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D Michael Rose

Q: Can I chase my agent's clients for payment?

I know the law states that an agent must pay an artist within ten days of receipt of the money. This means that if a client does not pay the agent for six months then I do not get paid for six months and ten days. Do I have any legal standing to get the agent to give me the client's details so I can call them and ask why the money has not been paid - in other words, I will chase the client? Part of the debt goes back to last October.

A: Your statement of the current law is correct, but it is important for you to understand that if payment is made by cheque the agent will not be deemed to have received payment, and time will not run until the cheque is cleared.

If the cheque is drawn on a bank outside the UK, the agent must bank it within seven days and pay the proceeds to his client (after any authorised deductions, such as the agent's commission) no later than seven days after clearance of the cheque. Under current law these time limits will not apply where the artist requests otherwise in writing, and it is not uncommon for agents to sometimes incorporate such a request into their agency contracts.

However, the law is about to change under draft new regulations which are likely to come into force in late spring or early summer of this year and which will replace the existing ones.

Under these new draft regulations the agent will be obliged to inform the artist of receipt of money on the artist's behalf as soon as it is received. And, notwithstanding the ten-day (or seven-day) accounting obligation (which will be retained in the new regulations), and any previous written request authorising a longer period, must nevertheless pay the artist without delay after receipt of the money, if the artist so requests, although receipt of the money by cheque will still not take place until the cheque clears. In other words, the new regulations (if finalised in their current form) will enable any longer period for payment which might otherwise apply to be overridden by a request from the client (which will not necessarily have to be in writing) for earlier payment. There will also be much stricter rules relating to the operation of an agent's client account into which clients' money is to be paid.

Turning to your specific question, the answer is almost certainly yes. You can require your agent to tell you by whom the money is owed and to give you the contact details, since he is your agent and owes you a duty of care and a duty to act in good faith. I am surprised you do not already know the details since I should imagine you signed, or at least approved the contract of engagement and know where you carried out the work. However, I should add that some agency contracts entitle the agent to be the sole collecting agency for clients' money. Furthermore, it is as much in the agent's interest as yours to collect payment as soon as possible, in order for him to obtain payment of his commission. You obviously cannot expect him to pay you before he has himself received payment on your behalf.

I would suggest that, as a matter of courtesy, you call your agent and discuss your concerns with him and how best to seek recovery of the amount due without further delay, before making a decision as to whether to make direct contact yourself. Your agent may already be aware of the reason for non-payment, and his personal relationship with the other party concerned may enable him to get a result more quickly than any intervention by you.

There is, of course, always the possibility of taking legal action in the last resort. However, as I have said, if you are intent on chasing the other party directly you are certainly entitled to do so, unless your contract with your agent stipulates otherwise, which is unlikely.

You may also like to know that, unlike the old regulations, the draft new regulations provide for the agent to have to pay interest on clients' money held by him unless the interest would amount to a sum not exceeding £10. Whether the current draft regulations will come into force in their present form, however, remains to be seen.

First published April 2000