When you have an unpaid invoice, it can be difficult to know how to handle it especially if you are a small or micro business. Profitable business relationships are built on personal relationships so it can feel tricky to pursue what is owed without damaging the relationship.
But business is business and you are doing nothing wrong in expecting prompt payment from your customers and by chasing your money if they fail to pay as agreed. So what is the process for chasing up an unpaid invoice?
A new report has confirmed the shocking impact that unpaid B2B debts have on the UK economy.
A survey of SMEs by Amicus Commercial Finance found that the average small business in the UK writes off a staggering £12,000 each year in unpaid invoices, mainly from larger customers and clients.
Taken across the entire economy, that adds up to an unbelievable £50bn a year in lost revenue - or £134 million lost to bad debt every single day.
Three quarters of the businesses surveyed said they had written off debts entirely in the past year. Amongst the worst affected group, businesses with 50 to 249 employees, a quarter of all invoices are not being paid on time, if at all.
London based start-up Crowdmix Ltd was in the process of developing a social media music platform. But before it could even launch its product fully, it ran out of money despite having previously raised £14 million in funding.
As of Monday 11 July, 2016, it has left its creditors, many of them freelance contractors, tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket. If you’re owed money by Crowdmix the prognosis for recovery is not good, so let’s look at what happens next.
The UK's small businesses are facing even longer overdue invoices than at the worst point of the recession, according to figures from ABFA.
In a report published earlier this month, the Asset Based Finance Association revealed that, in 2009 when the recession peaked, firms with turnover of less than £1 million per year were waiting on average 61 days for invoices to be paid.
The smallest firms in the UK are being paid late, in some cases by over a year, due to a lack of urgency and a sense of awkwardness about chasing clients for payment, new figures suggest.
A survey carried out by online accounts software provider FreeAgent revealed that just one in seven micro-businesses that issue invoices have never had to deal with an instance of late payment.
“A sale is not a sale until the money is in the bank”
A simple sentiment, but one that can often be lost in the thrill of securing that next big sale. But when the agreed upon payment day passes and you have no sign of the promised payment, what is the best way to go about securing the funds?
We have previously covered how unpaid invoice spammers target credit control failures using an archaic .arj file to spread malicious software, but a new and considerably more dangerous threat has just started to land in inboxes throughout the UK and across the globe.
This latests threat is more insidious as it uses a well known file format to deliver a malicious payload specifically designed to steal sensitive financial data from users.
Unless you have the luxury of an in-house credit controller - which is something even some larger firms can't afford - you might be tempted to take a head-in-the-sand approach to chasing overdue invoices, and simply try to pretend they never happen.
Sadly they do happen, even from trusted long-term customers, and that can lead in turn to some soul-searching: Why didn't they pay? Did I do something wrong? Is there no trust in business any more?
The Experian Late Payment Index published on Monday shows again that the bigger a company is, the later it is likely to pay its suppliers, making for a timely reminder of the true nature of 'brand power' and its potential negative impact on small companies' cash flow.
In the third quarter of 2013, the smallest firms, with just one or two employees, paid an average of 20.62 days beyond agreed terms on overdue invoices - the smallest delay among UK companies of all sizes, and a slight improvement from 20.78 days in the previous quarter.
It's good to know that, when a dodgy dealer makes off with client money and there's no record of where it's gone, they will face prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
New figures from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills show that the BIS Criminal Enforcement Team achieved 198 successful prosecutions in the 2012-13 financial year.
Late payment of invoices is now - for the first time in recent years - the single greatest risk to creditors, even outranking debtor insolvency in a report from credit risk insurer Coface UK.
According to the insurer, 60% of the claims it received in the first nine months of 2013 arose due to "a customer's protracted default" - that is, either late or non-payment.
A report from Exact, a provider of business and finance software, tallies up the costs of non-payment to UK SMEs, with some fairly alarming figures for individual examples of unpaid invoices.
The world of credit control brings to mind the infamous Donald Rumsfeld quote:
"There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns - there are things we do not know we don't know."
