Money for nothin’ ….

Money for nothin’ ….

or what you should be wary of when giving free advice

OK: I admit it. Even for me, there’s only a tenuous link between the Dire Straits song title and what I’m about to talk about – but you can’t blame me for trying, can you? (And there will be a prize for whoever comes up with the best song title that I should have used)

Helping friends out is a good thing, isn’t it? Well – maybe not, following the recent case of Burgess –v- Leojonvarn. Simplifying the 51 pages of the judgement:

  • Mrs Leojonvarn had a background in architecture and design
  • The Burgesses and the Leojonvarns knew each other and lived close to each other
  • And when a third party quotation from a landscape gardener came in too expensive, the Burgesses sought help from their (then) friend Mrs Leojonvarn.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out; the relationship broke down; the Burgesses claimed that the work was defective; and the dispute ended up in court. The court came to various conclusions before telling the parties to go away and try to resolve things – but critically:

  • There wasn’t a formal contract here. To form a contract you need an offer which is accepted, and whatever they thought they were doing they hadn’t contracted
  • But (and it’s a big “but”) even though there was no contract, Mrs Leojonvarn owed a duty of care to the Burgesses. The court confirmed that a professional designer can owe a duty of care in such a project – and that any liability is not restricted to advice but can also extend to cover other services that a professional can supply.

Assuming (a) the judgement stands and (b) this can be taken as a precedent, this may well mean that you or your business will be “on the hook” for advice given or work done for free in pretty much the same way as if it were charged for – whether that advice or work is done for a friend, charity, business incentive or whatever.

So, what does this mean for us all?

  • Firstly, don’t stop being generous: that’s the last thing that is needed.
  • Secondly, be careful: the case implies that the barrier between advice you give or work you do as part of your business and private life is breaking down, if it hasn’t already.
  • Thirdly, though, ask yourself – does my insurance policy cover this? If the answer is no, then should you be doing what is being asked of you?

It all feels a little depressing to be saying “be careful about being generous with your time” – but that’s what we probably now have to bear in mind.

Having depressed you, let’s lighten the tone and go back to the music. Would a better title be:

Paint It Black;

The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore

Or your suggestion, which is……

John Clarke