Daring to speak out about late payment on Twitter could cost one woman £120,000 in fines and legal costs - all because of an unpaid £146 invoice.
The BBC reports that 55-year-old Lesley Kemp of Milton Keynes carried out £146 of transcription work for a company based in Qatar.
But when Resolution Productions paid her late - and expected her to cover the cost of their own £25 bank charges - Ms Kemp vented her frustrations on Twitter.
On October 8th 2012, she tweeted:
"#Disgraceful behaviour by @Resoguy - delayed paying my invoice due to their bad cashflow. Now want me to pay their bank charges. PLS RT."
Just four days later, the full amount - including the £25 that had been withheld for 'bank charges' - was paid to her, and she tweeted again in more positive terms:
"So nice to start the day knowing @Resoguy has settled my account. All's well that ends well."
In early November, however, Ms Kemp astounded her followers with a further tweet about the debacle:
"I named and shamed @Resoguy for non payment of my bill which he eventually paid. Now he instructs @LibelSolicitor to sue me! #madness"
On March 9th 2013, she followed up with a full explanation of the situation on her business blog, KPS Audio Typing and Transcription Services, listing the charges she could face - including £50,000 in libel damages, and £70,000 in legal costs.
Ms Kemp has received widespread support for her plight via Twitter, and the wealth of number of retweets her blog post received seems to have been instrumental in gaining her the BBC's attention.
The Libel Reform Campaign has also offered her its assistance, by launching a public collection for donations towards her legal costs.
More recent tweets suggest that she has found legal representation with media and commercial litigator Robert Dougans; however, it seems the battle is still continuing.
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Libel and the law
In principle, providing that Ms Kemp has told the truth, the libel claim should be relatively easily dismissed: she tells the BBC that she received communications from Resolution Productions blaming their late payment on their own non-paying customers, and later accepting liability for the full amount including the deducted bank charges.
However, the case highlights the dangers involved in naming and shaming a late-paying client, especially if you do so before the account has been settled in full.
We warned of this back in August 2012, when we suggested simply using effective credit control and invoice chasing, rather than going public with any unhappiness over client payments.
The Office of Fair Trading also advises against using social networks to pursue debts - and warns that doing so could be seen as harassment of the client.
In guidance aimed at debt collection companies, the OFT lists "unfair or improper practices" including "posting messages on social networking sites in a way that might potentially reveal that an identifiable person is being pursued for the repayment of a debt".
While Ms Kemp is not a debt collection company, her case indicates the perils of naming and shaming on social networks - and while she may escape the libel charge, taking the time to think again before posting her original tweet could have helped her to avoid significant stress and hardship during the months since.
Over 150 Years Of Industry Experience
Our modest but highly skilled team has a combined total of over 150 years of experience in commercial credit management and B2B debt collection. From independent IT contractors to major film and TV publishers, Safe Collections has the knowledge and experience you need to get paid quickly and cost effectively.
Image "Twitter" from flickr user Esther Vargas is licensed under CC BY 2.0