Admittedly he was talking about weapons of mass destruction, but the same applies to your customers' financial situations, and effective credit control eliminates as much of the 'unknown' as possible, and maximises the 'known knowns'.
An unpaid invoice is a nightmare we would all prefer to avoid, but you're not necessarily just at the whim of your customers when it comes to whether or not you get paid on time.
It's also important to make sure you are invoicing properly - from the moment you take on a new customer, to how you deal with late payments - so you don't lose a single penny through your own fault and poor admin procedures.
The so-called 'Late Payment Directive', officially named Directive 2011/7/EU on Combating Late Payment in Commercial Transactions, is due to come into effect in less than a month's time, on March 16th 2013.
With just 24 days to go until that time, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has revealed the results of its recent consultation on the Directive, along with the finalised set of regulations that will be introduced in March.
Simple credit control measures could help one in ten businesses nationwide to stay operational in the face of delayed payments.
According to figures from Yorkshire Bank and its north-of-the-border equivalent, Clydesdale Bank, 10% of companies would not be able to survive if their clients took over 90 days to pay their invoices.
Business loans have been making the headlines recently, but it's not all bad news - particularly for companies that have improved debt collection over the past year or so.
There's a perception in the media that businesses need loans in order to succeed. And in some cases, yes, that's true - an injection of cash can be useful for all kinds of reasons, from setting up a new firm to undergoing expansion or a change of direction.
Credit control is an important part of running any business effectively, but for small-business owners it can have an even greater significance.
When you rely on a regular income to cover your outgoings, overheads and employee wages, any delay in payments from clients can have a severe impact on your company cash flow.
A dairy-free chocolatier was forced to threaten supermarket giant Tesco with a winding-up petition after they failed to pay for part of their order for five months - leaving him without his staff's Christmas wages.
Moo Free Chocolates produce dairy-free and gluten-free confectionery, with an annual turnover of around £1 million.
But when a £2 million order came in from Tesco, co-founder Mike Jessop was understandably excited.
Otium Corporation Ltd have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons recently, particularly in a Daily Record report of how they left one aerospace contractor out of pocket by £9,000 after their payments to him simply stopped.
Stuart Jack was on a one-year contract to work at BAE Systems in Prestwick, but his payments did not come directly from BAE - instead, they went through Otium Corporation's Ltd’s service address in Batley, West Yorkshire.
The Late Payments Directive, known more technically as Directive 2011/7/EU or the Late Payment of Commercial Debts Regulations 2013, came into force on March 16th and should mean better protection for businesses of all sizes - from freelancers to big brands, and including the public sector - when chasing late payments.
Generally speaking, the Directive puts 30-day payment terms on contracts where a longer deadline is not mutually agreed, and allows you to charge fixed fees, statutory interest, and reasonable recovery costs on any action you take after that deadline has passed.
Take one technology, media and politics website. Add a 28-year-old online entrepreneur who used to be called Milo Wagner, but is now called Milo Yiannopoulos. Don't add any paid invoices to freelance contributors - these could leave a sour taste in the mouth. Finish with an unpaid editor and a legal claim for £16,853.
You've got The Kernel's secret recipe, and it's one that's been stewing for some time. Contributors have reportedly been disputing payments for several months, and an estimated £10,000 or more is still owed to past writers and in copyright claims to photographers whose works were allegedly used without permission.
Insolvency turns £4.7bn of non-payers into never-payers
Each year, £4.7 billion of unpaid invoices in the UK are simply wiped away by insolvency and winding-up procedures, according to an Experian report.
From the smallest 'micro firms' to the biggest brands, when a company leaves the market completely by going out of business, the rest of the supply chain is likely to feel at least some impact not just in terms of lost custom, but by going unpaid for work already done.
Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are struggling to tackle late payments from clients who, in the worst instances, miss three or more invoices per year.
Almost half (47%) of SMEs surveyed by Barclays said that their least reliable customers fail to pay on time at least three times each year.
A Christmas Collection
The payment was late: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of this story I am going to relate.
Once upon a time - of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve - old Scrooge sat busy counting his unpaid invoices.
