covid-19: see advice in the Freelance.


The National Union of Journalists publishes this guide to help freelances - self-employed journalists - negotiate the best rates and conditions possible for the various kinds of work that NUJ members undertake.

Being a freelance offers freedom to those who choose it - but also responsibility for tasks that employed journalists can leave to their employers, from negotiating contracts to dealing (eventually) with government bureaucracies.

The sections listed below offer advice on being a freelance.

What freelances need to charge and why

Non-journalists may think that some of these numbers represent a lot of money for what sometimes seems from outside like little work. Staff journalists often look at freelance day rates, divide their salary by 365 and mutter about "freelances having it easy". No, we do not. Here's why.

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Negotiating fees

A client will always have a budget for a job, but they might not always want to share it with the freelance. So when a client asks "What do you charge?" or simply states "We pay this rate", the freelance needs to start negotiating.

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Rights and why they are important

As a freelance journalists you own whatever you create - you have copyright and authors' rights. This is so whether you have been commissioned or whether you have sold work "on spec" or from stock. As a freelances have two kinds of rights in your work: copyright and moral rights.

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Commissions and contracts

A commission to carry out and deliver a piece of work often starts informally with a telephone call from the client to a freelance or vice versa. It is important to be completely professional from the first contact.

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Getting your money

When you get paid is something to sort out in your initial negotiation. You should be paid soon after delivery of the work or receipt of your invoice (depending on what you agreed with the client). We give tips on chasing up payment...

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Late and problem payments

If payment seems to be delayed, do not hesitate to chase it up. Telephone, or send a reminder, or both. Late payment is at least as likely to be the result of inefficiency as deliberate procrastination and if you do not remind a client, your invoice can disappear into a pile of paperwork or computer files. The more you delay the less likely you are to be paid.

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Shift payments - tax and time off

Some freelances working shifts have found Income Tax and National Insurance deducted from their fees as if they were employed staff. This can be challenged. This does not stop them being entitled to paid time off.

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Employment status

It would seem at first glance that a freelance is by definition not "employed". But unfortunately there are details to get to grips with and they have important consequences.

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Tax and National Insurance

As a self-employed freelance journalist you are generally responsible for paying your own Income Tax and National Insurance.

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VAT (Value Added Tax)

If your turnover exceeds the threshold figure of £85,000 a year (as of June 2020), you must register for VAT. Some people find it worth registering before they reach the threshold, in order to claim back the VAT paid on equipment. The high cost of photographic equipment can make this particularly attractive for photographers.

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Setting up a company

Some freelances set up limited companies that charge for their services and pay them a salary and dividends. For most, though, the cost and trouble will outweigh any gains.

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Tracking down pirates

The internet makes it much easier for unscrupulous publishers and individuals to rip off your articles or photos, in breach of your copyright. In return, it also makes it possible for you to track down such abuses yourself. Of course, you can only do anything about those abuses if you have kept copyright in your work.

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More advice and links...
* Glossary of terms and categorisations
* Rates for the Job good, bad and ugly
* Join the NUJ to get individual advice & representation

Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to please. You may find the glossary helpful.

The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.

Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.