Tuesday, 18 August 2015

'Oops, we missed paying your salary, but you will get it next month.''

How would you like to be told this? I am not on a salary so please.....

 Just pay the invoice!

Please send your
---  Date of birth,
---  National insurance number
---  Tax reference number
---   Tax district reference
---  Your address
---  Your Bank details
---  Your annual turnover
---  Proof of your self employed status

---   What your granny had for breakfast this morning!

Okay so the last one is perhaps a bit tongue in cheek but these and other questions are often asked of freelance writers when they have presented a business invoice for payment to councils or universities.

(NB  Please excuse the visual interruptions of the odd dragon or cups of tea or stray dogs, I am a writer of fiction and this is not fiction but hard annoying fact, so it makes me feel the need to lighten the mood, now and then!!)

I would like to know whether the finance departments of councils and universities across the UK actually do need all this information or have just got themselves mired into a routine they are reluctant or cannot be bothered to change.

There are various reasons why it makes me so annoyed.
One is that as a freelance I am not being paid for the time wasted on unnecessary admin, unlike the salaried employees of these organisations. 

It takes time out of my writing day from work that pays my bills, and despite what people think writers do not lounge about all day sipping tea, or prosecco, and going to book launches! 

In these times of Identity fraud, why would I want to send all this personal information to someone I do not know who will no doubt pass it around various departments before it reaches the person who finally presses the button to make a payment?   I will have already sent in an invoice with details that are relevant to make the payment.  

If I was a company that ran under anything other than my own name, would they still feel the need to ask for this information?  

 I can't imagine anyone asking the local garage or electrician for their date of birth or annual turnover before they paid their invoice.  It is a nonsense and an invasion of privacy.

I can appreciate the necessity, if someone is going on their payroll for a long contract etc, but not for individual events, talks or workshops.  An invoice should be adequate.

I am self employed  I pay my taxes to the HRMC as requested and I will, if pushed, provide the organisation with my tax reference number, if they absolutely need it, and from that the HRMC can find out if I am legitimately self employed so I cannot see why need any other reference aside from my name.

Some will attempt to take tax off an invoice even when it says clearly that you are self employed and they must not do this.  

One writer I know was offered more quite a bit more money than the invoice requested, just so that they could take off the tax and pay the writer extra for the time it took for admin to process the resulting problem.  

Aside from that involving more complications - would you, as someone who pays council tax, want the council to be paying someone more than their agreed fee just because the council did not want to process the invoice properly?  I personally find that completely unacceptable.    

 Just pay the invoice!

To add insult to injury I recently had communications with an organisation demanding that I fill in their unnecessary form before they paid me for work I had completed.  After wasting a lot of my time on emails and phone calls they told me it was running close to time for their payment run and if I wanted my invoice paid now I would need to fill in the form.  

They had been passing my invoice back and forward between departments for three weeks.  I finally, under protest, agreed and filled in the form only to find out that they still missed the payment run because in all the fuss the original office had not 'passed it for payment'!

There is no excuse for this.  I was driven to enquire how the person or persons dealing with this would feel if their salary was not paid that month and they were told 'oops sorry we missed paying your salary, but you will get it next time!'

 As writers we like to eat, I like to make sure I pay my plumber, electrician, etc when they give me a bill. But I don't want one day of paid work to cost me two days extra admin....

I know I am not alone. A recent conversation on facebook showed it happens a lot, and all over the country. It is time something was done about it. In the same way the government stepped in a while back to try and stop large organisations putting small companies out of business because they took so long to pay their invoices, we need this sorted!

 Just pay the invoice!

Have you had problems with this kind of thing?  I would be interested to hear them so please share them either in the comments or contact me through my website www.lindastrachan.com (please do keep any comments general . Do not name and shame here)


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook - 
Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - Society of Authors in Scotland 
(Please note, any views and opinions here are her own.)

Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

website:  www.lindastrachan.com
blog:  Bookwords 


Nicola Morgan said...

Yes! As you know, I am currently trying to be paid by a local council for work done well over two months ago. They have asked me, among other things, for my annual turnover. Which is NONE of their business. And yes, they offered me an amount of extra (taxpayers') money if they could take tax off, but taking tax off causes me a great deal of nuisance when it comes to explaining everything to my accountant and him having (at my cost) to reclaim it. There are many complications. They say it's their legal duty to ask these questions. It is NOT. It is my legal duty to declare everything I earn to HMRC, which I do, and it is HMRC's duty to decide how much tax I owe. End of.

