Advice needed regarding a hosting dispute

Our hosting company has also been providing us with development work for a few years and over time, we've paid in the region of £30,000 for development services.

Recently, I've been ill and had to slow down work temporarily, which meant we were 3 months late in paying a bill for £1000 for development work. Considering the amount we've always paid on time in the past, I didn't think they'd go as far as they have done now.

I requested they suspended development work 3 months ago due to the current circumstances, but as it is now over 3 months late paying for the previous development work, they have also suspended our hosting - leaving us with no website and obviously affecting our clients and reputation.

I would have thought the hosting and development work was entirely separate, especially as they operate under different trading names for each - so does this sound right to you, should they legally be allowed to do this? Their legal terms are a bit vague and just stipulate any amount owed to the company will result in suspension, but we've always paid our hosting on time.

I know the developers well and we've formed a close relationship over the years, but it's the Finance Director who I do not know who has instigated the suspension. She sounded a bit dim-witted and out of her league on the phone when we spoke, so I'd like to hear thoughts on whether they should be allowed to do this.

It also may sound like we're in the wrong for not having paid yet, but quite frankly they've messed up so many things over the years that we've had to pay for time and time again (thousands of pounds worth of work, charged at £60 per hour) which I overlooked for the sake of an easy life, that this is the richest and most disgraceful thing they've ever done.

If anything, they owed US.

So to reiterate, is it fair (and/or legally permissible) that a hosting company that we've paid over £30,000 to and always paid hosting on time to, should suspend our website hosting due to a separate unpaid development work bill (that was grossly over priced anyway)?
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Randy PooleCommented:
If it is 2 different entities and the invoices are under 2 different entities then no way, I would tell the hosting company if the site is not up immediately that you will hire a lawyer and sue them for Tortious Interference and Defamation.

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☠ MASQ ☠Commented:
So from their perspective they have a contract with you and you haven't paid them for three months?  Their contract allows them to suspend hosting if you default on payment and that's what they've done.  Are you in a position to pay them?

Fairness is a matter of perspective, if you want legal then you're not going to get an enforceable answer here, just opinion, based on a (what might be a less than impartial) report of the circumstances.

Objectively your tolerance of their previous errors adds up to zilch if you did nothing about it at the time.  You need to deal with the current position which is you pay them and they provide services - whether or not they are called something different they are effectively the same business.  

If you are thinking legal action you need to have an exit strategy, can you take action and whatever the outcome continue to deal with them?  How much do you need each other?
Dave BaldwinFixer of ProblemsCommented:
You will probably have no rights or anything else until they are paid up.  I certainly wouldn't try going to court while you still owe them money.
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UName10Author Commented:
Thanks Randy, my thoughts exactly.

MASQ and Dave, I understand your logic as I would have considered the same had someone asked me this very question and I didn't know them, however they are entirely separate services and we have been severely overcharged in the past (which they knew I was investigating). They've also charged numerous times for work that wasn't asked for.

They sold these services separately and operate under different 'business' names and even email addresses. The invoices do say 'Nuco Technologies' which is the umbrella company, however 'Host-it' is referred to as the hosting and 'Macrodesign' the design/development.  The hosting was also taken out completely separately a long time before the development work. It may sound like they have a case, but they really don't - and I'm very reasonable.

They are thieves and they're trying to be clever which works on some people.

I've also just read they will not transfer the URL to another provider until debts are paid - they cannot play God with people's businesses, not matter who they think they are.
EirmanChief Operations ManagerCommented:
You appear to have invested too much power with the one company,

You have got to pay what is owed.

You must make sure that you have full control over your domains and renew them yourself.
(i.e. the company in question should only come up as the "technical contact" if anything.

Set up the hosting with another company.
The company in question then only need to be given a password etc. and perhaps some settings.
(If necessary you can give the company in question login facilities with limited privileges, but you keep control).

Make sure that at least two people have all the necessary passwords to cope with unexpected events
such a sudden death or serious injury.

You will probably have to employ a techie on a once-off basis to help you with the change over.
You will then be in a position where you can't be held to ransom again.

As the company in question will not have the same hold over you as they did before,
you will be able to get a better deal out of them.

There is of course the question of .....
who owns the rights to all the coding done by the company in question for you.
UName10Author Commented:
Yes I agree - I trusted them when I shouldn't.

There are laws against what they're doing though; it must surely be illegal.

I will not pay them what we do not owe. How dare they. I will fight them every step of the way and see them in court if need be, then do a press release for trade media after the results.

We own the rights to the coding, always. They may have their Ts and Cs, but we have ours (and anyone using the website must adhere to them).

Thanks for the comment, it's a nightmare and they're bullying SMEs which I won't tolerate.
☠ MASQ ☠Commented:
A URL Transfer clause is pretty much normal practice, if you want to prevent that in the future hold the registration yourself, then you can also switch hosting servers at will. If business continuity is important you need a fall back position.

It still sounds like you still have a debt dating back before you notified them to stop three months ago that you hadn't formally disputed at the time and, although you've had more important things to sort out recently, getting the company to take that into account is entirely up to their goodwill.  I doubt you entered into an agreement on your Terms.

Despite your frustration I'd take care with naming and shaming - given that you're discussing an account in GBP the UK rules on libel are pretty clear on a thread that will ultimately be Google indexed.
UName10Author Commented:
Thanks MASQ, but you're wrong - they have no power whatsoever, despite what they or others may think. Not in reality.

I already have named and shamed, they deserve it and there's nothing they can do about it. The code is ours, the business is ours and the URL is ours - the solicitor will see to the rest.
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