If a French client owes you money, you can apply a certain amount of pressure to encourage payment, and many clients will pay up eventually. But in some cases, you’ll need to instruct a lawyer in France to collect the money you’re owed.
Debt collection in France is a slightly different procedure, compared to debt collection in the UK. This blog provides a rough guide to your options and the types of court action you could bring.
French courts will uphold court judgements made in other parts of the EU and, in some cases, outside the EU as well. For the purposes of this article, we are referring only to court action taking place in France against clients who live and work there.
What the lawyer will need
In order to bring your case to court, the French lawyer will need documents as evidence.
Our debt collection advocate in France will ask you for your contract, purchase order (and the client’s acknowledgement), proof of project delivery, all invoices, a copy of your terms and conditions, and copies of all emails you’ve exchanged with your client.
You may also be asked to provide a Know Your Customer (KYC) document, which protects against money laundering.
All documents submitted in English will have to be translated into French before court proceedings can go ahead. Don’t worry about this yet, as it’s something you’ll be advised on when we pass your case to our Advocate.
How the money is collected
French lawyers have 3 options available to them when collecting money from your client. Two of these options are relatively speedy, but there is a chance that proceedings could take a year or more to come to completion.
Here are the three routes available:
- Order to pay: An injonction de payer is a claim that is made based on the contract you made with your debtor. This claim involves filing documents with the court nearest to where the debtor resides. The fees for this are low, and the process is relatively fast, since the debtor doesn’t need to attend court. However, if the debtor objects to the order, the case then gets passed to the commercial court (tribunal de commerce).
- Summary proceedings: With a référé provision, a bailiff summons the debtor to appear before their local court. The case will be resolved in a matter of weeks, so this is a rapid way to resolve a claim that is not disputed.
- Proceedings on merit: A procédure au fond requires the debtor to attend a commercial court in their local area; again, a bailiff is involved. Commercial courts have no jury, and are overseen by a lay (volunteer) judge. This is a lengthy process, with cases taking up to 2 years to be resolved, although some are resolved in approximately 1 year.
In all cases, you – the creditor - won’t need to attend court, and no witnesses are required on either side.
Fees and interest
If your case has to go to court, it can be presented in pounds sterling, although lawyers will usually convert amounts to Euros.
You don’t need to present a bond when bringing a case to court, and you can claim interest from your debtor in the meantime. In France, the statutory rate of interest is 10 per cent above the European Central Bank’s base rate, and this rate will be used if you have not specified a rate in your contract.
But there’s a fee for bringing proceedings to court, and the fee varies considerably depending on the action taken. The first option we’ve listed, an order to pay, costs around £100 to file, which covers the court fees and bailiffs. Other options will trigger fees closer to £200.
Generally speaking the party that loses the case will cover the fees when the judgement is made.
Occasionally, the losing party may also be ordered to pay for translation or travel costs, or other costs that have been incurred in bringing the case, such as legal fees. This is at the discretion of the court, and is not guaranteed. In some cases, no award is made at all for legal fees, and it’s rare for full legal costs to be awarded anyway. This can make court action unaffordable for small debts, so it’s wise to consult our advocate in France before deciding to go ahead with court action.
When judgement is made, the creditor is also responsible for paying a small amount towards the bailiff’s fees. This varies from 0.3 per cent on claims above €1,525, and rises to 10 per cent on claims up to €125. The debtor should pay the rest, providing they have the funds to do so. If they don’t, the creditor may end up paying the full amount.
When a court rules against a French debtor, it can instruct bailiffs to seize the business’ assets. (The exception would be if the debtor is already bankrupt, as there is likely to be a pre-existing seizure in place.) As such, there may be little point bringing legal proceedings against a client that is already in deep trouble, and it’s wise to do some background credit checks before going ahead.
Getting your debt repaid
Court proceedings are always the last resort when chasing business debts, and we can often get a quicker result without having to go that far. But if you’ve exhausted other options, and you want to press on, Safe Collections can offer expert advice and support in association with our debt recovery lawyer.
Safe Collections has long-standing relationships with a leading debt collection advocate in France, and we regularly assist UK clients in pursuing unpaid B2B invoices. If a French client owes you money, and you’ve been unsuccessful in chasing them, get in touch with our team today.
Regardless of where your clients are located, you deserve to be paid for the work you’ve done. EU debt collection is often very straightforward, and we are here to support you in getting what you are owed. Together, we’ll ensure that the law is enforced effectively and that your debtor faces their financial responsibilities.