FT COLUMN: Freelancers and the curse of late payments

In my first Millennial Money column for FT Money, I ask why freelancers struggled so much with late payments in 2019 – and whether the new decade might mean a fairer deal for the self-employed

All I wanted for Christmas was . . . my latest invoices to be paid. On time. Without any hassle, hoop-jumping or hare-brained demands. No, it’s not the weird version of Mariah Carey’s classic hit you haven’t heard.

It was the festive wish of freelancers everywhere. December and January are financially tricky months for most, with increased spending followed by the dreaded tax return. Even employees who were paid early for Christmas might have to wait six weeks until their next payday. But at least they know the money’s definitely on its way.

Nothing strikes fear into a freelancer’s heart quite like an out-of-office message from a client that owes us money. A recent tweet from the comedian Katy Brand said:

“An annual reminder to all companies to pay your freelancers before Christmas. If you go on your salaried holiday before you have done all your admin, you may well ruin someone else’s Christmas. Clear your desk first. Then get as drunk as you like.”

I’m not on anybody’s naughty list. I’ve delivered all my work on time, to the satisfaction of my clients. Yet the most important question (which I ask of anyone who commissions work from me) is this: “What do I need to do to ensure you pay me promptly?” “Just send us your standard invoice, that’s all the finance department needs,” is often the breezy reply. Oh, if only! By law, firms must pay their suppliers within 30 days unless a contract says otherwise. Yet it’s when that long month passes, and payments fail to materialise that the cash flow nightmare of Christmas begins for so many freelancers.


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