Virtual Assistant Business Support

Small Claims Revisited

Scales of JusticeIt happens. We’ve recently worked for someone who, after accepting and complementing us on our work, has decided not to pay. We’ve been in business for about eight years and this is the second time [see previous post] that we’ve had a ‘dishonest’ client. Non-payment of invoices is a problem for all small businesses, especially online ones, and I’m told by other virtual assistants (VA) that two dodgy clients in eight years is a good ratio. Our first time was back in 2006 and we did learn from the experience , adjusting our method of delivering completed work and introducing a booking form.

This time we have decided to make use of the Small Claims procedure. The following is an account of the process, written in the hope that it will better inform fellow virtual assistants and freelance workers, allowing them to decide if the courts are the best way of enforcing payment of small invoices.

Brief details
Someone [we’d like to say who, but we’re told we shouldn’t mention by name, so we’ll call him Mr Sunburn] from a company [who we’re also told we shouldn’t mention by name, so we’ll call them First Metal], contacted us by phone to ask about our services. A few emails were exchanged, a booking form sent and received back signed, a few phone calls made. Mr Sunburn informed us that his client was ‘chuffed to bits’ with our work. We sent an invoice which was not acknowledged or paid. I phoned to be told by Mr Sunburn that he’d sent a cheque to the wrong address. Since then, despite numerous phone calls and emails, Mr Sunburn has not responded.

We’ve previously written about Money Claims Online, a website offering to speed up the legal claim process by allowing claims to be made over the Internet, as well as the Better Payment Practice Campaign website that offers advice on issuing reminders, collecting information, and charging extras such as interest and debt collection fees. We duly sent all the appropriate reminders, letter of intent to take the matter to court, etc. Still no response.

On 27 May, 2008, we paid £25 [which we’ve added to the interest and debt collection costs] and submitted the form at Money Claims Online. A few days later we received a Notice of Issue from Northampton County Court stating that the claim had been issued and sent to the defendant (aka ‘First Metal’) on 28 May, and that it would be deemed to be served on 2 June. The defendant has until 16 June to reply. He can delay the process by 28 days by filing an ‘acknowledgment of service’; pay up; dispute the claim (we’ll be sent a copy of his defence); admit the money is owed, whereupon we can ask the court to enter a judgement; admit that part is owed; not reply at all (in which case we can ask the court to enter a judgement).

So it’s a case of thumb twiddling until the 16th. We’ll update this blog when developments occur.