How to recover your money when your client refuses to pay

Posted on: August 20th, 2010

Twice I’ve been owed a few thousand pounds by a client. Both were seriously dragging their heels about paying me and I realised that the only way I was going to see my money was if I took them to court. In both cases, as soon as they saw the official letter, they paid me straightaway so it never got to court. Of course, that was the last I heard of either company but, to be honest, I wouldn’t have wanted to work for them again anyhow.

So what’s the procedure if you are owed money by a client and you really don’t believe you can recover the sum in any other way?

Please note the following information applies to England and Wales only.

There are three routes:

Small claims track – for claims with a value of up to £5,000.

Fast track – for claims between £5,000 and £25,000.

Multi-track – for claims of £25,000 or more.

The small claims track is the route that’s probably most used by freelancers. And, for this, you don’t need the services of a solicitor. You can start your claims process online at www.moneyclaim.gov.uk. First, check that you meet the Money Claim Online criteria, which are:

  • You are claiming a fixed amount of money that’s under £100,000 (including court fees and solicitor’s costs)
  • Your claim is against either one or two people – not more
  • The person(s) you are claiming against has an address within England and Wales
  • You have a valid credit or debit card

When I did an online claim, I had to state the amount I was claiming and include details of what the claim was about. I also had to include the full name and address of the person I was claiming against and add my credit card details. That was pretty much it. You can then track the progress of your claim online. I had to pay a fee – and the amount you pay depends on the amount you are claiming. But I got my fee back in both cases, as the client was made to pay that to me on top of the money I was owed. Here is the fee table.

Do think twice before taking court action – consider it as a last resort when you’ve tried all other avenues to recover your money.

You can find out more about the claims process from the HMCS website.

Disclaimer: Although I have made every effort to ensure this information is accurate, I am not a solicitor and you should take appropriate advice before taking a client to court.

8 Responses to “How to recover your money when your client refuses to pay”

  1. Pawel @ Self Employed Cafe
    August 20th, 2010

    It all sounds simple Carole but in reality it is more complex (as you probably know yourself). And if things go really bad when it comes to courthearing, it can get nasty then.

    Also, what I discovered, many courts (at least here in Ireland) are not interested in “a few thousand” pounds or euro cases. They will dismiss them or push them so far in time that you will wait months before anything happens.

    Unfortunately, as a result, a solicitors letter is not really working well anymore to make people to pay.

    In my experience, a good, old deposit (or even payment upfront – something we’ve introduced for new clients this year) seem like the best options. The less you have to chase after the project is done, the better.

    But I agree, if you get stung you have to take action. There’s no other way.

  2. Carole
    August 20th, 2010

    Yes, I’m the same as you Pawel – l now always charge first-time clients a proportion upfront. 50% if possible. And I don’t start any work until the money is in my account and has cleared. One bitten, twice shy, as they say.

    If the amount you’re owed is just a few hundred and there’s a dispute, it probably isn’t worth the stress and hassle involved. But,as I mentioned, the twice I went through the small claims process, it didn’t get as far as court proceedings. The two clients in question knew they were just dragging their heels in paying me – there wasn’t any dispute involved.

  3. Sara Thurston
    August 21st, 2010

    I had to take an agent to court only once, and the procedure was very similar to what you described (in the States). I won the judgment even though she brought her lawyer, because it was quite clear I should have been paid (the client approved and bought the copy).

    When I was still not paid 30 days later I spent another couple of dollars to seize her bank account! I actually got to march into the bank and hand them the paperwork (how satisfying is that??? :-)

    The lawyer called immediately and demanded that I free up his client’s cash. I insisted that he messenger my money, plus the additional court costs, before I would release her account.

    My money was paid in full within the hour.

    I’ve never worked through an agent again :-)

  4. Freelance FactFile
    August 22nd, 2010

    Seizing a bank account! Ooh, now that’s exciting! But I can’t understand how she still hadn’t paid a month after the court hearing…. How did she think she’d get away with it??

  5. Sara Thurston
    August 22nd, 2010

    I always wondered that. Either her lawyer was trying to play games or she was.

    When I seized her bank account her lawyer called me, whining and pleading for me to un-seize it so she could pay me. I refused – how GOOD that felt! I said I would not free up the account until I was paid, and that I didn’t care who paid me or how.

    I think the best part was getting the best of a lawyer. LOL!

  6. Mel Silver
    November 4th, 2013

    I’ve had to start Small Claims Court proceedings twice in my career – interestingly, both against members of the BNI networking group I belonged to at the time. The risk was small as the court fee is relatively modest and both claims were successful. Unbelievably, one of the guys I went after was most indignant that I’d actually taken official steps to recover what he owed me – despite the fact that he’d been using my words on his website for two months without paying me for them!

  7. Carole
    November 5th, 2013

    I know of a web designer whose client didn’t pay for the site he had just designed and built, so he turned the site off. :)

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