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All I Want for Christmas is Paid Invoices

View profile for Catherine Rickett
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As a business, you may have seen an increase in sales during the run-up to Christmas – which is great news – until your customers are late making payments and your cash flow suffers as a result.

It’s pretty common for people to overspend at this time of year, and most will focus on spending money they don’t have on presents for their loved ones, rather than pay off the debt owed to them.

December can therefore be a tough month for businesses. The increase in online shopping may mean that sales have declined; your own outstanding invoices can become due, and income may be affected by closing over the holiday period. Added to all that is the extra pressure of parties, bonuses, and holiday pay.

Recent analysis by Market Finance Business Insights states that the number of invoices with long payment terms being paid past the due date almost doubled between 2013 and 2019, meaning that your goodwill in having longer payment terms in the first place may be being exploited.

Last week saw the release of new statistics from the Registry Trust, seeing a 15% increase in the number of County Court Judgments (CCJS) being registered against businesses. The average value of each of those CCJs was £2824, which is 8% lower than it was this time last year.

In terms of consumers, a total of 289,971 CCJs were registered against individuals in this quarter in England and Wales, with the total amount of the CCJs increasing to £419.5 million, which has increased by 14% on last year’s figures.

The worst thing which could happen is that your customer’s business fails in the New Year, before you have had the chance to get paid. The best way to protect yourself from dealing with potential insolvency is, above all, to know your client, and to put in place a few precautions.

Know your client

Consider undertaking a credit check on new or even existing customers if you are having difficulty in obtaining payment. It may be that your customer is unable to make a payment due to their own financial problems. Account application forms are an excellent way of identifying your customer from the outset. You need to know who you are contracting with in order to pursue the correct person later on if necessary. It’s very simple to carry out a free check of the Insolvency Register before allowing a customer credit, and credit checks can be undertaken for a relatively low fee.

Make it easy for your clients to pay

The easier you make it, the more likely is it that they will pay you. Consider having card payment facilities, BACS, direct debit, online payments or even PayPal. Be proactive about collecting payments from clients. Have solid, late-payment penalties and collections policies in place, and stick to them. Ensure that you keep copies of correspondence with the client including call logs, emails and letters and proof of delivery or collection. These may prove invaluable if the matter proceeds to court.

Consider applying an incentive for early payment

Money is better in your pocket than in your debtor’s and whilst you may feel uncomfortable lowering your prices for early payment, sometimes it can cost more to recover a debt than any discount applied.

Have clear procedures

You need effective systems in place, with standard letters going out on the day after an invoice is due, seven days after, etc.

Keep a ‘cushion’ of ideally three months’ operating expenses to protect you from unexpected cash flow issues

Bad payers are a business reality and if your company is working from an account balance of nil, one slow sales month could mean instant disaster.

If you do happen to find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being unable to recover your money, there are a few things to be aware of, which could help allay your concerns over the costs of recovering the debt.

If you have a term in your contract for interest, then you must adhere to it. Otherwise, for commercial debts, the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 gives protection to businesses which are owed money by other businesses in terms of assuring interest is payable at 8% above the base rate.

In addition to this, you can claim late payment compensation and recovery costs under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts Regulations 2002 and 2013.  These regulations provide that as a supplier, you would also be entitled to a fixed sum of compensation: £40.00 for a debt less than £1000; £70.00 for one between £1000 and £10,000; and £100 for debts over £10,000. Costs incurred by creditors when instructing a lawyer or debt collection agency are recoverable, however, once the matter proceeds to court, it will be for the court to decide what costs are payable, depending on the type and value of the claim.

If the debt is paid but paid late, you are still entitled to claim late payment compensation and interest up to six years later.