Help with debt collection
March 21, 2013 7:10 AM   Subscribe

About a year ago I did a contract translation project and have yet to get paid, despite many promises. Is there any way I can collect?

About a year ago I signed a contract for a translation job (and I was so enthused at first:, and have since finished the work and invoiced them but have not received payment.

I've been in touch with the company (both my original contact there and then later the founder/CEO, who is apparently the contact person for payment-related stuff) for months now, always receiving assurances that I will eventually get paid, but of course I have not. It actually sounds like the company is unable to pay its own debts and may be going bankrupt. (At the end of March?)

Is it worth trying to get a collection agency or lawyer involved? If so, any recommendations?

To complicate things, I am in the U.S. but the translation company is in the UK. If it were a few hundred bucks, I would let it go, but they owe me almost $9K and I would like to get at least some of it.
posted by little cow make small moo to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IAAL, IANYL, TINLA. I have a creditor's right practice and have enforced judgment internationally.

You can sue them here in the states. They will probably default, so you can get a quick judgment. You will then need to hire a UK lawyer to enforce the judgment in the UK.

That is how it works. However, if the company is going bankrupt, it makes no sense to do any of these things. Companies and people get to go bankrupt and leave their creditors twisting in the wind. I think attempts to collect the sum would be throwing good money after bad.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:18 AM on March 21, 2013

That's a good bit of money, so at the very list I would keep hounding them yourself, with the idea being that the squeaky wheel gets the oil/grease, and ask them for commitments to make incremental payments, such as $500 by next Friday, etc. It really sucks when people don't pay their bills, I feel for you.
posted by Dansaman at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2013

Best answer: I am not a lawyer. If you were in the UK you could do this via the County Court and from April 1st, via the Small Claims track of the County Court, which is cheaper.

If you want to do this in the UK go this site and give the people on it a call and see how it works filing from abroad. I have won a small claims case in Australia without being there (although they didn't pay) so it might be possible. They should be able to advise you. You can also get free advice here, where they have a useful guide.

Generally, the UK system tries to push things through mediation first. But in the event you can and do go to court, you need to establish first:

1) Which court you get allocated to.
2) Whether you need to be there in person or be represented by a solicitor. Once you work out where you file, you can pick a local solicitor by using the Law Society's finder. You may be able to recoup costs if the judgment is favourable to you.

County Court Judgments (CCJs) are serious. The affect your credit rating and they are a step towards allowing you to engage bailiffs to recoup your debt.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:56 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who works in collections. His tactic is to call a minimum of once a day asking for payment. Sometimes calling more than just the "correct" person to really pester them. Don't harass to the point where they can call the police on you are anything, but persistance pays off. Accepting a portion of the payment to at least get something is not uncommon.
posted by jmd82 at 8:07 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am a freelancer who has had a few experiences like this over the years. I can't speak to how the international angle or their impending bankruptcy may play into things.

What I learned was
* Collections agencies are quite friendly, if you're the one who wants them to do the collecting
* They charge roughly 50% of the amount recovered, and
* Informing the party who you're trying to collect from that your next step is to retain a collection agency generally gets them to pay you very quickly, without you even having to hire the collections agency. (It also tends to make them extremely angry, sometimes to the tune of decades-long grudge matches after the fact.)

These experiences are why I no longer work with companies small enough that the CEO is also responsible for cutting the checks.
posted by ook at 8:40 AM on March 21, 2013

Response by poster: attempts to collect the sum would be throwing good money after bad.
-- Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of. However, I'm not actually sure if they're going to go bankrupt or what. What the person said was they have been "... faced with the challenge of closing down [company] due to some debts on the company accounts" and are instead trying to raise the money needed to keep afloat. Given that they can't pay me, though, or a bunch of their other contractors (judging from new reviews online), it seems improbable.

I just sent another email, but maybe I should write again and mention a collection agency. I certainly don't care if they end up angry; if they do somehow stay solvent I'm obviously never working for them again!

MuffinMan -- thanks for the links, I'm sending an email to someone at the court claims site to see what they advise.
posted by little cow make small moo at 8:44 AM on March 21, 2013

Response by poster: Another thing I just remembered: they do have an office in NY, I've just been working with the one in London. Maybe I could file with NYC Small Claims Court?
posted by little cow make small moo at 9:02 AM on March 21, 2013

If you want to look the company up and see whatever information is publicly available about them I'd recommend duedil. also useful for looking up another other UK-based businesses you might want to contract with.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:08 AM on March 21, 2013

I received some excellent advice here.
posted by nedpwolf at 9:32 AM on March 21, 2013

Best answer: "... faced with the challenge of closing down [company] due to some debts on the company accounts"

Oh so they're the ones claiming they have debts that make them unable to pay their providers? I was a freelance translator for several years, and just one client pulled this on me. That was 13 years ago. They're still in business. Still racking up terrible reviews on translation ratings sites too. Still claiming they're "on the brink of bankruptcy."

I managed to collect from them after several, repeated phone calls, copies of invoices sent by registered mail with signature on receipt (receipt received, yet invoices still unanswered), then followed up with firm letters about how my late payment surcharge had entered into effect, and finally I contacted a very kind lawyer who took my case up pro bono and phoned them on my behalf. After the lawyer phoned them? The full amount was wired into my account the next day (without late interest, but I didn't complain).

So, if you haven't yet tried registered mail reminder, do that, and if you still don't get anything, see if there's a lawyer/solicitor in your client's jurisdiction who would be willing to chat about options with you. Often, with the worst offenders, all it takes is them hearing a lawyer to realize they should probably do the right (legal) thing.

Report them on the Blue Board, btw.
posted by fraula at 9:43 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Fraula -- I'm actually printing out a demand letter right now. I'll send it registered mail later today or tomorrow.

I already said some unkind things about them on the Blue Board -- in fact, that was the catalyst for me actually receiving a response after several emails had been ignored. They had good reviews on the BB when I took the job, and then a month in all of a sudden everyone was complaining of nonpayment. Timing!
posted by little cow make small moo at 9:48 AM on March 21, 2013

Yeah, unfortunately this kind of behavior on the part of newer agencies (don't know if they're new, just saying it tends to be that sort) is pretty common. They'll rack up 6-12 months worth of good reviews by, indeed, paying on time and giving out good assignments, and then bam, it all falls to pieces. There's no way to know except when it happens in those cases. Sorry to hear you were part of the first wave; that had been what happened to me with my nearly-non-paying client too. Sounds like you're on the right path, hope it works out.

(The only preventive advice I have is to stop doing large amounts of work after 2-3 months of unpaid invoices, but well, that's still 2-3 months' worth of work in a worst-case scenario. That said, it is common enough of a refusal on the part of translators that upstanding agencies wouldn't be put off by it.)
posted by fraula at 9:53 AM on March 21, 2013

Check your MeFi mail...
posted by altolinguistic at 10:27 AM on March 21, 2013

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