Contractors' Questions: Can I work direct for my agent's client?

Contractor's Question: Almost of all of my work is direct for end clients, but a small amount of my work, relating to systems design, is through an agency. I invoice the agency; they add a margin and invoice the client. They are happy for me to liaise with the client direct during the project.

I recently worked for a client through the agent on systems design for an IT project. The client has since emailed me asking me to work directly for them in a different capacity. Now, I would assume that the agency has the right to ask that any future work I do for this client goes through them, as they initially referred me. However, on the other hand, this is a brand new project unrelated to the system design roles I get through the agency, and we never discussed this eventuality.

Is the agency likely to mount a legal challenge if I pursued the work independently of them? Or is there a legally advisable way to complete the work and still stay with the agency?

Expert's Answer: Whether or not you can work for the client without your agent and be free from any consequences from the agency will depend upon your contract with the agency. I would expect there to be a clause stating that certain work, if not all, that you perform must go through the agency to avoid the situation that you are currently facing.

In the absence of such a clause, you should be fine to carry out the work directly, from a legal point of view. However in practical terms, you run the risk of upsetting the agency. It may therefore be worth raising the issue with them, although of course this brings the prospect of work independent from them to the agency's attention. Still, by tackling the issue head on you can make it clear that you wish to work with them further. Also if you can potentially get the client involved on this non-design assignment, then you can put a little bit of pressure on the agency, as they will not want to annoy the client, so should be more receptive to your work and your wishes.

The expert was Ben Evans, of Lawdit Solicitors.