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Freelancers - how to chase down clients who just won't pay

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 12 November 2015
  2. Business
  3. 0 comments
Debt rage

They say that crime doesn’t pay. However, if you are a seasoned freelancer, you are probably aware that sometimes clients don’t pay either, even when you have done a bang-up job.

The late-paying client is the bane of any freelancer. Fortunately, if you have a client who is dragging their feet on paying or *gasp* refusing to pay at all, you do have some options beyond sending curt emails.

Here, we commemorate National Freelancers Day by showing you how to take action against a client who just won’t pay.

Escalate the situation with letters

Before jumping into a court claim, you should inform the tardy client of their outstanding payment, and if they still fail to pay, notify them of your intention to take them to court.

You should take these steps before attempting to take the debtor to court. Most clients will pay up before things reach court, and a judge will be less inclined to award you costs if you didn’t make enough effort to settle the debt first.

You should start with a reminder of payment – this is often enough to convince debtors of the merits of paying up.

If, however, this isn’t successful, follow it up with a second, more strongly worded reminder. Then, if the debtor still fails to pay, you should send a letter informing them that you are planning to take them to court – this is known as a notice of intended action.

 If you are sending these letters via the post, you should use recorded delivery, so that you have proof that the letters were received – this will be necessary later if you take the debtor to court.

Alternatively, you could send the letters by email – this will leave you with a record of what was sent.

If your notice of intended action was still not enough, you may need to take legal action.

Taking them to court

If the debt is worth less than £10,000, your claim will go through the County Courts’ small claims track.

Cases in the small claims track are not quite as formal as normal cases – the rulings handed down are just as legitimate, but the cases themselves are simplified somewhat, making it easier for parties to make claims without incurring significant legal costs.

You can start a claim online by using the Money Claim Online (MCOL) service. Alternatively, you can download the N1 Claim Form and send it to the following address:

County Court Money Claims Centre
PO Box 527
M5 0BY

Once the debtor receives the claim, they have 14 days to either file a defence or acknowledge service giving the debtor a further 14 days to file a defence (total of 28 days from service). One of three things should now happen.

The client agrees to pay

If the client agrees to pay at this point, or at least makes an offer that you are willing to accept, you can withdraw the claim without taking them to court.

You can withdraw your claim by contacting the County Court Centre again, or using the MCOL service.

The client disputes the claim

If the debtor responds but you can’t work out an agreement (they dispute the amount that they owe, or you can’t agree how it should be paid back, for example), you may need to take them to court.

The client doesn’t respond

If the client doesn’t respond to or acknowledge your claim, you can apply for a judgment in default against them, requiring them to pay or potentially face enforcement action.

You can apply for a judgment using this form.

Would mediation be a better option?

If the debt is for less than £10,000, you could contact your local county court to use their small claims mediation service.

This is often a better option, as it can make it possible for you and the debtor to hammer out an agreement without the added expense of going to court.

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