Scottish network highlights Freelancer late payment issues

freelancer late payment problems

A Scottish Freelance network has highlighted Freelancer late payment as one of the challenges facing Freelancers in the UK. A key problem cited is late payment and fuels a need for debt collection for freelancers service.

Literature Alliance Scotland (LAS) is launching a research report on the worrying state of the literary freelance workforce in Scotland that is sending them to a financial precipice.

Scotland’s largest literary network is urging arts organisations that engage freelance writers, editors, event organisers and arts administrators, proof readers, educators, publishers and programmers to value them better by offering fair and fast pay and fair working practices – or risk losing them from the sector completely.

The research, commissioned by LAS and conducted by Ruthless Research, provides a disturbing snapshot of the working patterns and conditions of Scotland’s current freelance and temporary workers in the literature, languages and publishing sector. The report highlights a complex and challenging picture that is reflected across Scotland’s creative industries.

It shows that freelancers are withstanding an unsustainable financial and emotional level of precariousness. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, recent budget cuts and the cost-of-living crisis are all critical factors affecting freelance workers across the arts.

Based on a survey of 149 freelancers conducted last summer, the report reveals that only 11% of the freelancers were always paid fairly and 25% were never paid fairly. And around one in five (19%) of the freelancers are considering leaving the sector altogether, which would cause a catastrophic skill and labour gap.

Additionally, many freelancers reported experiencing low pay and difficulty negotiating fair day rates for the variety of skilled work they provide. The findings reveal the average annual full-time income of a literary freelancer in Scotland in 2022 was £21,140 – just under the Living Wage*.

Many shared that  they earn considerably less than this figure, with 66% making under £20k and more than a quarter (27%) earning less than £5k through freelance work in the sector. Disappointingly, disabled, emerging freelancers working part-time are more likely to earn under £5k per annum.

Freelancer late payment

71% of Freelancers have cash-flow issues with 7% reporting late payments as a real thorn in their side. This highlights the problem as thousands of freelancers struggle to make ends meet.

The findings highlight that most juggle portfolio careers comprising multiple roles, projects, clients and job-seeking opportunities. This magnifies the challenges of managing workloads and career trajectories for this essential cultural workforce.

Read the report

Jenny Niven, Chair of LAS, said: Scotland trades on its reputation as a literary country; however, for years we have undervalued and undermined the freelance workers in this sector at every level. Our damning report confirms that literary freelancers and temporary workers in Scotland can barely earn the Living Wage. How can we expect to attract a diverse workforce to a career in publishing and writing when it is so undervalued? Plus, with a high proportion of disabled people working within the sector, the implications and multi-layered disadvantage is stark and unsustainable.”

The report also shows that 93% of freelancers agree that the sector relies on freelancers, however the majority of freelancers (58%) do not feel valued by the sector.

Jenny Niven continued:“When workers across Scotland are striking due to the cost-of-living crisis, freelancers working in the arts don’t have that option. This is a systemic problem in the culture sector that needs urgent government attention. Our organisational models rely on having freelancers available; if we do not act now to make real changes for freelancers’ working conditions and pay in the long-term, the damage to the sector will be devastating.”

Cornerstones and commitments

LAS strongly urges arts organisations who engage freelance workers – which given the nature of the sector is likely to be almost all of them – to act now by committing to embed the following four cornerstones of fair treatment for freelancers.

  1. Pay fairly – 30% of freelancers felt that it is not possible to make a full-time living working in the sector. We recommend reading and implementing Society of Authors’ Guidance on rates and fees
  2. Pay promptly – pay within two weeks of completion of the work. Expect enforceable charges for late payment. 7% of freelancers reported late payment of invoices as a barrier with 71% experiencing inconsistent cash flow/ income.
  3. Understand your ask  – what unpaid expectations are you asking of freelancers, for example, preparation time, travel or subsistence costs? Almost all freelancers (99%) reported they had faced barriers and challenges within the course of their freelance work. This includes unpaid admin (73%), being expected to work for free (56%) and lack of rights compared to employees (55%). 
  4. Review your hiring practices. Are opportunities offered transparently? 16% of the freelancers told us that they experienced discrimination within the sector, particularly for disabled, emerging freelancers under 44 years of age.

Alan Bett, Head of Literature & Publishing at Creative Scotland said: “The context for freelancers in the literature sector is a complex and difficult one. In terms of writers, this has been highlighted through recent research from the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, showing a decrease in earnings and disproportionate impacts for groups with existing barriers.

“This new research, gathered on behalf of Literature Alliance Scotland, broadens the scope to all freelancers working in this area while focussing in on Scotland. Visibility of the reality highlighted through this research is valuable. It will form the basis for wider sector discussions on both fair payment and working practices, considering how conditions can be created that support freelancers and values their contributions. At Creative Scotland, we continue our work to deliver on the Scottish Government’s fair work agenda, something that informs our strategic priorities and our programmes of funding and activity.”

Heather Parry, Senior Policy and Liaison Manager (Scotland) at Society of Authorssaid: “The results of this survey show both the important role that creative freelancers play in the literature sector and the huge challenges that such freelancers face working in that same sector. Unfortunately, much of what is reported here is not a surprise; we hear similar experiences from our members—especially when it comes to late payment, a disproportionately high administrative load, a lack of fair pay and the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on incomes. That 99% of responders have faced barriers suggests that this industry simply does not know how to work fairly and collaboratively with creative freelancers.

“It is clear that the literature sector cannot become a diverse, thriving, expansive landscape when working conditions for so many of its freelancers are poor. It is incumbent upon not only organisations and employers but also government to improve their frameworks for engaging with freelance workers, and to ensure that fair and timely pay, creative and worker rights, fair contracts and lessening paperwork are the keystones around which this work is done. As 93% of the respondents to this survey clarified, the sector relies on freelance workers—and yet, it fails to value them.”

Marion Sinclair, Chief Executive of Publishing Scotland, said: “We welcome this timely report on a vital part of the publishing and literature sector. The role played by freelance workers is indeed crucial to the publishing industry, bringing a high concentration of skills and contributions across the entire spectrum of commissioning, producing and marketing books. Independent publishing would function with extreme difficulty without freelance input. It is vital then that freelancers need to be fully valued and supported through a combination of better work practices, greater visibility and transparency of opportunity, and participation in future Fair Work initiatives. As the trade and network body for the book publishing sector, we commit to playing our part in making these a reality.”

Interesting points

  • *The Living Wage for a full-time worker is £21,255 based on an hourly rate of £10.90 (source).
  • The report looked at working patterns, how Covid-19 affected freelancers, fair working practices and valuing freelancers in the sector.
  • 38% of the 149 respondents identified as disabled.
  • Survey respondents were asked: “Would you say that you are paid fairly when you work as a freelancer or temporary worker in this sector?” with response options Yes, always / Yes, sometimes / No / Don’t know. This question focuses on personal perceptions of fair pay based on individual experience and judgement. The report contains contextualising information including sub-group analysis and questions eliciting more detail.
  • ALCS (Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Survey) report – Why writers are at a loss for words
  • LAS is feeding into the research and consultation commissioned by Creative Scotland to inform clearer and more consistent guidance on the application of Industry Standard Rates of Pay for Scotland’s freelance workers being undertaken by Culture Radar working with Queen Margaret University.
  • LAS is supported by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland via the Open Fund for Organisations.


Debt Collection for Freelancers video


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