Fighting late paying clients
Last Updated on 23 July 2021
[Updated 23 July 2021 to include a note about holiday pay.]
Every few years there’s a new initiative to help freelancers get paid on time.
Maybe I’m getting old, but it seems to me that if these initiatives were effective, there wouldn’t need to be any new ones!
Nevertheless, it’s good to see that there’s now a Small Business Commissioner working to the BEISS (the business department).
It’s a common problem. Sometimes it’s a policy of the paying organisation to hang on to cash as much as possible. Sometimes it’s pure ineptitude and someone forgets to press a button to action your payment.
The member organisation IPSE, which represents freelancers, says more than half the people surveyed had experienced late payments at some point. I’m surprised it’s not a higher percentage.
How to get paid on time
Don’t forget that you can help yourself to get paid on time by following a few simple steps. This is how I do it:
- Agree ANY work in writing, including the agreed fee and the hours/days to be worked. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big contract. Just make sure that you confirm by email what you’ve agreed verbally. This goes for dailies just as much as longer fixed-term work.
If you’re being paid PAYE make sure you’re clear whether extra holiday pay is included in the rate. It’s usually a good idea to use the phrase ‘just to be clear this rate does not include rolled up holiday pay’. They might say ‘oh yes it does’ but at least you’re clear what to expect. (See the note about holiday pay below)
If it’s a text conversation for a short piece of work, screenshot the conversation. That’s your agreement in writing.
- Ask the person who’s giving you the work to confirm your email is correct. If they’re not prepared to reply to your written message with written ‘yes’ you should be suspicious.
- Push to get set up on their payment system as soon as possible once the work has been agreed and certainly before you start the work.
- If invoicing, send in the invoice as soon as possible after the work. If you leave it you might forget!
- Your invoice should include date, terms of payment and a statement pointing out that you charge interest for late payments (see more about this on www.payontime.co.uk)
- If you’re not sure what goes on an invoice, use my free invoice template >
- Chase the payment once the terms have run out. Phone the person who actions the payment. This may be different from the person who gave you the work. Check they received the invoice and that you hadn’t made a mistake on it.
- If you get shirty or evasive answers after a couple more chasing phone calls, send in an invoice for interest.
- Check out these sites that explain how to charge late payment interest and a compensation fee.
Don’t take it personally
Some people are nervous about chasing money they’re due for work they’ve done. My response is that it makes you look professional as long as you’re polite and matter of fact about it.
Chasing the money early on in the process with the accounts department will help you keep good relations with the person who actually gives you the work.
Also, if you chase early, you won’t be angry. You’re just ringing to check things are going through rather than to complain.
Ultimately, try to have a big enough pool of clients so that you don’t have to work again for the ones who don’t want to pay you.
What is holiday pay for freelancers?
Any worker is supposed to be eligible for time off to ensure good physical and mental health and to avoid exploitation.
This is easy to understand for full-time permanent employees, but what about freelancers who might be doing a job for a week or a month? They may not be able to take time off for ‘holidays’.
To recognise this, employers are supposed to compensate the worker with money instead of time off. You’re effectively being paid in lieu of taking holiday. It’s usually a percentage of your agreed fee – around 12%.
For someone working as a PAYE freelancer (paid as if employed) it’s important to know whether the fee you’ve agreed includes holiday pay or not.
It’s not supposed to, but some unscrupulous employers might leave this unspoken and then pay you less than you were expecting.
A sole trader usually negotiates a ‘buy out’ rate. This includes everything and is effectively a ‘rate for the job’.
This is the amount that will go on the invoice and this is what you’re paid. Everything is pretty obvious.
This is also true of limited company freelancers.
Holiday pay and Brexit
Sorry to bring up the ‘B’-word, but you might recall that holiday pay was originally an EU initiative, part of attempts to ensure that people aren’t made to work too hard.
During the run up to the EU referendum in 2016 some feared that holiday pay might be abolished if the UK left the EU. Of course some employers see holiday pay as ‘red tape from Brussels’.
Either way nothing has changed at time of writing. But this is one to keep an eye on.
NB: David Thomas Media Ltd is not responsible for the content of other sites nor any financial advice provided by them.
Posted on 04 May 2021
For people (like me) who are uncomfortable chasing late payment, one tip that worked for me was to set up an online invoicing system (I use quickfile.co.uk) with templated reminder emails. If a payment is late, I don’t spend any time agonising over it, I just hit a single button to trigger a polite reminder email. I also send the emails from “firstname.lastname@example.org” instead of using my own email address – that way it feels like it’s not “me” chasing the payment, it’s my “accounts team”!
It’s always good to automate processes like this. Emailing politely can certainly bring results. Interestingly I’ve found that phoning politely tends to get things done more quickly. Any thoughts?
I think it depends on the circumstances. A lot of my clients are small businesses, so if a payment is late, it’s almost always an oversight. An email works well as a gentle nudge without causing too much embarrassment for them! With my larger clients, I agree that a phone call is more effective – the problem is more likely to be something systemic (e.g. the invoice needs to be in PDF format or sent to a particular email address).
Great tips Alice. Thanks for sharing them!