What to Do When An Upwork Client Won’t Pay

The problem with working on odesk as opposed to elance where the client must fund Escrow for flat rate jobs, is that there is no protection for the client or for the contractor. I have advised before against working with apparent scams or jobs that seem too good to be true, but what happens when an apparently good client suddenly simply decides not to pay you?

I had that with a client recently. This person had lots of positive scores on their profile, a work history going back several years and had spent thousands so to all intents and purposes, this should have been a good client. The contract was for a number of pieces of work. I sent the first five and the client came back with some minor changes which I made. I was them instructed to go ahead and complete the contract. I did so.

Two weeks later, the client had neither come back with changes nor had they paid me. I requested release of payment, sent several emails in fact, and the client did not respond. After some eight weeks, I raised the issue with odesk. My client was still listing work and was logging into the site every day.

Odesk policy is to do nothing more than to send an email on the contractor’s behalf. If they get no response, they will close the query as resolved. Your first reaction might be to grumble and write off the money you have lost; your second might be to close the contract and leave a scathing review. I was not the first contractor this client thought they could get away with not paying and I spotted several 1-star reviews claiming that the work was delivered as requested and the client simply stopped responding once they had all the work. That’s not what I did and neither should you.

Because odesk have no formal policy or protection, clients can get away with it and odesk will not get involved. It is down to you to make them care, to make them respond and make them take action.

  1. Keep a record of all correspondence relevant to the complaint – explain in your email to odesk. Remind them at regular intervals as you may be dealing with a different administrator several weeks later
  2. If the client is still listing work, point this out
  3. If the client has negative feedback relevant to your complaint, point this out
  4. Remind them that they too are losing money for every piece of work that the client is not paying for
  5. If several weeks have passed, ask how long it takes for their account to be suspended after persistently refusing to respond
  6. Finally, don’t give up! It may “only” be $10 but it is the principle – odesk need to see how big a problem this is. Every time they close a query as resolved, leave it a few days and open it back up again. All you need to do is respond to their last email

Remember, you may never get your money – and I was surprised that the client I complained about did actually pay in the end but this was only after the account was suspended for persistently ignoring both my and odesk’s emails while listing 3-4 jobs every single day since I sent the final piece of work. Getting the account suspended is the key here, they will simply not be able to list any more jobs until they have paid outstanding contracts.


9 thoughts on “What to Do When An Upwork Client Won’t Pay

  1. It sucks that people just don’t pay and keep listing more jobs! Well done for being persistent!

    1. Thanks 🙂 There was no reason for this client not to have paid me, after all I had already made several requested changes to the work. I think they just thought they could get away with it.

      Another thing I forgot to mention is to keep checking the web for signs of your work going up. If that happens, file a DMCA claim with Google.

  2. Jools

    Wow, never havering looked for work via Elance, Odesk or similar, I’m not familiar with these formats. But I’m horrified that people can do this to you and get away with it.

    1. Yes it is sad. Of all the years that odesk has been going, I am surprised they haven’t tried to put in place a way of protecting contractors in a way that elance has.

  3. Thanks for the warning/tips Matt! Andrea

  4. Lokesh Dua

    Thanks for the tips, i am facing the same issue with one of my client, Although i have worked properly and he told me that it is great work. But now he is not paying me. But as per like you, i have never stop complaining and i am doing it on daily basis attaching all the files to Odesk dispute and even the snapshot of the client message saying “that work is great”

    1. I presume this is a contract that started prior to payment protection? It’s simple now, you just have to request release and if they don’t respond you get the money after two weeks.

      My advice to you is to be persistent with odesk. Every time they send you an email, tell them that nothing has happened. It may be worth looking into the client’s odesk history – how many jobs do they have open? How many have been open for a long time with no payment made? Ask them to contact the client on your behalf. A failure to respond to odesk by your client will normally result in their account being suspended.

      Good luck!

  5. Thank you for share your experiences and tips! I signed up oDesk (now it’s Upwork) a years ago and eventually started to use it. Unfortunately the very first work is fixed rate and the client acted strangely after I submitted my work/requested for the payment. Therefore I googled and found your article. Thank you very much!

    1. Welcome. Glad I could help a fellow freelancer navigate the minefield of Upwork 🙂

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