up being threats and nonsense, with no official action taken. 
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  • If OP has any business insurance, they may also have legal cover. Use this to ascertain your position. 
    I work from home so my cat can be fed on demand!
  • DullGreyGuy
    DullGreyGuy Posts: 10,186 Forumite
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    xToshTxx said:
    Okell said:
    xToshTxx said:
    ... I explained before touching the dress that all alterations are a risk, I cant work miracles, I am a hobby sewist and not a business - she was happy to proceed...

    ... All legal sides of it have been covered, not registered with HMRC as I'm not earning enough from it and its only starting out - I have a while before I decide to register as a business and carry on...
    You might consider this "unhelpful" - although I wouldn't - but if you are earning money from providing this service then the law might well decide that you are "a business" even if you don't need to be registered with HMRC.  If anybody charged me money to provide a service I would consider that they were a business.

    (You may consider that unhelpful but sometimes you need to be told what you need to be told...)
    Thank you, It's unhelpful because I've already been told that - only here for the other query - didn't want the thread to get over run with the HMRC info that I already have - thank you all the same :-)
    Fully agree that HMRC is totally irrelevant to the matter in hand, it's just for completeness that HMRC is mentioned to note that whilst they don't require you to register as self employed until you hit £1,000 turnover you are still legally a business from the second to take payment for services where that payment goes beyond purely the cost of materials at price paid. 

    Judges are humans ultimately and if this thing did end up before a judge their decisions can be coloured by various things. If there are errors/inaccuracies in your statement like saying you are not a business but then you go on to say you've taken payment for services to be rendered it may put them in a frame of mind that if your wrong about that or don't get those basic principle what else are you possibly wrong about? 

    Quoting a price and accepting money forms a contract, even if a contract has no written terms it still exists and there are fundamentals that effectively exist by default in the absence of written contract like that you, as a business service provider will undertake the service exercising due care and skill. This is why having things in writing becomes so important. If the next person that comes along wants you to make a corset and you email them to explain you've never made one, are willing to give it a go but it may not be perfect then you start having the basis of a defence if they then say it wasn't good enough... they entered into it knowing it would be an experiment, ultimately it would come down to evidence and the judges opinion if it was good enough for an experiment, clearly if it was supposed to be size 10 and you made it size 26 then that may be deemed not excercising due care/skill even for an experiment. 

    Easiest way to avoid major future hassle is to limit it to friends and family and don't charge. If they buy you a bottle of wine after great but there cannot be the expectation of a bottle of wine after else we are back into a contractual situation with you receiving payment. 
  • Okell
    Okell Posts: 777 Forumite
    First Post Name Dropper
    The best you can do - as others have said - is to wait and see what happens.

    If they try to take this any further (eg a letter before action and a court claim) and you are adamant that you did not cause any damage to the dress, then you use that as your defence.

    If it comes to court it will all be down to who the court believes most - you or your "customer".

    Others have mentioned that you might have legal cover provided on your car/house/contents insurance.  If you do you could try asking them - but if they consider you were acting in a business capacity they will probably refuse to help.

    If you want to continue providing sewing services to friends and acquaintances, that's fine*, but charging them for that service probably isn't a good idea unless you want to be held to business standards.  Even if you don't charge them you are probably still obliged to do the work with reasonable care and skill - so you should be wary about taking on any jobs you aren't confident with.


    *I say "that's fine" but in my experience doing favours for friends and acquaintances often ends in tears...
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