Why Interpreters Charge for Untimely Cancellations

A friend of mine will be getting married next year.

He and his fiancée are currently in the process of putting all the pieces together for the wedding, which includes food & drinks, music, flowers and photography.

After talking to him, what I discovered is that the vendors that provide these services for weddings generally charge a retainer fee in a form of a deposit just to hold the date. If for any reason the wedding is cancelled, the deposit is forfeited.

Let’s take photography for example. A wedding photographer has to start planning for the wedding season, which usually runs from late May to early September here in the Pacific Northwest, at least 6 months in advance.

Since weddings are lengthy events, the photographer usually has to block out an entire weekend for one customer. Since there are only so many weddings you can do during the summer, even one cancellation take its toll on the photographer’s schedule (and pocketbook!)

Why Interpreters Charge for Untimely Cancellations

Booking a wedding photographer is no different than scheduling a language interpreter for a service to be provided on a specific day and time. It takes a lot of time and preparation for the interpreter to commit to specific assignments.

While most interpreting assignments don’t take as long of a commitment as wedding events, the concept is still the same. Just like a photographer, the interpreter reserves his or her time for a specific request, and may have to turn down other requests for the same time slot.

If that request is cancelled on an untimely basis, the interpreter loses the opportunity to make up that revenue elsewhere, as the other requests for that time slot have likely already been filled.

This is the reason why interpreters charge for untimely cancellations – They forgo other assignments to make themselves available for a specific job.

What is an untimely cancellation?

An untimely cancellation is generally defined as a cancellation made by the requester of interpreting services that doesn’t leave the interpreter enough time to find a new assignment in its place.

An untimely cancellation can also be the result of one of the parties receiving the interpreting services not showing up for the assignment, which is also known as a “no show”.

There is no specific industry standard for the amount of time needed when a cancellation would not be considered untimely. In my experience and observation, giving at least 24 to 48 hours is a common practice.

This means that if the assignment is scheduled for noon on Friday, the cancellation has to be made before noon on Thursday for it not to be considered untimely.

Why do untimely cancellations happen?

Untimely cancellations can happen for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps the most common reason is that one of the parties simply forgets to show up to the assignment. If all the relevant parties are not present, the interpreting session cannot take place.

Other cases can include either the requester or the limited-English proficient (LEP) party cancelling the services last minute due to illness or scheduling conflicts.

Whatever the reason may be behind an untimely cancellation, the end result is the same.

The interpreter forgoes other interpreting assignments by reserving the time for the one that was ultimately cancelled.

How to prevent untimely cancellations?

Communication is the most important factor in preventing untimely cancellations.

When initially reserving the interpreter, make sure you have a clear understanding on when the assignment will take place. This includes all dates, start and end times.

At least two days prior to the assignment make sure you remind all parties involved that it is still taking place. And then do another reminder at least 24 hours before to prevent no-shows.

If you do have to cancel, make the cancellation timely so the interpreter has an opportunity to find another assignment to fill the gap in his or her schedule.

There is no way to prevent all untimely cancellations. However, if you communicate and do your best to confirm the services taking place, you can reduce the number of occurrences.

Typical charges for untimely cancellations.

Most interpreters will charge at least a 2-hour minimum fee for untimely cancellations, even if the assignment is scheduled for less than that. The reason behind the 2-hour minimum is to cover the administrative time it takes for the interpreter to block out the time, prepare for the assignment and cover any potential travel cost.

If the assignment is scheduled for more than two hours, it is common for the interpreter to invoice for the entire scheduled block of time in the event of an untimely cancellation.

As you can see, cancelling assignments in a timely manner can help reduce the amount of money you spend on interpreting services. It will also give the interpreter an opportunity to find another assignment for that day and time.

Here is more on interpreter pricing and how it works.

Wrapping it up.

There are many similarities between wedding vendors and interpreters when it comes to untimely cancellations.

Focus on improving your logistics and communication to mitigate untimely cancellations, since they cannot be prevented entirely.

Everyone involved will appreciate your courtesy and you will have more in your budget to spend on interpreting assignments that actually take place.

What are your experiences with untimely cancellations?

Share them in the comments.

6 replies
  1. Karen Arteaga
    Karen Arteaga says:

    I am fairly new to Collecting for cancellations. I am definitely all for it. I’ve been an independent interpreter for two years now. I started with a company who had many cancellations, but I was never given any paper trail for claim numbers insurance companies etc. Can I go back to years and do this, or is it too late?
    I would like to use the form for cancellations that is provided here, would that be OK? I wonder if different insurance companies would request a different format. Can anyone give me some advice here? I am in Oregon I don’t know if that makes a difference.
    – thank you for your advice in this area .

    • Vic Marcus
      Vic Marcus says:

      I think going back to collect for untimely cancellation will be a waste of valuable time, Karen. My recommendation would be to improve your processes going forward. You can start that as soon as today.

      When you enter into an agreement with a client or a language service company, make sure you outline the cancellation policy in the contract and all parties agree to it.

      You are welcome to use recommendations in this article for your agreement.

      For example, specify a 24-hour cancellation policy. That’s very common for community and healthcare interpreting assignments in the Portland, Oregon area.

      Let me know if you have any more questions.




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