Ten common debt recovery mistakes
Katherine Flashman Kitson Director and Head of Litigation at Parnalls in Launceston looks at the ten most common mistakes business owners make when it comes to tackling debtors, and advises on the best course of action.
- Failing to have a credit policy
When a company provides goods or services before receiving payment, it is essentially the same as handing over cash. For this reason, it is vital for cash flow and ultimately the survival of your businesses to be able to predict when you are likely to get paid and the cost of ensuring that this happens. This begins with having a credit policy.
By gathering the same types of information from each customer, it is possible to attribute different risk levels to each and adjust your payment terms accordingly.
Your credit policy provides uniformity of terms for each type of customer you have and ensures compliance with regulations. Without a credit policy, you are at risk not only of losing money, but also of breaching consumer protection law. If you treat some consumers more favourably than others without proper rationale, you could even fall foul of discrimination legislation.
- Not having enough information about your debtor
Before you enter any new business relationship, it is highly advisable to undertake due diligence at the outset. This means you should try to gain as much knowledge as possible about your new customer’s ability to pay as is reasonable, depending on the size of the transaction. If dealing with consumers, it is also advisable to gather information relating to their employment status, their home ownership status, other financial commitments and whether they have had county court judgments or issues with debt repayments in the past. This can be done by carrying out a credit check.
- Being inflexible and failing to review terms
While it is of course vital to the survival of the business to have a credit policy which you send out with your terms of business at the start of your relationship with your customers, it is also very important to learn from experience. With time, you will begin to identify and profile the types of customers you have who are high risk and those who are low risk. You can then tailor the availability of credit to each type of customer accordingly. Some of your debtors may have genuine cashflow issues but otherwise be prompt payers, so it is important that this is taken into consideration.
Businesses should review their credit policies to ensure that they remain relevant and effective for their business. Businesses change, economies strengthen and weaken, and there can be differing demands on cash flow. If you do not adapt your policy having learned from mistakes you have made in the past, or tailor to the changing needs of your business, you could end up in serious financial difficulty.
- Ignoring the costs of debt recovery
Before you embark on a campaign to recover a debt from a customer, it is vital to evaluate the costs that you will incur in doing so. Obtaining a judgment in the county court may only be the start of the process. Enforcing a debt can also be costly so it is worth weighing up the likely expenditure against the size of the debt or you may end up losing even more money.
- Not complying with regulations
There are numerous regulations that businesses must adhere to when seeking to recover debts from consumers. Overly aggressive or persistent demands may also constitute criminal activity. To avoid penalties, you must ensure that your policy does not break the law.
- Failing to follow up
A robust credit policy must also be structured; your debt recovery staff should be able to follow a procedure to ensure that your debtors are contacted consistently. If you demonstrate persistence, late payers will soon learn that they cannot just ignore the debt. Decide how long you will continue to contact them until they pay, and when you will pursue formal recovery proceedings.
- Use effective means of communication
Letters and emails can often be enough to get some debtors to pay, but some of your debtors may require a more personal approach. Telephone calls are an effective way of getting your debtor to provide information to you, and it is much harder to ignore someone when you are speaking directly to them. In other cases, reminders via text messages can also be effective but again this will depend on the profile of the debtor you are dealing with.
- Having out-of-date customer records
Out-of-date information about your customers can lead you to assess them as a lower risk than they may be, so it is worth making sure that you keep a record of their ability and willingness to pay on each occasion so that you are not caught out later on. If you do have to take court action, you will need their correct address and contact details for service of court documents.
- Failing to undertake due diligence with companies
In much the same way that consumer customers’ details need to be up to date, it is important to ensure that you are contracting with the right business. Companies can often have group subsidiaries, so it is vital that you have a binding contract with the right company, that this company has the means to pay and that it is the correct company to pursue should payment not be forthcoming.
- Understand your customers’ payment processes
Each of your customers will have a different procedure for paying invoices. It may not be entirely straightforward, and may require the authorisation of several individuals before payment can be made. Therefore, it is important to know the names of the people responsible for this process so that you are not unnecessarily sending reminders or increasingly forceful demands at a time when payment is winding its way to your account, albeit slowly.
For more information on credit policies, or any other debt recovery matter, please contact Katherine Flashman Kitson debt recovery solicitor at Parnalls. 01566 772375 or email@example.com
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
Have you had an accident involving a horse?
Help to Buy – beware of some cracks in the structure
Understanding Lasting Powers of Attorney
Changes to Energy Performance Certificate for Landlords
Had a cycling accident? Your route to obtaining compensation
New year, new home: tips to sell your home in the New Year
Tax Planning for your inheritance
Hearing loss: when your employer may be liable
Buying a home for your retirement, five things you need to consider
Farmers plan to diversify after Brexit
Ministers press ahead with probate fee shake-up - reports BBC News
Botched dental treatment? You may be entitled to compensation
Why a Health and Welfare Power of Attorney is a good idea
Will the new charge on building developments in Cornwall affect you?
Energy Performance Certificates – Do They Matter?
HMRC Challenging Stamp Duty Land Tax Payments
Ben Mitchell qualifies as a solicitor
The potential implications of Brexit on employment law
Appointing a guardian for your children
Houses in multiple occupation – new rules from October 2018
New Agriculture Bill published
Will Brexit affect my pension?
Dreaming of a holiday home? Sort out the legals before putting your feet up
Lasting Power of Attorney by Deborah Adams
Settled status after Brexit by Alexis Hager
How to choose an executor to administer your estate when you die
How overage agreements can boost profits from your land
Top tips for first-time buyers
How Could Brexit Affect My Farm?
Wills & Succession in Spain by Deborah Adams
Brexit – an international and local view by Alexis Hager, Litigation
Capital gains tax - important facts for non-residents of the UK
Buying a home: the importance of making sure the seller is entitled to sell
Changing a will after someone has died: it is possible and it could save you money
Your responsibilities when you have people working in your home
Sad passing of Battle of Britain pilot who served with Parnall family member
Considerations when buying a heritage property
Disciplinary proceedings at work: guide for employers
Employers should have a disciplinary process in place, but just following this may not be enough to avoid falling foul of the law and exposing yourself to the risk of an employment tribunal claim.