Payment Problems at The Pool Underline Freelancer Risks

Lifestyle magazine The Pool has suspended all freelancer commissions after it emerged it was facing a sizeable backlog of late payments owed to contributors as well as to staff.

New editor Cate Sevilla took the decision to halt all new work requests for freelance journalists and photographers, including from regular columnists, after being inundated with queries over unpaid invoices since she took the job in September.

In comments made to the Press Gazette, Sevilla said the problems stemmed from The Pool being “a small business that’s going through a financial restructure”. Repeating the ‘small business’ reference on Twitter, she added: “It’s not as simple as ‘having the office manager’ pay people on time.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which has been contacted by a number of freelancers asking for advice, said it was concerned by the potential financial situation at the magazine. Other writers awaiting payment have taken to Twitter to fuel rumours that it could be as much as a quarter behind in its payments.

The issue underlines the lack of security freelancers face. In this case, it appears the problems may indeed stem from The Pool’s small size and possibly overstretching itself in its use of freelance contributors.

Launched in 2015 by BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Lauren Laverne and former Cosmopolitan UK and Red magazines editor Sam Baker, The Pool targets a female audience in its coverage of news, fashion, food and culture.

Regardless of the size of a business, hiring freelancers carries a number of attractions. These include the ability to easily scale up and down virtually at the drop of a hat, the option to hire specialists for very specific projects and, of course, cost. When you take out tax and benefits, it is widely believed that hiring a freelancer can be as much as a third cheaper than taking on a full-time employee.

But there are still financial risks to taking on freelancers, especially for smaller businesses. Cash flow can be a sticking point. Sometimes the up-and-down nature of expenditure on freelancers can catch businesses out - if they hire too many in a short space of time, they can easily find they don’t have the cash to pay them all a short way down the line.

Fingers crossed this is the case at The Pool and the action being taken will result in all out-of-pocket freelancers getting their money in short order. For them, unfortunately it is just a matter of sitting tight and waiting. If there are deeper underlying issues at the magazine, then they could end up in the much worse situation of making claims over assets following insolvency.

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