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Fixed price project - Unresponsive freelancer. How do I get my money back?

Community Guru
Preston H Member Since: Nov 24, 2014
11 of 15

The original poster's situation touches upon a few different topics. Let's address one very specific topic here, which John and I have already commented on briefly.


But to do that, let's completely set aside the original poster's situation. So what follows is NOT about the original poster or his project:


How is a large development project handled?

Will a freelancer set up a series of milestones in a fixed-price contract and then deliver everything when the project is completed?




No real project works that way.


For one thing, no real development project of this size plans to ever be "finished." This is not a commission to paint a portrait or provide a sculpture of a cat. This is a web site and set of mobile apps. Presumably this is for a business. The needs of a business continue to change and evolve over time. So it is assumbed that any project like this will involve initial work, and then more work later, and more work after that.


Even were that not the case, one can not succeed in developing a project like this as an all-or-nothing, monolithic prospect.


Here is how this is done:

The project manager assigns tasks to the members of the team. Relatively small tasks. The project is developed in a modular fashion, which each piece added to the whole, pushing the project along.


On a regular basis, each member of the team turns in his work to the project manager, who reviews it, tests it, archives it. This is done at least weekly. In many cases, this is done daily. The project manager is able to see the quality of the work that the team members are doing, and see who is producing the most value for the project.


Underperforming team members have their contracts closed. The project no longer works with them. If new people are needed, they are brought on.


As each task is completed, the project manager not only tests it, he also lets the project owner test it. The project owner can click on a link provided to him to see the lastest new pages and tools and functionality within the web application. Or mobile app.


If the project plans to have 20 different pages or tools, then each one can be created one at a time, and demonstrated independently. Maybe this page has 5 components. Right now I can see that one of them works. Next week another component on this page will be functioning, and another one the week after that.



With fixed-price contracts on Upwork, each milestone is set up for a specific task. The freelancer submits the work for the task, and AFTER the project manager has reviewed and archived the work for the project owner, only THEN is the payment for that task released.




It is not Upwork's intention that any client every receive money back for a milestone payment that has been released.


Upwork does not have that money. That money has been released to the freelancer already. That money is payment for work that the client has already received, reviewed and approved.


The client may end the contract at any time. The client may stop working with a freelancer on the project at any time. That is fine.


If there is any remaining money in escrow, then the client may ask for that money back. If the freelancer has not done the work for that milestone, then the freelancer should immediately agree to refund that remaining escrow money back to the client.


But even if the freelancer has not done the work on that final milestone yet, the client must still receive PERMISSION from the freelancer in order to get a refund of that final escrow money. The fastest, most expedient thing to do is for the client to simply release the money and close the contract.


A serious client with a serious project does not plan to ever get any money back after funding an escrow payment.

Community Guru
John K Member Since: Feb 17, 2015
12 of 15

Brock H wrote:

Hi John, thank you for your response. The freelancer I hired owns a company that employs all the project management, development, the design team. So it was supposed to act as an all in one service which employs different people to different portions of the job.

In that case, your freelancer failed in his capacity as a provider of such services, and if he were ethical, he'd at minimum provide you with all existing source code or offer a full refund or offer to complete the project at no additional cost. But I'm guessing he hasn't offered to do any of those things.

"No good deed goes unpunished." -- Clare Boothe Luce
Active Member
Brock H Member Since: Feb 14, 2020
13 of 15

That's correct, with no such contact, none of these solutions have arrised. The reason I'm asking the community if they have any additional advice as to how I recoup the money I've paid without having the resort to filing a chargeback. 


As far as arbitration. If I was to escrow and additional dollar amount, would this reset the project back into play, or would the freelancer have to accept the money as well?

Community Guru
Petra R Member Since: Aug 3, 2011
14 of 15

Brock H wrote:


As far as arbitration. If I was to escrow and additional dollar amount, would this reset the project back into play, or would the freelancer have to accept the money as well?

According to the rules it would, but there is a clause in the terms talking about abuse of the process, which this could be considered to be, although I know of a client who did that (activate another milestone to be able to dispute) who was actually told by Upwork to do just that, and did.

Valeria K Moderator Member Since: Mar 6, 2014
15 of 15

Hi Brock,


I'm sorry to hear your contract with a freelancer you hired on Upwork didn't go well.

I see John and Preston have been sharing some great tips based on their vast experience. I also checked and see that Upwork teams have been assisting you via tickets, sharing information and reaching out to the freelancer. Feel free to reply to your tickets if you have any further questions. 

You will also have an opportunity to leave your honest feedback for the contract once it's closed to share your experience.

~ Valeria