Friday 26 June 2009

Making the buggers pay

So you did all the right things, sent in your invoice, politely queried it's non-payment, accepted a few facile excuses and it's now some time later and they still haven't paid you. What next?

Send a statement, itemising the unpaid invoices and note to say that they are overdue for payment and you will apply statutory late payment penalties if you are not paid in 7 days. Refer to the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 which gives you the right to do this. If after seven days they still have not paid, or have not given you a payment date you are satisfied with, issue another invoice showing the interest and late payment compensation you are claiming. As I mentioned in the last post, this is
£40 for an invoice up to £1,000, £70 for an invoice of £1,000-£10,000 and £100 if the invoice is for over £10,000. Interest is 8% above Bank of England base rate (so currently not much more than the 8% penalty). There is a useful calculator online that will work out the interest due for exactly the right number of days. You have to put in various details about your invoice and the organisation that owes you money and it will tell you how much to charge.

At this point, I usually add a note to say that the interest is increasing daily and I will issue updated invoices each month until it is paid - you could issue them more frequently. They might pay as soon as you send this invoice. They may or may not pay the penalty interest and charge and it's up to you whether you pursue it if they don't do so. For every month that your patience endures, chase the invoice and add more interest. If you have some other hold over the publisher - they are waiting for you to return proofs or deliver another book, for instance - you may tell your editor you won't be doing any more work until you've been paid the overdue amount. Or you may be too scared you won't get any more work from the publisher. But to be honest, do you even want any more work from a publisher who isn't going to pay you? I did once hear the 'you will never work for us again' line and I answered 'you think I want to if you don't pay me?' They paid. I didn't work for them again, as they went bust. But at least they didn't owe me any money when it happened.

If they still ignore you, or give excuses about waiting for re-financing, or their suppliers not paying them, or any similar guff, you can decide whether to wait longer or take further action. Some writers consider a debt recovery agency. An agency will ruthlessly pursue the non-paying publisher, but they will take a portion of the money. A better option (in England and Wales) is the small claims court. Write to the publisher (accounts department, copied to your editor and to someone higher up if you like) saying you will start small claims court proceedings if they have not paid you within seven days.

Most of the time, they will pay as soon as you threaten court action. If they don't carry the threat though. You can file a case against someone online - it is very easy. You can sue for debts under £100,000 this way and, frankly, if your publisher owes you more than that you should not have let the situation get this far! You will need to have all the details of your invoices and due payment dates, the publisher's address and so on before you start filling the form in. You will also have to pay the court costs of between £25 and £100 depending on how much you are claiming. But you can claim this fee back from the recalcitrant publisher, too. Don't forget to add the interest and penalty payment to your claim, and use the online calculator to update the amount of interest.

Unless the publisher has a very good reason to contest the payment, they will generally pay within the period between submission of the claim and the case going to court. I had one publisher pay up on the very last day, when the (virtual) hearing was due the next day, but at least they paid. (And I have worked for them since.) If they let it get as far as court, it's probably because they genuinely don't have the money. You can persevere and even have bailifs seize their goods and chattels if you like. After all, why should you be the one to go unpaid when it could instead be the electricty board or a colossal printer in China? You did the work - you deserve to be paid. Go for it.


  1. I've always found that a phone call works, if an invoice and a statement haven't. Not a threatening call; just politely pointing out the payment is overdue, then waiting. They have to say something, and it's inevitably an apology and promise of prompt payment.

    But maybe the publishing world is more difficult to wrest money out of...

  2. Oh yes, are they ever! I think publishers think that writers are so grateful to be published at all, they'll happily do it for nothing. I took your advice and threatened xxxx with a late payment charge last time, Anne, and they paid up.