• Tue. May 21st, 2024

Judge awards Convent charitable trust £30k after telephone contract mess-up


Sep 16, 2022

A convent charity has been awarded more than £30,000 in damages and costs – after it discovered it was paying for its telephone system twice over.

SLG Charitable Trust Ltd, charitable trust set up to support the Community of the Sisters of the Love of God, an Oxford-based religious order of Anglican nuns, discovered in October 2019 that Nottingham firm Telecom Solutions (GB) had bungled a contract change seven months earlier.

The contract for the Order’s leased telephone system was transferred from BNP Paribas to Grenke Leasing ‘on or around’ February 1, 2019, Oxford County Court was told.

Telecom Solutions was meant to cancel the contract with BNP Paribas – but failed to do so, later explaining the matter had ‘slipped the net’.

That meant the trust, which is based in the Convent of the Incarnation in Parker Street, was paying both BNP and Grenke for the same service.

On October 22, 2019, the trust’s finance manager emailed Telecom Solutions saying she had ‘become aware’ of the quarterly payments to BNP Paribas being taken from the charity’s account by direct debit. “We have been doubling up payments for the same equipment,” she said, and detailed payments of more than £3,500 that needed to be reimbursed.

A member of staff at the firm, identified in court documents only as ‘Grace’, replied six days later. She would ‘ensure’ the convent was reimbursed by the end of that week.

Several weeks later, on November 13, the Telecom Solutions executive said there had been a delay in closing the previous contract with BNP Paribas. “[The accounts department has] confirmed that they will reimburse the payments you have made on your previous contract,” she said and said the refund would be paid the following Friday.

Despite the matters being repeatedly followed up by convent trust staff, the contract was not cancelled and no reimbursement made.

In February 2020, a member of staff in Telecom Solutions emailed the finance manager saying the company had ‘requested the settlement figure from BNP’ and apologising that the matter had ‘slipped the net and we have not done this sooner’.

The following month, the convent’s finance manager sent the company an email saying she had received no confirmation the agreement with Telecom Solutions had been cancelled and the sum of £7,332.52 paid to BNP Paribas.

Suzanne Bingham, the convent’s solicitor, wrote in court filings in June 2020: “Despite negotiations with [Telecom Solutions] and promises of payment, the refund has not been paid and remains due and owing.”

In total, the trust claimed £11,730.52 as well as interest on that sum of almost £3,500.

On Thursday, Judge Melissa Clarke was told that the firm had gone into liquidation. But the Official Receiver, handling the winding up of the company, ‘did not object’ to the case going ahead.

The company was not represented at the hearing. However, in August 2020 a manager at the Midlands-based firm had filled in a response to the claim. In the handwritten response, he stated: “All settlements are paid directly to the lease [company] not the end user. The amount is totally wrong and this is simply not due to the SLG Trust.”

Kieran Guilfoyle, representing the convent trust, described the defence as ‘hopeless’.

Judge Clarke awarded the Anglican Order £15,279.46 in damages and £15,800 in legal costs.

The award was made to the SLG Charitable Trust Ltd, the body responsible for managing the Sisters of the Love of God’s assets and business affairs.

The trust, which according to Charity Commission documents had registered assets of £31m in January 2021, is chaired by the Reverend Mother of the Order Sister Clare-Louise.

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward