Dear John... Dealing with a (Very) Overdue Invoice

We always say that a sensible approach to invoicing can help to cut down on the number of problems you face - and that's still true. Chasing up invoices, making sure they've been received by the client, and querying any payments as soon as they become overdue can all help to encourage clients to pay up on time.

But when an invoice goes unpaid, it's easy to find yourself becoming more and more lenient in the hope that your client will eventually pay - while they become less and less reasonable in their reasons for delaying.


Here's one example from a non-payer who was an impressive 92 days overdue, had become... well, see for yourself.

(It is important to note that the author of the email below had never spoken to our client and this was the first email that didn’t originate from the MD of the company in question, up until  this the relationship had been cordial if not particularly conducive to payment.)

The Debtors Email

Dear Mr Kavanagh

Thanks for your thousandth email received today!

Forgive me for replying in such an unbusiness like manner, namely my phone!!! But frankly I couldnt take it seriously enough, to consider it worth the effort!

I understand your invoice has now been paid in full, although again you seem to be disputing it, I think you like creating complications!

I note the contents of yet another email, this morning,  but have  to tell you, to save you future time management, the office stopped reading any of your emails some time ago!

They got boring, just saying the same things over and over and over! Then they became amusing and so we pinned them on the wall!

There is nothing in your terms and conditions relating to any of these interest matters and for your future information, " staff" will always be polite to you, but are never in a position to change " terms" so they would not be in any position to agree to any changes, relating to this invoice or payments due, or make any agreements with you! So slightly naive on your part, to try and enforce this now or use confirmations from staff. You have no idea what level " staff" you are communicating with, always worth checking!!!

Sadly in business the organ grinder which is " me " does the decision making!

Please feel free to do your very worst and bring court proceedings for the £53 or whatever your "interest" accrues to, if  you wish. I would enjoy actually meeting you and observing the Court "performance" for myself!

It would thoroughly entertain me watching you explain to the Judge you're case, when neither I or my Company have received anything from you're company in return!

The Judge would simply ask me what did you pay him for, where is it and what was he contracted to do? I would then explain an unfinished website that won't be finished until payment is made in full, in which case, any issues or problems could not be resolved as payment was already made! Did he do the work? I have no idea your honour, but I paid him anyway and now he wants interest! Ha ha it's funny!!!

He would tell me I was negligent not to see a final result and naive! Therefore it was contributory negligence on my part! For paying you and receiving nothing!!! He certainly would not agree to your interest until at least the " contract" was completed' after he picked himself up off the floor from laughing!

To date you're claims of all this " work" could be a complete figment of your imagination! I have nothing in my possession that relates to any contracted work completed by you or any others for that matter! You

Could be sat in an armchair watching Jeremy Kyle eating Doritos and done nothing, for all I know!!! I've trusted  Mr X and still do! That's the only reason you have been paid at all.

I suggest you research contract law, in particular  concentrate you're research  on " remedy"  when contracts go wrong it  might educate you for you're future business dealings!

My publisher is currently creating a business book of ridiculous emails and yours are currently be passed round virally they are so funny!

John,  small piece of advice, whenever you throw your toys out of the pram, in writing, always think where could that end up! It frankly makes you look a bit silly, not a respectable, to be taken seriously business person! Which I'm sure is how you see yourself! Sadly however not as others see you!  You did not mark any of them private / confidential

So they are public!

My apologies only to Mr A, I can only imagine if we've had so many emails, texts, calls etc he must have a million more!!!!!

In the meantime,  for my team reading this, thanks guys for remaining honest transparent and as professional as possible under the circumstances, we are all in business and we all understand other peoples businesses, every now and then you meet a bus driver posing as a business person!

So use your sense of humour always keep it simple and don't get drawn into the "ridiculous"  we are owed 100 times more than this joker, so good job he's not in our game!

We all  get paid when each other get paid! Simples!!!

Oh and quite why this clown thinks he's more important than

The others is beyond me,  I think he should have gone to the bottom and Mr A and Mr B paid first!!! Might be worth considering as that happens a lot  Mr Kavanagh when you throw you're toys out its called throwing the baby put with the bath water!! You get nothing until accounts decide they've taken it to the wire! You have Mr A to thank for you're payment today!

Which if you're bank is saying they haven't received, you could start an email barrage to them, clearly you haven't got much work on, to keep you busy, so this will now give you something else to do with your time!!

If I was you I'd go away now lick my wounds buy a new shirt and get a hair cut to cheer myself up!!' Or buy a new aftershave! How special would that be?

Thanks for the fun though, some days, you really did make me laugh outloud. I will miss the wall of emails!

Oh and sadly Mr X in IT has just positioned you're email address to our junk mail so no point replying, but get onto that dreadful bank of yours that now have you're money!

Kind regards

Mrs S S the Organ grinder!!!!

The Freelancer

"The client clearly wasn't paying.  They went through cycles where they would promise imminent payment, then when the promised payment date arrived, they would go totally silent and ignore any and all attempts to contact them.  After about a week my emails would become more threatening and suddenly they would respond again - blaming their 'jobsworth' IT technician for the communication breakdown - and promise a new payment date.  That date would come, they would go silent again, and the cycle would start over.

We had been through four or five instances of these cycles I called in Safe Collections.  The situation was only made more complex by the fact that there were three of us - all waiting on heavily overdue invoices - and none of us getting paid.  Given the client's behaviour I was genuinely concerned that calling in a collections agency would result in the client either going bust or disappearing altogether.  I didn't want to be the one who got paid at the cost of the others' invoices never getting settled.  That's why I didn't make a move sooner.

As the invoice approached one hundred days overdue and the client pulled another 'head in the sand' cycle on me, I had enough.  Safe Collections had come very highly recommended - another contractor had described how not only had Adam recovered the full amount owed on a heavily overdue invoice, he had also recovered statutory interest which covered the collection fees, and had approached the situation with such professionalism that the client still offered him more work two weeks later!

A collections agency that can collect without damaging your relationship with the non-paying client is something particularly valuable in my book, so I put them on the case.  It was painless and the client paid mere days later.  Had I known how quick and painless it was going to be, I would not have hesitated to call them months earlier."

The Facts

Unfortunately for this non-paying client, whose anonymity has been quite graciously preserved above, she overlooked a couple of important details.

For instance, the right to charge interest on an overdue payment is enshrined in law, and doesn't need to be specified in anybody's terms and conditions of payment.

The standard permitted interest rate that can be charged is the Bank of England's base rate, plus eight per cent, and is set at six-monthly intervals for ease of reference.

If you don't fancy paying interest of 8% or more on your invoices, settle them before the due date - it's that simple.

On top of that, if you contract a freelancer to work on part of a project and they deliver the goods, you still have to pay them, even if you don't use their work (in this case, a completed website design was supplied to the client, but they didn't go ahead with the integration of an ecommerce shopping platform because the contractor responsible for the integration hadn’t been paid either!)

The only defence you might have against that is if the work already completed was not of a suitable standard - which is why it's important to give contractors, freelancers and design agencies alike a detailed brief of what you're looking for, to avoid any arguments later on.

The Response

If your non-paying customer has added you to their email junk list, there aren't too many amicable options still open to you, and nobody should have to field emails like the one above.

Luckily, we were able to act on behalf of Mr Kavanagh, pursuing the client for full settlement of the statutory late payment costs and interest.

From the zero-help stance adopted in the email, the client quickly realised that the charges being made were perfectly legal and legitimate - and that paying them in full was her responsibility.

We quickly recovered the requested amount and were able to bring the matter to a close, in what even we would have to admit was an impressive turnaround from the initial 'so sue me' attitude of the client, to full payment of funds without needing to take the recovery through the courts.

The Lessons Learned

Hopefully the debtor client learned that you shouldn't underestimate or attempt to bully a freelancer simply because you don't feel like paying them - there's a clear distinction between business and personal emotions, and if you're legally liable for a cost, however much you dislike paying it, you still need to settle the account.

In turn, our client - the unpaid contractor seeking fair recompense for completing what he was contracted to do - got proof, if any were needed, that there are legitimate organisations out there (like us!) willing to fight for what's rightfully yours, in the face of non-paying bullies who think they can shout you down.

And we, once again, successfully pursued an individual who had no intention of paying whatsoever, and got back the money owed to our client - a job well done, if we say so ourselves.

Image "Head In Hands" from flickr user Alex Proimos is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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