The legality of invoicing a child for not turning up to a birthday party

A Twitter conversation between a BBC and ITV hack over the threat of court action for non-payment of a birthday party no-show invoice caught my attention.

BBC Newsnight’s Jess Brammar wrote “PM [that’s Radio Four’s PM programme, not the Prime Minister] have just trailed a BBC legal expert analysing the child’s party invoice. *burns everything*”.

ITV’s Damon Green responded with “because yes, we were all wondering how it would stand up in court.”

Well, do we?

I’ve not listened to the PM programme’s legal expert; but it all depends on the nature of the invitation.

If it made clear that the parents of those attending would need to pay the ski slope fee for their own children; then by accepting the invitation the parents of the absent child had agreed to pay that fee. According to news reports, the ski slope required final numbers and payment 48 hours before the party; and so the birthday boy’s mum paid the fee to the ski centre on behalf of the absent boy’s parents on their behalf, in the expectation and agreement that they would refund her.

In those circumstances, the birthday boy’s mum does have a claim against the absent boys parents and a court would uphold that (albeit alongside a fair amount of judicial comment asking why the matter had got to court; and why the birthday boy’s mum sent a formal invoice rather than a friendly note asking for reimbursement.

This would make sense of the comment from the birthday boy’s mum that she had been “left out of pocket.”

But if the invitations didn’t make this clear – and the party was organised on the usual basis that the host meets the cost – then the birthday boy’s mum is not out of pocket at all: the fee she paid to the ski centre is the fee she expected to pay. She has not been charged anything extra because somebody didn’t turn up.

150119-party-invoiceBut even if she did, the necessary components of a contract are not present and there is no intention by the two parents to create legal relationships. In any event, the absent boy can’t be party to a contract because he is only five years old – well below the age of majority.

The absent boy’s parents could even argue that they were being unlawfully harassed.

If the first scenario applies, the birthday boy’s mum will have to cough up £35 to issue the claim (£25 if she does it online); and, if the claim is defended, a further £25 to request a hearing. If she wins she will be able to recover both the £15.95 plus her £60 costs.

I am sure that any County Court judge hearing the case would apply the law fairly and award judgment in her favour, if the first scenario applies. But in doing so he can also be expected to make his own comments about the rightfulness of bringing the claim to court; and about the damage that a simple low-value dispute has done to two boys (which is why I haven’t named them in this blog).

And in issuing a claim she would undoubtedly unleash a whole wave of opprobrium on her that will be head and shoulders above anything that she is receiving today.

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