Tuesday 13 December 2011

Writers, beware bureaucracy...The Story of not getting £150

Postscript - another writer in the same position, different University, has waited since APRIL for her payment... this is unacceptable, isn't it? Why should writers be treated like this?
If you are reading this, and know of any other instances where Universities use and abuse writers, please let me know. Might as well make a list...with no names mentioned if you'd rather not.


Writers, be aware of the issues that can arise if you agree to a commission.
Back in the summer, I agreed to supply two stories to 'Matter', Sheffield Hallam University's annual anthology of poetry and short stories, written by students on their Masters in Creative Writing Programme, and supported by published writers like me - who were to be paid £150.
Or so I thought. In October, (three months after the commission, delivery and acceptance of the work) I asked about payment. This was prior to the launch of the anthology in London, to which I was invited, and at which I was asked to read. I was asked to bring an invoice, which I did. Yes, I'd read, gladly, launch was held in London Review Bookshop, The Coward's Tale was about to come out, so timing was great.
They didn't offer travel expenses, but I thought - hey, nice event, good people - I'll support. Trainfare, tube, car parking, cost me just over £35.00. OK - I'll pay for that out of my fee. That will leave me with £115 clear. I even bought my own copy of the anthology at the launch - 'Oh we should have given you one of those ... sorry.' which cost some further ££ from the pot. No one suggested giving me my money back...
A few weeks later, having heard nothing, about the fee, I queried via email. The reply came back - Oh sorry, we cant pay you without an electronic invoice."
I zapped one back - slightly niggled - as no one had previously asked for it electronically...
Weeks pass. over a month. Unis often work on a monthly pay system - but no - nothing. So I queried again... and yes, it would be paid soon, it was in the pipeline.
Oh good. Jump up and down in glee at the prospect...Except nothing happened.
I queried again. (Now five months since the commission, delivery and acceptance of the work, and now post-publication, in an anthology they are selling, selling MY WORK... and I bought my own to support... am I feeling VERY silly by now?
So will they pay me this time? Nope - "Oh sorry, the Finance dept outsources payments to Northgate. They need to check your tax status among other things, before they can process the payment..." ie - The payment hadn't even been processed. They were sitting on it, just as they'd sat on it back in October, waiting for me to query again - and again - and again.

I'm afraid I got cross. My husband said weeks ago - "They will string it out until you give up, Ness - querying it will cost you more than the final sum..." and I didn't like to believe that. But now, yup- he was right. The behaviour of the university was simply rude, disrespectful, and I wasnt going to waste my time any more....apart that is from a final timewaster - writing this, to warn writers to get payment UP FRONT in these circumstances. The people with whom I dealt over the anthology, and my stories - the creative people, were really nice. Charming - but they weren't the Finance people, who scatter their emails liberally with indicators of who they'd like to be - FINANCE DIRECTORATE. (Huh? Accounts Dept would do, thanks...) Orwell would love this lot.

I pulled the plug, and lost my payment, which I'd never had anyway, suspect they were trying hard to make me give up ...and which The Directorate can now delete from their system, and pay a minion the same as I should have been paid, for the deletion.

But final laugh, a form arrived from the Directorate just now - for me to fill in - yet more timewasting, and I'd no doubt get something wrong, and have to wait, and not be told until I queried in January. February, March.... They hadn't even clocked that I'd pulled the plug.

Learn from my lack of awareness, and my silly trusting nature. And here is the form... sent 5 months late, from the Sheffield Hallam Finance Directorate, who could not direct a leaf down a stream. Enjoy!

Status Enquiry Form

Your answers should be in respect of the work you are undertaking for Sheffield Hallam University

1 Full Name
2 Nature of Business
3 Full Address & post code

4 Daytime tel number
5 Mobile Number
6 HMRC office and 10 digit ref eg 981/1234567890
7 What is the exact nature of work to be undertaken for the University

8 Name & address of location at which the work is to be done

Who decided this?
9 State the frequency of the work eg
a) hours of attendance
b) Days of attendance
c) Length of contract
10 What is the
rate of pay
frequency of pay
who decided this
provide a sample copy of your invoices to the university
11 Contact name at location or name of individual/team in SHU offering work
12 If written contract or other documentation setting out conditions of engagement please provide a copy
13 How was the contract obtained. Eg tender, advert other (please state)
14 Who decides what work to be done
15 Who issues instruction/guidance on what, where, when and how the work is to be done?
16 is your work checked?
If so by whom
17 Can you be moved from job to job if the universities’ priorities change?
18 are you required to abide by a code of practice or other regulations laid down by SHU?
If so please give details of any handbook or other literature issued (you may be asked for a copy later)
19 Are you entitled to holiday pay, sick pay or other benefits?
20 Are you personally obliged to do the work?
21 is there an obligation to provide someone else to do the work if you are unavailable?
If you are not obliged to send someone else do you have the right to do so?
In reality is it possible to send someone else?
Have you ever sent someone in your place
If so who and when?
Who paid the person at 21d
22 What materials/equipment is necessary for the job?

