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Im based in the UK and a couple of years ago I agreed to write a small application for a local company. As it was supposed to be a quick small thing, we didnt have a formal contract in place (big mistake I know now in retrospect).

It quickly grew legs and i've spent the best part of the last two years supporting this free of charge in my free time when I get home from my full time job while juggling family and other commitments.

I can't find anything concrete to let me know where I stand legally, but I can't see an end in sight for this and really just want to get out of this.

Does anyone have any suggestions what I can do to get out of this? If it came to it, I would be happy to give the small amount of money I actually made from this back and call it quits, but I have no idea how to approach this.

  • The way that you worded this, that you are now supporting the application rather than writing it, makes it seem (to those of us who do this regularly) like you are "done", and probably (hopefully) have been "done" with writing the application for some time. You should make it clear to the client that support is not the same as development, and you expect to be paid for your time supporting the application. – livingtech Dec 10 '19 at 17:45
  • If the application is still not finished, that's another issue. In that case, you have a scope change. (I'm assuming the original project scope was not meant to be more than a year of work!) Since you have a day job, I think you can be fairly cavalier, and just say "what we've done already was the scope of what I'm willing to finish for the original X money. To continue adding Y features will cost Z." If they don't want to pay Y, and you really want to keep them happy, maybe offer to give back some money but you certainly deserve it. – livingtech Dec 10 '19 at 17:51
  • Thanks @livingtech - You're right - I did the work for another consulting company who engaged with the end client. From their analysis it was initially 4 weeks work, which was fine, but once I began the work, it quickly became clear that this was a much larger undertaking and the consulting company basically just left me to engage with the customer directly. The project is "done" and I was paid, but there are still bugs coming up which i've felt obliged to fix. Then there was a stack of additional work which the consulatancy just left me to engage with the customer directly again – Nick Dec 11 '19 at 12:35
  • In this case, maybe it would work to tell them your contract was with the original company, and you need a new contract to continue to do work for them. – livingtech Dec 11 '19 at 22:52
  • FWIW, I always continue to charge (but I try to work hourly whenever possible) for bug fixing. It's a part of the job. No free fixes here. – livingtech Dec 11 '19 at 22:53
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The preferred action depends on what you want to achieve in the long term as well as the short term.

Since there is no contract, I would assume that you legally can walk away. Whether this is a good idea depends on how seriously this bridge-burning will impact you in the future.

Tell the client that you are no longer able to support the application and wish to negotiate a speedy exit that both parties can live with.

If they 'refuse', returning any money recieved releaves you of any ethical obligations.

Sometimes one can help them find a replacement. In this case, that should be avoided as the client is probably looking for someone free or cheap. You should not do their low-balling for them.

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If you have no contract, simply stop supporting it. There would be nothing legally obligating you to any support, let alone, free unlimited support.

I would notify the client that as of [X Date] (30 days) there will be no more support.

I would never return any money. You did the work, why on earth would you return money?

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