Piano shop owner wins 'against all odds' after being taken to court

Tom Walter, who runs The Piano House in Abbey Road

Tom Walter, who runs The Piano House in Abbey Road - Credit: Polly Hancock

An independent piano repair man in Abbey Road has won his day in court "against all the odds" after business rate surveyors sued his company.

Tom Walter, who runs The Piano House – also known as Hampstead Pianos LTD – appeared at Manchester Civic Justice Centre on April 4.  

RVA Surveyors Ltd had taken the 69-year-old's company to court over non payment of a £3,000 bill.

Tom Walter signed up with RVA in 2018 - but this year refused to pay for the service for the first time

Tom Walter signed up with RVA in 2018 - but this year refused to pay for the service for the first time - Credit: Polly Hancock

Deputy District Judge Gabrielle Wenham found in favour of Mr Walter and awarded him £1,000 in costs against RVA.

A spokesperson for RVA said it will appeal the ruling. 

"The win is kind of against all odds, amazing. The judge was brilliant. Elliot, who represented me, was brilliant," said Tom. "RVA dug themselves into a hole – it's like David and Goliath."

Tom was advised by his accountants to become a limited company in 2007 and pay all his bills and rates through his company. Paying rates to Camden Council, he said he did not know that he was automatically entitled to small business relief. 

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He was told about the rates relief when an RVA employee cold-called in January 2018, and then visited his business.

Tom said the agent brought a contract to sign up for RVA's services and he felt pressured to sign it.

"I did sign it but it was under persuasion that I needed their incredible technical expertise and experience in order for him to get, what he said, was quite a lot of money back," he said.

"But they used none of their experience. He knew when he came in it was an easy job, because I was already due for a small business relief because it's a £12,000 threshold and I was £11,000."

It was RVA's fees continuing in 2020/21 – when all business rates in the retail sector were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic – that prompted Tom to challenge the contract.

He said at times he wanted to give up on the "gruelling" court process. 

"I just could not let them get away with it without trying to make a stand, for the sake of many others as well," he said.

Tom has relaunched a fundraiser to help with court costs for the appeal. 

"The journey is not over, " he said. "We will need to raise a fair bit more funds somehow for this."

Elliot Hammer​, a partner at Branch Austin law firm, who represented HPL at the hearing said: "It is always a privilege to serve my local community and in this case to defend a small business in the music industry."

He said the judgement ruled that RVA Surveyors Ltd had a contract with Hampstead Pianos Ltd. That contract provided that if RVA Surveyors Ltd reduced Hampstead Pianos Ltd's business rates it would receive 45% plus VAT of any reduction; however, Hampstead Pianos Ltd did not have any business rates to reduce.

"It was Mr Walter who was liable for the business rates. RVA Surveyors Ltd have therefore failed to prove that there is anything due under their invoice of 12 April 2021 , an invoice for £2,964.06," he added.

A spokesperson for RVA said: "We are absolutely clear that Mr Walter engaged RVA Surveyors to reduce his business rates liability.

"It is also very clear that he significantly benefited financially as a direct result of RVA’s work.

"Our position is clear in that we believe that he is now seeking to avoid payment for the services provided and attempting, amongst other ways, using technicalities to achieve this."

They said RVA will be appealing the decision as there were "mistakes within the evidence".

"We are confident that we will be successful in overturning this judgement."

Tom added: "My everlasting gratitude to those who have supported me throughout, friends and strangers alike, and especially to Elliot who did a brilliant job putting the brief together and arguing in court, forensically defeating the other side blow by blow."

To donate visit www.crowdjustice.com/case/hampstead-pianos-ltd-save-me-from-rva/