Before You Sign | Freelance Engagements

16 January 2019 Before

It is easy to accept an invitation to speak, often at an event still months away, on the assumption that the details can be thrashed out later. To avoid problems, it is of course far better if the ground rules are established from the outset.

The most common problems reported by members are confusion over payments (treating the author as an employee rather than a freelancer, muddles over VAT, arguments over expenses) and event hosts assuming that they are at liberty to record your talk and to exploit that recording in future as they please.

Here are some pick-and-mix suggestions that might be helpful when you accept a commission in the first place, and for your invoice. These are only suggestions – speaking engagements come in all shapes and sizes, with some hosts being delightful enthusiastic amateurs, and others being big commercial operations or institutions which have rigid in-house rules. Some of these suggestions are more softly worded and others more strongly. Feel free to ignore them, or to include them, as best suits your specific situation. And do look at our detailed guides for more advice.

1. Your acceptance terms

Right at the start of the conversation, ask the commissioner what you will be paid, when and how. And don’t be flattered into accepting. Make sure you know what the event is and what is expected of you and consider what you will get out of it (money/reputation/contacts) and whether it is worth your while to attend.  

Ask the commissioner to send you its standard terms and conditions – if they are not already apparent. And if you feel that the terms and conditions are inadequate or unsatisfactory, you might want to make clear some/all the points below. 

a) Reminding the commissioner that (often unnecessary) paperwork is time-consuming 

Either:

Acceptance of these terms is a condition of booking and any correspondence or form filling in order for me to receive payment may incur an administration charge at my sole discretion.

Or:

If your finance department asks me to fill in any forms in order to be paid, a) I will make an administration charge of [£…] at my sole discretion, and b) I reserve the right to refuse to give information that I regard as personal, such as annual turnover.

b) Your tax status

The Guide to Terms When Engaging Freelancers can be sent to the event host. It explains the law behind some of the main areas of confusion including an author’s tax status.

Either:

I am officially registered as self-employed and pay all my taxes as such. My UTR and NI number will be on my invoice, with my postal address and phone number. HMRC does not require me to provide any other information. [Some authors would prefer not to give their NI number. Our understanding is that it is not a legal requirement and it would be preferable if you were not asked to supply it. However, some organisations use NI numbers as a unique identifier and there is no problem in supplying it so long as you make clear that you are to be taxed as self-employed and must not be treated as an employee.]

No tax should be deducted from any payments made to me. I am not in any circumstances to be treated as an employee. Auto-enrolment for pension purposes should not apply.

Or (if the event host still insists on trying to pay you through the payroll):

Ideally, any payment to me should not be made through a payroll but, if it is, please ensure that no deductions are made and that I am not auto-enrolled for pension purposes. (As a matter of law it is allowable to postpone auto-enrolment for three months [see The Pensions Regulator] and I will not be employed for that long.)

c) Your VAT status

The Guide to Terms When Engaging Freelancers can be sent to the event host. It explains the law behind some of the main areas of confusion including the implications of an author being VAT-registered.

Either:

I am not registered for VAT. I will submit an invoice for payment.

Or:

I am registered for VAT and my VAT number is ... VAT must be added to the agreed fee and I will submit an invoice for payment.

d) Payment terms

If you wish me to include a Purchase Order number on my invoice, please give me the number before the event and detail any other information you require me to include on the invoice.

Either:

I am happy to be paid by cheque or BACS. Details of both will be on my invoice.

Or:

My services are provided through my limited company. Please make payment in accordance with the instructions attached.

I will send you my invoice and receipts for expenses [state when, e.g for an appearance; after the event]. Payment terms will be 30 days – but if this doesn’t suit your system you are welcome to offer a different timescale; however, please let me know otherwise.

Either:

I will be entitled to add a late payment supplement which will be [whichever is the greater of 10% or £35 pcm or part thereof].

Or:

Statutory interest will be charged on overdue payments at 8% above base rate plus a £40 penalty charge (as provided for by the Late Payment of Commercial Debts [Interest] Act 1998).

e) Your cancellation policy

If I cancel, neither fee nor expenses will be charged.

If I am unavoidably prevented from reaching you by weather or any travel-related incident outside my control, I would not charge my fee but you would reimburse me for all pre-booked costs.

If you cancel a firm booking more than [six weeks] before the event, half the fee is payable and all incurred expenses must be reimbursed. If you cancel under [six weeks] before the event, the full fee is payable plus incurred expenses.

f) Insurance

The Guide to Terms When Engaging Freelancers can be sent to the event host. It explains the law behind some of the main areas of confusion including the need for liability insurance and CRB checks. Liability insurance is increasingly required by event hosts, notably if the event is for children or vulnerable adults. For more, see details on PLI.

I have public liability insurance with the Society of Authors with a cover of £5m. Please note that a condition of all such insurance is that an author is not left alone with children or vulnerable adults. Authors visiting a particular school/college/university on an irregular basis are not required to have any CRB, DBS or similar disclosure document.

g) Wider rights

The Guide to Terms When Engaging Freelancers can be sent to the event host. It explains what rights it is/is not reasonable for an event host to ask for.

Please do not record my presentation without my consent and subject to agreement on terms (as to permitted use and appropriate payment).

2. A checklist for your invoice

  • Your name, address, phone number
  • The organisation’s name and address
  • The date of the invoice
  • The date and title of the event
  • The department and reference number, purchase order number, or other identifier of the host
  • Your invoice number (advisable particularly if you are VAT-registered)
  • The fee
  • Details of agreed expenses (with receipts where required)
  • Your ten-digit UTR
  • Your NI number
  • Clarify whether you are VAT registered and, if you are, give your VAT number
  • If you will be paid by BACS: account number, account name and sort code
  • If you will be paid by cheque: the correct payee name if it is not your own (e.g. if you are a limited company)
  • This service was provided by a self-employed tax payer. Payment [plus VAT if you are VAT registered] must be made in full, as per invoice, and no tax or NI contribution should be deducted at source
  • Payment is due within 30 days of invoice date. Statutory interest/a late payment supplement will be charged on overdue payments.

We are grateful to Barry Kernon of accountants HW Fisher for his expert advice, and to author Nicola Morgan for her expertise and input (see www.nicolamorgan.com, which includes the full text of her own ‘event terms & conditions’).

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