If you're a small-business owner and you've never heard of the Supply Chain Finance Scheme, announced today, sit down and put anything breakable well out of reach, because you're going to want to smash something pretty soon.
The SCFS is one of those initiatives that you hear about, think "how the hell did they come up with that?", and then realise it was a government idea.
The videogames industry is a key contributor to the post-industrial UK economy, at a time when the creative industries and services sector are steadily growing in importance.
But safeguarding this contribution means ensuring the continued health of companies working in the industry - and the sector's representative body TIGA (The Independent Games Developers Association) is doing just that by encouraging all those working in the videogames sector to sign up to the Prompt Payment Code and avoid late payment.
Recast Late Payment Directive Consultation
Businesses that have been surviving at the edge of affordability - commonly called 'zombie businesses' for their inability to survive any further change in the health of their cashflow - could be particularly keen to see the Late Payments Directive introduced as planned.
The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills is running a consultation until October 19th on the Late Payments Directive (or European Directive 2011/7/EU, to use its proper name), which should help many small businesses to receive full payment of their invoices within 30 days - and to charge interest on top of any debts that go unpaid for longer.
Following on from our mock interview with Dodgy Dave the Debt Collector below you can find an infographic containing Nine Top Tips to avoid dodgy B2B Debt Collectors.
The tips are from the pen of our MD Sid Home. Sid is a former British Transport Police officer and has been the Managing Director of Safe Collections since the company was incorporated in 1984.
When you've been left out of pocket by a non-paying client, it's only natural that you should want to claim back what is rightfully yours.
So how do you know who to trust? We spoke to Dodgy Dave the Debt Collector - a prime example of the kind of person you probably don't want to trust with your money.
Late payments are a burden that all businesses must bear, and we fully understand and appreciate the annoyance that they can cause to all of our clients, whether big or small. So when a customer leaves you with an unpaid invoice, it's equally understandable that you might choose to 'encourage' them to pay up in any way possible.
Increasingly, that for some people means taking to the social networks to name and shame the non-paying client and try to embarrass them into paying. There are clear problems with this approach - for a start, you have to wonder whether a business owner happy to renege on a contract is likely to be shamed into settling their account simply because of a bit of bad word of mouth. But we were curious to find out just how often naming and shaming actually works - so we asked you.
The government's ongoing pledge to help small businesses keep their cashflow looking healthy has taken a new turn - and it's like 'improving' policing by asking criminals to turn themselves in.
Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills work with representative groups of small firms on the Small Business Economic Forum.
Night of the Living Debt as 'Zombie Businesses' take over the UK!
Watch your backs people - there's a zombie revolution taking place, and the bloodthirsty brutes have got a taste for your money.
R3, the Association of Business Recovery Professionals, says there are already 146,000 'zombie businesses' out there, including much of the retail sector, leaving Britain's high streets looking like something out of a horror movie, financially speaking.
Gloomy news from the Forum of Private Business in recent weeks, as FTSE 100 companies are again being urged to abolish the late payments culture by settling their invoices on time, and banks are again being urged to lend more to cash-strapped small businesses.
In an ongoing climate of tight availability of finance in all its forms, and with outstanding invoices totaling tens of billions of pounds, it can be easy to wonder what's the point in chasing payments?
A failure to follow the 'golden rules' of credit control is leaving many SMEs facing a significant burden of payment chasing this summer, says RBS Invoice Finance.
The bank's specialist team has compiled figures showing that small firms are currently receiving payments an average of 30 days beyond the agreed deadline.
Many businesses that work with local authorities are facing a 'postcode lottery' to determine whether their accounts are settled on time, or whether they must deal with late payments from their council customers, says the Forum of Private Business.
The claim is significant because, back in 2008, the government called for councils to pay their suppliers' invoices in no more than ten days - a way to keep small businesses' cashflow healthy, as well as to ensure liquidity within the wider economy as a whole.
Following on from the news that UK PLC's are sitting on a staggering £64 billion excess of capital the latest figures from Bacs Payment Schemes show overdue payments to UK SMEs are now at a record breaking all-time high of £35.3 billion.