Because of this recent experience (added to loads of others) I have added a clause to my booking form, to the effect that if I have to fill in any forms in order to be paid the money we have agreed, I will charge an extra fee.

I already chage a late payment fee, which this particular council now owes twice.

Another way of putting this is that I am contracted to do an event, not to do an event and fill in pointless, intrusive forms.

At one point, my contact at the council said that she, too, was annoyed by the bureaucratic process. I pointed out that she was being paid a salary while she was annoyed. I was not.

Drives me nuts!

bookwitch said...

I suppose you could put extra costs in as general overheads, but that makes you less competitive on your fees. And if you thought that people wouldn't immediately stop asking you to do work for them, all freelance writers should stage a strike.

JO said...

In my former life (in Child Protection) I was paid as an independent expert witness - and solicitors were notorious for taking up to six months to pay (saying they hadn't had the legal aid through).

In the end I threatened one with the Small Claims Court, even getting the papers, believing that he's never give me any work again but I was so fed up waiting for the money. The result - he paid within a week, and continued to give me work, and paying on time. The word even got round, and I was paid more promptly after that.

I know it's drastic, and we'd all prefer not to take such measures, but it was the best think I could possibly have done. Good luck to all unpaid writers - you earn your money as much as I did.

Susan Price said...

Good for you, Jo!
I think I've been generally lucky - or perhaps I just don't do as much work in schools as many others. I certainly rarely work for universities.

I was once paid several times over by a London council, because they insisted on making me an employee, in order to pay me - and then forgot to remove me from the pay-roll. I don't know how many months went by before I noticed - but then I started trying to get it stopped. Predictably, that took months too.

I kept telling them that they were paying me when they shouldn't be. I was passed from department to department. I was told to bank the cheques and forget it - and this was tax-payer's money. Peanuts, perhaps, but still... Eventually, the payments stopped.

It is madness. These institutions must have to reguarly pay workers not already on their payroll - why do they find it so difficult?

kathryn evans said...

As an employer of contracted services, this has baffled me for a while but I think it's because of this: http://tools.hmrc.gov.uk/esi/screen/ESI/en-GB/summary?user=guest

Private sector businesses are far more likely to 'take a view' of employment status, public sector will be doing a belt and braces job while not really understanding the nature of self employment. A certificate from your accountant stating that you pay your tax and national insurance should be enough. Or you could register as a limited company.

Daft, I know.

Nick Green said...

The culture surrounding invoices is like that of parties. It's not the done thing to be on time.

(This is more than facetiousness. Literally true. There are well-worn business tips that advise against paying invoices until the last possible moment, because that preserves your cash flow.)

Correction. Their cash flow.

Nick Green said...

@Sue - I'm very amused by the vision of you berating the council, 'Stop giving me money!!' I don't know whether to be infuriated by their travesty of a left-wing mindset ('It's only tax-payers' money') that gives socialism a bad name, or to think that actually it's a very good use of tax-payers' money to pay a retainer to Susan Price.

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Linda Strachan said...

Yes Nicola it is a complete nonsense

Bookwitch -The whole point is NOT to get them to pay us more but to stop them charging us tax, or asking us to do their admin, or fill in forms or do unnecessary admin.
We are writers if we wanted to be paid for admin we would work in that area!
What we object to is 1- not getting paid in a reasonable time,
2 - being forced to do more admin because they can't be bothered to do it properly

Well done Jo, but what a waste of your time. It is a lack of respect for the value of other people's time and I find those on a salary rarely understand the reality of what that means to freelancers.

Kathryn I agree there are ways around this but my point is that it should not be necessary and in some ways putting this kind of plaster on it is not curing the root problem. I feel a statement from HRMC regarding Self employed people and payment might be an answer. something not ambiguous.

Nick- It is exactly what the problem is bigger fish protecting their interests at the expense of the smaller fish!

Stroppy Author said...

Registering for VAT might help. I rarely do anything for local councils, but the fact there is VAT added to the invoice means they can't cope with charging income tax on it and treat like a 'proper' invoice from a 'proper' supplier - ie pay it in full, but late. To be honest, usual business terms are 30 days (minimum) after the end of the month in which you invoice, so until a maximum of 59 days have passed, the payment is not technically late in their eyes. After that, I hassle and charge late payment penalty and interest, and use the small claims court when necessary. I have never been refused further work by anyone I've sent small claims forms to - not even the one who had to pay the court fees as they let it run until the day before the hearing. And if they get as far as small claims, I put them on proforma invoice and they have to pay in advance. I still get the work. So be stern!