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The Pool freezes freelance commissions and columns while it works through backlog of late payments to journalists

Women’s lifestyle website The Pool has frozen new freelance commissions and regular columns while it works through a backlog of payments owed to journalists, a number of whom have made their concerns public.

Editor Cate Sevilla, who took the top job in September last year, confirmed freelances are owed money and said the company is in contact with them.

“We’re a small business that’s going through a financial restructure, which includes changing accountants,” she explained to Press Gazette.

“We’re doing everything within our capacity to resolve the matter as urgently as possible. I’ve frozen new commissions, including our regular columns, until this has been resolved.”

The National Union of Journalists has said it is dealing with members who have not been paid and is “worried about the situation at The Pool”.

The Pool was founded by BBC radio presenter Lauren Laverne and former Cosmopolitan UK and Red magazines editor Sam Baker in 2015. It offers a female focus on the latest news, fashion, food and arts stories.

Sevilla replaced Baker as editor when the co-founder became chief content officer.

Freelance journalists have posted in the past few days on social media about chasing overdue fees and have warned others not to pitch or take up commissions with the website given its failure to pay journalists on time.

Freelance picture editor Holly Saxton tweeted on Saturday: “The Pool currently owe full-time staff, freelance writers and freelance picture editors, including myself, a lot, a lot of money.

“I’m worried I won’t be able to pay my upcoming tax bill and oh yeah, EAT! Thanks guys!”

Freelance tech journalist Holly Brockwell tweeted that The Pool “owes a lot of people money and yet they’re still asking for pitches and work shifts. I would not recommend working there until everyone’s been paid”.

But, she added: “The new editor is doing the best she can (problems started before she joined and she’s overwhelmed with requests to be paid), but it’s getting pretty serious for people who need to pay bills, so I wanted to warn anyone planning to pitch them who needs money for, you know, living.”

Another Twitter user suggested The Pool might be a “full quarter behind” in paying freelances, although Sevilla did not comment on this when Press Gazette put it to her in an email.

She did however warn that there had been “a lot of false information on Twitter being spread by people who are not owed money and who have zero involvement with the company”.

In an out-of-office automated reply to emails sent on Thursday last week, seen by Press Gazette, Sevilla said: “If you’ve emailed about an invoice, please know it is being looked into and I will respond with more information as soon as I can.”

In a series of tweets last week, she said: “…We’re a small business, we’re not perfect, we’re trying to sort it out. It’s not as simple as ‘having the office manager’ pay people on time.

“It’s also not as simple as whether or not we care about women, or being hypocritical that we write about championing women or women in the workplace and then don’t pay people on time.

“It’s not great. I’m not happy about it. It’s complicated and I’m trying my best to sort it. It’s business, there are a lot of things and people and moving parts and cash flow involved.

“I know we’re not alone in not paying people on time – but that’s not the point. I know people expect us to ‘be better’ because we’re a women-focused business. We’re trying and I’m sorry.

“It’s been going on for a while, I know that, and I’m working with my colleagues and the other editors here to try and control the parts that are actually within our control, to try and offset the (many) parts that are not.”

She added: “It IS complicated – and we’re taking care of it the best we can, for a lot of you that’s probably not good enough.

“Twitter is not the place to ‘sort it out’ or explain to me how simple running a business is or what we should be doing. We’re dealing with it, I’m sorting out what I can and what I have control over.

“This also isn’t about ‘sisterhood’. If you actually have a payment due, please email me. If you want to just tell us that we’re being bad feminists, that’s your time and energy wasted.”

The Pool Ltd incurred a net loss of £1.84m in the year to the end of March 2018 – following a £1.36m loss the year before – with net liabilities of £419,931, according to a financial statement filed with Companies House on 19 December 2018.

It said: “These factors indicate the existence of uncertainties which may cast doubt over the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.
“The company is reliant on the continued support of its shareholders and the funds raised by them whilst the business is in the development phase.”

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