Late payment of invoices can make or break a company – especially a small one. Many businesses are often not keen to chase debtors too hard for fear of damaging their relationship with the clients and losing future business. It’s a sad fact of life though that many larger companies are counting on you being reluctant to chase them and although they know they are in the wrong by delaying payment, they “try it on” accordingly.
It’s unlikely that you can eradicate tardy payers completely but there are a number of things you can do to help minimise the risk of late payment and steps you can take to tackle offenders. Here are a few pointers:
Get a credit check on potential customers to make sure they can pay their bills. It will only cost you about £20 and could save you a lot of money in the long run.
Before you supply the agreed goods or services, draw up a list of your terms and conditions of business – including payment times and possible penalties for late payment - and ensure the customer accepts these before you do business. If they insist on longer payment times it’s then up to you to work out if you can afford to accept the contract.
Ensure your invoices are clear and prompt and the details correct. Find out early to whom and where you need to send them and what details they must contain (many companies demand a purchase order number before they pay up, for example). Raise invoices as soon as the work is completed, not in monthly batches.
Time ‘payment now due’ reminder letters to arrive around the payment deadline. On the due date, if the money hasn’t arrived, ring the customer and progress the invoice through their invoice payment system. Make a note of who you spoke to and what was said. If you plan to exercise your right to charge interest for late payment of invoices (see below), remind them that these charges will now begin.
Under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 (as amended by the Late Payment of Commercial Debt Regulations 2002) all companies are entitled to claim interest for late payment from other businesses and public sector organisations. The interest rate under the Act is the Bank of England base rate plus 8%. All business owners and managers can also claim reasonable debt recovery costs under the Act.
Late payment begins from the date when the agreed payment period between your company and the client which should be stated on your invoice. If no credit period was stipulated, the Act specifies a 30 day payment period after which interest becomes payable.
It’s a good idea to make it clear on each of your invoices that payment is due within 30 days of the invoice date and that you will be asserting your rights under the Act to claim interest if the invoice is not paid on time.
If you feel carrots are more effective than sticks, settlement discounts could be offered for early payment which might spur on recalcitrant payers. Just make sure they are clear that discounts are strictly for early payments only otherwise they are just getting your work on the cheap.
Chasing debts can be time-consuming, stressful and sometimes futile so you might want to offload the debt onto a factoring company. They basically ‘buy’ your invoices in return for of an agreed percentage of the invoice value. You therefore lose part of the invoice value to the factoring company, but receive the remainder up front.
Invoice discounting is a way of drawing money against your invoices and can be useful if you’re having cash-flow problems. An invoice discounting company advances you a percentage of the total outstanding sales ledger. You pay them a monthly fee and interest on the net amount advanced. You retain control over the administration of your sales ledger; continuing to collect the debts from your debtors and do the credit control.
If outstanding and final demand letters/ phone calls and/ or putting the debtor’s account on stop doesn’t get them to pay up, you might want to resort to court action. Get your solicitor to send a letter saying you plan to proceed with court action if is payment not received within a set number of days. If they still won’t pay, instruct your solicitors to commence court action (if the debt is small enough and the matter straightforward you could always pursue the matter yourself – without legal representation - in the county court).
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