Author Topic: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?  (Read 6841 times)

modestyblaise

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I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« on: November 07, 2008, 02:37:07 PM »
Sorry if this is an old-chestnut of a thread starter, but I was recently employed to write a few articles for an agreed rate by another journalist on behalf of a commercial client.

I did the work and sent off an invoice, no response. 2 weeks, another invoice, nothing, finally get a curt email with the commercial client's email address on it. I send another invoice to that address, nothing. After two weeks I send the client a polite message asking for acknowledgement it had been received and an ETA for payment. I get a message back saying it had been approved, and a cc to someone else in the company asking them to sort it out. Another two weeks have passed... you guessed it.

I'm getting a bit fed up now, especially as this client is not exactly a flimsy fly-by-night company, they can definitely afford to pay freelancers hired on their behalf. I would like to chase it up, but I think an angrily worded email will get little reaction, and threat of legal involvement would be laughed off, as we both know a lawyer would cost more than I'm owed. 

It's a story as old as time, I know, but does anyone have any advice? I don't have a phone number for anyone involved as it all took place via email, it's only the client's big name that stops me thinking I've been ripped off.

louise_bolotin

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2008, 06:20:33 PM »
Firstly, if another journalist hired you, then your payment for work done should come from them rather than the corporate, but it sounds as though the corporate has acknowledged your claim.

If the client is that big a name then some simple, basic research should dig up their physical contact details. As a journalist you should know how to do this. Presumably you have a contact name at the company so now it's time to send a statement of account (not an invoice) to the company and give them 7 days to pay. If they fail to, the next step is a letter before action which warns them that if they don't pay within 7 days you will start legal proceedings.

You can do this on the internet at moneyclaimonline, which is the net version of the small claims court - it's very easy and your legal fees will be included as part of the claim against your debtor.

This is all elementary stuff - anyone freelancing should know the basics of running a business and how to recover unpaid fees, which as I've said is neither difficult nor expensive and Googling will produce plenty of sites explaining how to chase debts and take legal action. If you don't know this sort of stuff freelancing may not be for you.

louise_bolotin

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2008, 06:24:13 PM »
And just to add, even the NUJ website has info on this sort of stuff.

travelhack

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2008, 02:56:11 PM »
to try to give you a little more pleasant advice...  (geez, louise)

the thing i always find brings a prompt response is to remind people of the late payment of commercial debts (interest) act 1998, as amended 2002. in fact, i always now put reference to this on my invoices, but if you haven't done that it this instance, it's not too late.

basically the act gives you a right to levy a fine for late payment (after 30 days, unless otherwise specified) and to start changing interest on the unpaid fee.

details of the act are here:
http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file37581.pdf

basically, you have the right to charge £40 for late payment if the amount owing is under £1000 (£70-90 if it's more), and to start charging the bank of interest base rate +8% interest.

in your situation, i would write one final time to the big-name company concerned, politely spelling out when you first invoiced, for how much and then saying something along the lines of ' I would like to draw your attention to my statutory rights under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998-2002. Under this, I am entitled to ... blah, blah. I'm afraid that if I have not received payment for my original invoice in 7 days [or 14 days, if you're feeling generous], I'm afraid I will have to send you a bill for the fine amount and start changing interest.' blah, blah.

As this is the one thing guaranteed to get accounts people in trouble with their bosses - their actually costing the company money -  they usually always react promptly. I guess it's not foolproof, but I can say that it's never failed me yet, and it's a lot cheaper than being forced to pursue legal action.

In future, it might be helpful to append to your invoices something along the lines of
Payment terms: 30 days, please
Please note my statutory rights under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998-2002 to charge a fine for payment after the due date and to levy interest (8% on top of the Bank of England base rate) for any amounts outstanding.

That won't stop the numerous b*stards who always pay late, but it does put you in a better position from the start.

susan_fenton

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2008, 04:19:16 PM »
Everything the other answers say makes perfect sense and I know how annoying it is when you submit an invoice and it disappears into a black hole, but I would just say that you seem to have been a bit unrealistic, at least initially, in expecting to get paid within two weeks. I‘d be amazed if I got an invoice paid in two weeks. Companies have procedures and timescales for paying contractors, as they do for paying their staff, it doesn‘t necessarily mean they are shifty scam-artists! I do most of my work for one company - they do a BACS run once a month on the 26th, and you need to submit your invoice by the end of the previous month to catch this monthly cycle. That means a minimum wait of nearly four weeks, but if I send an invoice on the 1st of the month, I won’t get paid till the 26th of the following month (at least in theory - in practice they sometimes speed things up so I don’t have to wait so long).
It’s a good idea to establish at the outset what the payment procedures are - that way you don’t get agitated and upset yourself and the employer if you don’t hear anything back for a while. Once you get into a routine of regular work you end up getting paid something once a month anyway - so it doesn’t have to become an issue. I know some companies do drag out the payment process on purpose, but in your case it could well be that your invoice was simply going through the usual system. (You don't say how long you've been waiting now in total though?) We all have our timescales for paying bills - would we stump up for the gas bill before the usual bill time came around? I don’t think so. I’m as cynical about the big corporations as anyone, but I do appreciate they have procedures, and are not necessarily out to defraud us.


Fletch

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2008, 12:11:06 PM »
I agree with travelhack on both counts. First, that Louise's advice seemed unneccessarily frosty (I wouldn't say that freelancing isn't for you just because you're having problems chasing up a payment) and second on the Late Payments etc. Act. Since "discovering" it late last month, I've mentioned it twice when chasing up late payments and both payments were made within a couple of days.
 

louise_bolotin

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2008, 07:14:05 AM »
If I've been frosty it's because the same questions come up on here over and over and those us with experience get a little fed up having to answer them over and over. Freelancing is a business, it's not just about writing, and you shouldn't be running a business if you don't know how to do it. You wouldn't open a shop, start manufacturing toys or run a market stall without bothering to bone up - why should freelance journalism be any different?

