How long do you wait for pay before suing?

I’m dealing with a difficult client who is seemingly refusing to pay me for a week and a half of work done on-site in his office. I say “seemingly” because I can’t be entirely sure, he won’t respond to emails, voicemails, or take my call when I call the office. It has been just over a month with zero communication from him.

I’m assuming he’s trying to avoid paying me and I will want to pursue this by legal means if necessary. What I am owed falls just within the maximum allowed in my area for small claims court, so I’d probably go that route.

But how long is appropriate to wait before initiating legal proceedings? I know a month isn’t a particularly long time to have to wait for pay, but in this case I can’t even get him to respond to me or acknowledge that a payment is forthcoming.

Any advice?

What terms are in your contract?

Yeah, as @DaveMaxwell indicates, contract terms are the most important part of determining when to pursue litigation.

Some companies just have a policy that invoices will not be paid before x number of days (60, 90, 180, etc.)

One thing that you can do, in the future, is implement a very minute discount for invoices paid within a set time.

For example; my father used to own his own manufacturer’s rep business. Every invoice that was sent to all his customers had "2% 30 Days Net" on it. Basically, if the customer paid the invoice in 30 days, they could knock 2% off the sub-total; anything after that was full price (net.) Some clients may need even further incentive by setting terms that will ADD 2% to invoices over 180 days.

As long as it is clearly stated in the contract, they can’t skirt that without involving lawyers. Unless they decide to terminate the contract, in which case you’re better off without clients of that ilk.



Using a debt collection agency would probably be a cheaper solution than suing.

Unfortunately in this rare case, I didn’t have a contract. It was an in-house job, temp-to-perm (perm didn’t happen because the guy changed the offer). I never freelance without a contract ordinarily. But when I do in-house work, I’ve just never had an issue with it. Something about being there in-person for some reason makes people more willing to pay.

It’s a mistake I’ll never make again, though. I don’t care if it seems weird to walk in to a freelance in-house gig with a contract in-hand. I won’t work without one again.

But in this case, without a contract there are no terms to refer to. But the pay schedule I was on (and all freelancers at the company are on) was to get a check every 2 weeks. So I guess the “unofficial” pay terms were 2 weeks.

If you don’t have anything in writing that was signed, the next best would be a witnessed verbal agreement.

If you don’t have even that, I’m afraid this may end up being a lesson learned.

I don’t have a witness to my agreement with the owner, but I do have a previous check which I think would establish that I did work there and was paid a certain amount previously. I also have copies of all of the work I did, some of which is up on a website live right now, and other people who work at the company could attest to my being there on the days I haven’t been paid for.

Even though I don’t have a contract, I think I could make a decent case in court for my being in the office, having done work (including stuff that was used and is “live”), and being owed this amount of money.

Then go for doing it legally, if you think that you are having enough proof.
Yeah you said that right that a month is not a long time, but there is no response from them as well.
Like if they were in contact with you in this month then you can wait longer, but now they are not in contact then you can go for the legal process against it.
Hope this will help you out.
Best of Luck!

Are you based in the UK?

If you are, I have been to the small claims court three times and won each time.

Small claims court is nothing like a “proper” court. You don’t need a solicitor or a load of money. It’s not innocent until proven guilty either, the judge makes a call based on the evidence presented in hearing.

So long as you can prove you did the work for an agreed amount the fact you don’t have a contract will make little difference in a small claims court. Gather all the evidence you can (search old emails, source files, etc) and if it appears you have convincing evidence you will get your money.

What you need to do first is issue a latter saying that you intend you issue court proceeding if not paid up after 14 days. Attach a copy of the invoice and send it so it has to be signed for. After the 14 days, if you haven’t been paid, fill the court form out. I think it’s only about £40–£60 and if you win the other person pays the fees. You must do this before going to the court.

I’m about to do it for a fourth time and i know I will get my money — I’m very impressed with the procedure.

Also, for free confidential legal advice contact they are great too.

Any questions, let me know. Always happy to fight against lowlifes who refuse to pay.

P.S. I wouldn’t bother with a debt recovery company. They take a large cut; if you have evidence, use the court, they take nothing if you win.


Although I can’t help much with the legal issues on your question, I can suggest a way of managing this for future clients to avoid getting to this point. I always take a 50% deposit before beginning our work and tell clients that they can pay the remaining 50% on completion of the site. If they don’t pay the final amount, it doesn’t get published to the domain name.

Most people who want a site are serious about it and this arrangement has worked 99% of the time to avoid any cash flow issues or collection problems in our business.

I think, as you said, it’s been a month since you are not in contact with that firm, you should go for legal proceedings. Since, the customer is trying to avoid you, you need to file the case as it would be too late!

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Well now it’s been 3 months, so I definitely will be moving forward with the lawsuit. Actually today was the last day I told the guy he could pay me before I took it to court. I just checked the mail and no check, not that I really expected to see one. So I was just downloading the court forms when your reply came in, ChayaStennett. :smile: Nice timing.

The deadbeat client said he would pay me within 90 days. After 90 days I gave him another week, just so I can make the case in court that I went above and beyond in trying to be accommodating and giving the guy plenty of time to pay. And also so I’ve got the email trail to back that up. Today was the final deadline. Time is up, let’s see what a judge has to say about it.

Keep us in the loop as to how this turns out! Good luck!

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