Who provides these?
23 are any duties performed other than on university premises?
If so what are they?
Where are they performed
What equipment is provided and by whom (at the other location)
24 if while you are undertaking the work you are dismissed can/do you expect a period of notice?
If so how much notice would you expect and vice versa
Is the notice contractual/verbal or understood?
25 Do you have other clients for whom you undertake similar types of work

How many in the last 12 months
26 Do you pay any specific insurance premiums such as public liability insurance?
27 Are you engaged as a teacher or a tutor?

If the answer is yes – continue
If the answer is no go to question 30
28 Do you give instruction on 3 days or more in any 3 month period?
29 Are your duties designed to lead to a certificate, diploma, degree or professional qualification?
30 I certify that the above information supplied by me is correct to the best of my knowledge and belief. Signed Date
Based on the answers provided a decision will be made as to whether PAYE/NIC rules apply
If you require any further information please contact: Northgate Payroll Helpdesk 0870 0668695


  1. Dreadful. My feeling about this is that there should be one person who has overall responsibility for the anthology and that person should make it their business to ensure that the contributors get paid. I don't think being creative lets them off that responsibility.

  2. By heck that's a form and a half! Amazing that they can get away with such nonsense. Things like this happen FAR TOO OFTEN! Good on you for writing about it.

  3. Why did you give up? In those circs, I would have demanded my work be removed from the anthology. That'd make them think twice, cos it would cost them...

    I also know a novelist who, after 6 weeks have passed, sends a warning letter about the amount of interest she charges on late payment...

  4. Hi Sheenagh, The anthology had been printed already - so no chance of removing my work. However - its a good point -

    I like that novelist - good egg!

  5. Three words: Small Claims Court.

  6. Blimey and I thought my university could be hopeless at paying people in a timely fashion. I'm with Sheenagh on this one. I don't think you should give up. You deserve the money far more than Sheffield Hallam or in this instance Northgate Information Solutions do assuming it's them that SHU uses.


    Fill in the form. Heck I'll complete it for you if you like - add all your additional costs - travel to launch, cost of Anthology etc. Send it to them with another copy of your invoice stating that they have 28? days to pay otherwise you (or your representative Caroline) will be making a submission to the small claims court.

  7. Very shabby. I'm sorry to hear you were so badly treated. Bah!

  8. That's disgusting. Don't give up though - on behalf of other writers we should always ensure we are paid what we are owed. Otherwise if the delaying tactics work what's to stop the defaulters doing it again?

  9. My thought, Vanessa, was that if your work was in the book and you hadn't been paid for it, you might legally be able to request that they either pay you or stop using it, which would mean selling no more and pulping what they had. They'd pay up fast enough.

  10. Sadly, since I'm often dealing with the university finance office, this is fairly common in academia - though your form seems much worse than the one I have to fill out, each time. Don't give up! As Ossian says, there must be someone on Matter staff - who will be mortified to hear about this - and who will sort this out for you. You are owed that money for the work you did. That's important. And yes, as womag writer says, it's on behalf of the rest of us too. Not sure it's a delaying tactic, I do believe it's academic inefficiency and craziness, which does make me worry about the future of higher education!

  11. Oh. My. God.
    Sadly, I too am chasing a uni for pay. Unanswered emails so far...

  12. I have had similar problems with Manchester University in the past. Very similar. We should charge them for the time.

    As one who has been the recipient of your generosity and trusting nature in the past I am sorry that you've had to go through this. Lemn

  13. That form is so classic. Gave me a good laugh. Yes, payment...hmmm... headache. You want to be supportive but it's not nice to feel used. Sorry you had to go through it. Good warning for others though.

  14. I think my comment must have been swallowed - but I echo everyone else saying, Don't give up! Don't give the uni your money. I've a lot of experience dealing with ridiculous university payment systems, but this one is ludicrous and if it's designed to bedfuddle then show them you won't be befuddled. Makes me despair about the education of our young people in these places.

  15. Thank you for your support here, all. I have heard from the university, who tell me it was a case of the invoice taking a long time to get from a to b to c to d--- and not the fault of the finance directorate who just sent the form when they are aware a payment was due - the day I got it, this week.

    But the point is surely this - these people are teaching something called writing, at various levels. Part of that, surely, is to deliver a realistic sense of where writing will fit in to the world of earning a living - that every penny will count, if you can earn pennies at all. One would have thought, anyway. And part of being a writer is either fitting it in round the edges of a 'day job', or taking the plunge and trying to make it work as a main career, or as in my case, being supported by an 'earning other half', at least while learning. Who then retires, loses half a pension to the recession... blah blah.

    So, logically - they would treat an invoice from a freelance they have invited to work with them, as a matter of priority,. Not push it to the ' I'll deal with this when I can be arsed - next week, or maybe the week after - or how about month after next....' pile. Meanwhile, happy and secure themselves, with a monthly injection of salary...

    whichever way you look at it - it doesnt add up, and smells strong.

  16. The form, with it's (refrain?) "to be"s read like a comedy script.

    To be continued...get your money back - good luck!