Matt

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2008, 08:10:21 AM »
While we're on the subject: anybody have some good tips on how to get money owed from newspapers? I have a problem with one of the papers I write for in that they often forget to pay me for articles written. I can't invoice them as the work is for a paper (you hardly ever know how much you're going to get paid for a piece until you get the self-billing invoice) so all I can do is remind the commissioning editor that they still owe me money from September.

curly

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2008, 09:20:23 AM »
Matt, have you tried finding out who looks after it from the accounts side? Sometimes they can help move things through - at least, they can if there is a technical glitch in the self-billing thingy (has happened to me before).

Fletch

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #9 on: November 12, 2008, 12:44:29 PM »
Matt did state at the beginning of his post that his query was possibly a well worn one and apologised for that. I would suggest that if people really are fed up with answering posts, then they shouldn't bother doing so. From what I can gather, Matt was after some advice from those who have had personal experience of this sort of thing. And rightly so. Despite the same old lines being trotted out in ridiculous "How to be a Freelance Journalist" books, people are paid in all manner of ways and timescales. Sometimes I've been paid two days after invoicing, sometimes four months. Recently - after being paid late 17 months in a row from one publisher - I insisted on money up front before I delivered the copy and got it.
Rightly or wrongly a lot of people do enter freelance journalism a little green, and forums such as this can be of great help. It would be a shame if people were reluctant to ask questions through fear of being shot down.
Then again, perhaps not. Maybe they need toughening up.

John Thompson

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #10 on: November 12, 2008, 01:45:17 PM »
You might find our feature How to: Get paid on time useful. At any rate it contains some useful tips on initiating the debt collection process.

Chasing bad debts is a major downside of freelancing (as if there isn't enough to do already), and I fully sympathise. But every freelancer who takes a professional (even militant) approach does all their freelancing colleagues a major service. There are accounts departments who will prioritise payments by supplier and who will put freelancers and photographers at the bottom of the list, simply because they know they can usually get away with doing so.

louise_bolotin

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #11 on: November 12, 2008, 10:15:10 PM »
Matt did state at the beginning of his post that his query was possibly a well worn one and apologised for that. I would suggest that if people really are fed up with answering posts, then they shouldn't bother doing so. From what I can gather, Matt was after some advice from those who have had personal experience of this sort of thing. And rightly so. Despite the same old lines being trotted out in ridiculous "How to be a Freelance Journalist" books, people are paid in all manner of ways and timescales. Sometimes I've been paid two days after invoicing, sometimes four months. Recently - after being paid late 17 months in a row from one publisher - I insisted on money up front before I delivered the copy and got it.
Rightly or wrongly a lot of people do enter freelance journalism a little green, and forums such as this can be of great help. It would be a shame if people were reluctant to ask questions through fear of being shot down.
Then again, perhaps not. Maybe they need toughening up.

Those who are fed up answering questions repeatedly would be less so if newbies searched the forums first to see if someone has already posted a similar query and had a useful reply. OTOH, if you want us to stop bothering, despite our fed-upness, you won;t get replies from  anyone experienced and all you newbies will be left floundering. And yes, you do need to be tough as a freelance, probably a lot tougher than being the newsroom slave with the dragon editor shouting at you non-stop. Seriously, it's a tough game and anyone embarking on a freelancing should take time to gather solid info on running a small business as a sole trader. As I said, it's about a lot more than just writing.

GreenFish

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2008, 09:58:03 AM »
If you don't know this sort of stuff freelancing may not be for you.

Nonsense - perhaps the person is just starting out?  We can't know everything from the off.  Some of us have to/like to learn as we go on.

louise_bolotin

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2008, 12:06:50 PM »
Sorry, but I disagree. A journalist who apparently does not know how to contact a company because it "all took place by email" sets off my alarm bells. I'd be loath to commission or employ a hack who cannot apparently dig up basic contact info such a phone number by using a search engine. This is elementary stuff. Likewise, a bit of googling for basic info on running a small business turns up sites such as Business Link, which can provide plenty of how-to stuff such as invoicing and recovering unpaid debts. If a journalist can't do this, I'd question their ability to do the job properly.

GreenFish

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Re: I Haven't Been Paid - Advice?
« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2008, 02:21:28 PM »
Sorry, but I disagree. A journalist who apparently does not know how to contact a company because it "all took place by email" sets off my alarm bells. I'd be loath to commission or employ a hack who cannot apparently dig up basic contact info such a phone number by using a search engine. This is elementary stuff. Likewise, a bit of googling for basic info on running a small business turns up sites such as Business Link, which can provide plenty of how-to stuff such as invoicing and recovering unpaid debts. If a journalist can't do this, I'd question their ability to do the job properly.

I can certainly see what you're saying Louise, and the OP should, yes, have known how to find contacts for the company.

But in a general way, the term 'Horse before the cart' comes to mind - in that do you expect people to know everything about freelancing before they send off their first story, or do they learn as they go along? I got from your first response that you expected the OP to know the basics before starting.  Which is fair enough, I suppose - but I would think many pick it up as they go along...

(Update:  actually, on reflection, I would think if you are doing freelance as a single source of income then, yes, it is deffo worth knowing the ropes before starting!  I, however, have a paid full time job.  I can afford to make mistakes, I suppose.  So yes I agree with you, learn the ropes before writing to survive!)
« Last Edit: November 14, 2008, 03:00:02 PM by GreenFish »