The data was compiled at the end of 2011, and showed a £2 billion increase in late payments in the space of just six months.
Late payments to creditors by UK PLC’s are being used to add to the working capital companies have at their disposal, according to a new report from Deloitte.
The professional services provider has analysed the working capital performance of 20,800 companies with global operations over the past five years, enabling it to compile a £64 billion estimate of excess working capital in the UK - a rise of £3 billion since 2010.
A headline-grabbing report from the Forum of Private Business and Graydon reveals that formal credit control processes are in place at fewer than half of the UK's small businesses.
The survey looked at 500 companies across the UK, and just 44% said they had formal credit control procedures to fall back on if they are not paid promptly by debtors. However, many others admitted to making use of a spur-of-the-moment approach to payments, with 16% juggling payments as they go along and 38% mixing formal credit control processes with informal payment-chasing.
We always say that a sensible approach to invoicing can help to cut down on the number of problems you face - and that's still true. Chasing up invoices, making sure they've been received by the client, and querying any payments as soon as they become overdue can all help to encourage clients to pay up on time.
But when an invoice goes unpaid, it's easy to find yourself becoming more and more lenient in the hope that your client will eventually pay - while they become less and less reasonable in their reasons for delaying.
Many SMEs are aware of the importance of a 'level playing field' when it comes to prompt payments - including the right to be paid on time by big brands, without them using their clout to negotiate longer terms, or their complexity as an excuse for failing to pay at all.
But when you start trading across borders, things can very quickly become even more complicated, because in other countries, even small business clients might be used to significantly different payment terms than they would be in the UK.
Daring to speak out about late payment on Twitter could cost one woman £120,000 in fines and legal costs - all because of an unpaid £146 invoice.
The BBC reports that 55-year-old Lesley Kemp of Milton Keynes carried out £146 of transcription work for a company based in Qatar.
But when Resolution Productions paid her late - and expected her to cover the cost of their own £25 bank charges - Ms Kemp vented her frustrations on Twitter.
Late payments are a pain for all of us, clapping the irons on our cashflow, disrupting client relationships and generally causing a world of stress until they're resolved either directly or through the intervention of a debt collections specialist like Safe Collections.
But on an international scale, late payments cause even bigger headaches for economies across the EU, leading to an annual debt of €23.6 billion (£19 billion) according to European Commission figures.
Continuing our series of articles on debt collection in the USA, this article covers the Statute of Limitations and Interest Rates on a state by state basis. This article is based on a recent review conducted by our American Debt Collection partner via their network of state based debt collection attorneys.
Before considering legal proceedings to recover an business debt in America we would recommend you first read the preceding three articles in this series.
An official hospitality centre for African nations during the London 2012 Olympic games has been forced to close amid allegations that suppliers have unpaid invoices totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The center, situated opposite the Royal Albert Hall, featured an exhibition area and restaurant open to the general public as well as reception area for games participants, sponsors and officials.
In part two of our series on Debt Recovery in the USA our American Debt Collection agent outlined the 10 questions any creditor must ask prior to taking a claim to court in the USA. Whilst many of the points raised in this piece are not entirely dissimilar to the questions any creditor should ask before pursuing legal action, one critical point is often overlooked.
If your company is considering taking legal action in the USA to recover unpaid invoices, you will be expected to provide at least one witness at trial. Our US affiliate explains:
In our first blog post on USA debt collection we discussed the three pre-legal stages an American debt recovery agency will use to attempt recovery. But what happens when they have done their best to collect, but the debtor refuses to co-operate?
In this instance your only option to collect the debt may be to consider taking legal action. As with any legal claim here in the UK you can expect to pay the court costs and lawyers fees. But unlike in the UK you as a creditor will be required to attend any hearing, generally at your own cost.
Here at Safe Collections we have decades of experience in helping our customers recover unpaid invoices and bad debts both in the UK and across the globe. One of our key markets is the USA and we have been working closely with our US debt recovery affiliate since 1986.
Robert is the Vice President of International & Corporate Quality at our affiliate office in New York and here he explains the Three Phase USA debt collection procedures they follow in recovery of overdue accounts from US based debtors.