Overdue invoices and learning the hard way !


A rather long and yet unresolved story to try and highlight the perils of trying to help fellow small business owners and then not getting paid in full !

The original draft of this blog named the individual and the company, however, whilst there can be no dispute to the events that have taken place, it was pointed out that we could potentially be open to a case of defamation !

We have tried to be fair, and not to disclose figures or any specific information relating to this debt, other than the relevant statements made to prove that this invoice is not in dispute, and has been agreed to be paid (including the typing mistakes!) Mr XXXX is the individual in question and YYYY is the company.

So it begins…….

Overdue Invoices - learning the hard way image

3rd July 2012

We had a call from a company we work closely with to say that an acquaintance of theirs had issues with their web hosting servers and could Hightrees Organisation Limited help them out.

We dropped Mr XXXX, from Company YYYY an email at 11:58 and after a quick phone call the problem basically came down to “all of my clients are dead in the water as the server has crashed and had to be rebuilt as soon as possible”.

As time was of the essence, we agreed to help YYYY, working on an hourly rate as we had no idea of the extent of the problems until we had access to the web servers.

There then followed 3 days of pure chaos which came down to :

  1. a) Incorrect backup procedures with core configuration files not included
    b) No information on build parameters for the software that was installed
    c) Change in Operating System and System Architecture
    d) The programs used are either no longer maintained or have been merged into different projects.

An invoice was issued to YYYY for the work completed and as per Mr XXXX’s email 20th July 2012 @ 5:39pm :

I put aside £xxxx to pay you what I thought would easily cover any expenses involved. I have no complaints about your charges, . Been scrabbling around for the last few days trying to put the full sum together. 

Rather than wait, I have just paid the £yyyy I had put aside into your account by BACS. It should be there by now. 

Are you OK wait a few days to get the other £zzzz? I am just waiting for some more cash to come into my account. 

Payment like this will be fine once we are back to normal.”

From the end of July 2012 there was NO contact from Mr XXXX at YYYY, despite multiple calls and emails.

Overdue invoices were sent using the very helpful website http://payontime.co.uk whilst research on the internet led to a 3rd party who divulged that Mr XXXX had been unwell and the 3rd party was trying to keep YYYY ticking over until Mr XXXX had recovered. The 3rd party involved understood our concern about the overdue payment and would pass the message on to Mr XXXX, however there was nothing that they could do at that point in time.

17th December 2012

at 3:25am we received an email from YYYY, a small portion is shown below

Having not worked for a while I have a lot of jobs waiting to be done and, if all goes well, should be building up my bank account again pretty quickly. On top of this, I am owed money by various clients and will be chasing for this as well.  

Over the next few days I should have more of an idea where I stand regarding paying the money I owe to you. I will keep you posted about this. 

Before I sign off I must offer my heartfelt apologies that the situation developed in this way. Hopefully I can get it resolved quickly now”

3rd January 2013

Hightrees Organisation Limited emailed YYYY, stating that we would put on hold any further debt recovery as a sign of goodwill, but that interest and admin fees would still be applied until a repayment plan had been agreed.

29th January 2013

After a “chase” email was sent, we received an email which included the following statement:

When I get a clear sense of money coming in, I will be able to work out what payments I can make to you. Hopefully, it will be cleared by the end of February at the latest. “

We sent further emails with update amounts due to Interest charges on the unpaid portion of the invoice.

14th February 2013

At 1:25am we received an email which included the following statement:

I guess I have been hesitating about setting up any  guaranteed payment plan as I feel embarrassed about offering a small some of money each month. It just feels too cheeky after your hide work and now your patience. However, I guess it is better than delaying paying you anything. 

What about I start off with an agreement of a monthly payment, say £100 pm but, as soon as the coffers are full, pay off the whole sum. I will pay £100 before the end of the week to get the ball rolling. 

Hope this is OK.”

1st March 2013

Another email was sent to Mr XXXX at YYYY as no payment (as promised) had been received.

4th March 2013

Mr XXXX then sent an email 12:56 pm which included the following line

Rest assured that I will not forget about you.  “

June 2013

We received a payment of £50 and then there was no further contact via email or telephone.

Over the next few months – overdue notices were sent via email and calls were made but were never answered/returned.

June 2015

We hired a Debt Collection agency to try and resolve the issue of non payment by Mr XXXX of YYYY. After just over two months of trying to establish contact the response was

So far debtor has ignored all letters sent and no doubt if you issue will also ignore that and the High Court Enforcement Officer knocking on his door.”

So at the point in time, we had no idea whether Mr XXXX of YYYY was still in business and whether it was worth taking any further action as this would incur extra costs, whether this was down via an agency or via the Small Claims Court.

25th February 2016

We noticed that one of the websites that Mr XXXX was the owner of, was in the process of being upgraded. A phone call was made but there was no answer so at least we knew that Mr XXXX was still active personally, if not professionally.  There was no response to the voice mails we left

June 2017

Looking at Mr XXXX’s Facebook Profile in 2017 , there have been multiple visible posts in June (even though we are not “friends”) and the YYYY website has been updated in the Customer Support Area, showing that Planned Maintenance was taking place on the 3rd June 2017.

We posted a message as a comment on one of Mr XXXX’s facebook posts as well as issued further emails and actually got a response from a previously unknown email address

On 28-Jun-17 10:53 AM, Mr XXX wrote:

“Please contact me as a matter of urgency with regard to the emails and Facebook Message sent last week – thank you.”

I am not sure what email or Facebook message you are referring to. <REDACTED>. Wireless is not good here but have been told I am allowed home this weekend for a few days. Please send email to this address and I will do my best to respond then.

Regards

XXXX

 

July 2017

To date, no email response has been received to our reply and followup email.  A Recorded Delivery letter was sent on the 7th July and whilst it was attempted to be delivered, it is now waiting for “collection”.

Mr XXXX’s Facebook settings have been modified and we can no longer comment on his posts. We also notice the the YYYY website has been modified recently.

In Summary

  • Work performed in good faith, getting Mr XXXX of YYYY (a fellow Small Business) out of trouble, and in turn, their clients.
  • An invoice was issued and there were no issue with the fees charged, just a request from Mr XXXX to pay in two installments. One of which was made.
  • A medical issue meant that the Mr XXXX was unavailable for contact for a period of time.
  • Upon returning to work, an offer was made, by YYYY, to pay in installments, and again there was clarification of our hard work and patience.
  • A payment was made, months later – not for the amount specified.
  • No further response to requests from Hightrees Organisation or our appointed Debt Collection Agency.
  • Mr XXXX appears to be a Sole Trader and there is no mention of YYYY at Companies House.
  • It appears that Mr XXXX, and in turn YYYY still appear to be trading hence there is no reason, that we are aware of, for this debt not to be paid.

Conclusion

Now, whilst it could be said Hightrees Organisation Limited, have been lax in trying to recover this debt, we also have to balance up the costs (not only in fees but time as well) as well as continuing to provide our services to our clients (who are responsible enough pay their bills).

As far as we are aware, companies have 6 years to try and recover debts and whilst the original invoice was raised in 2012, a payment and agreement to pay was made in 2013 so we still have a couple of years to chase and hopefully recover this debt.

The interest on the debt has reached the point where it may be possible to take this matter to the next level, either Small Claims Court or to apply for a Winding Up order however as one former Debt Collector commented “he has covered his tracks” and as there has been no response to post sent to the known address we are wary of throwing away more money at trying to get the issue resolved.