Unpaid debts can be a real problem for businesses – affecting cash flow and potentially damaging your reputation where contingent payments cannot be met.
Prompt payment of money due to your business is vital and making sure that this happens is not simply a matter of “chasing” late payers but of managing the whole relationship with your client/customer.
When you are first approached by a new customer, find out who recommends them to you – the more information you have about your prospective customer and their circumstances, the better informed you will be as to their credit worthiness and whether in fact you want to do business with them.
Before entering into that business relationship, consider doing the following:-
- Taking trade references;
- Running credit checks;
- Requesting that a director sign a director’s guarantee in respect of money which will become owed to you (in the case of small limited companies);
- Agreeing a credit limit with the customer;
- Ensuring that properly prepared terms and conditions are signed.
If your invoice, once issued, is not promptly paid:-
- Telephone the customer to check that they are satisfied and to clarify with them when payment will be made;
- Set up systems to ensure that this is chased up or reminder letters are sent – you should bear in mind that where a debt is owed to your business by an individual there is a special pre-action protocol which sets out certain information that must be given to the customer before court proceedings are issued;
- Don’t wait around! Where you have ensured that your customer has no issues with the service provided or the invoice itself, and you have complied with the debt collection protocol in respect of individuals, issue small claims court proceedings to obtain a judgement debt which can then be enforced.
It is worth noting that you, as the creditor, may be able to claim interest on outstanding debts at the rate of 8% per year once court proceedings have been issued.
Furthermore, where goods or services were supplied by you (a business) to another business (and not an individual) then in the event of non-payment there is potentially an even greater entitlement to interest on the debt owed than set out above, which may include a small compensation payment.
Very often, the issuing of court proceedings can prompt payment of outstanding debts. Where it does not, then obtaining a judgement from the court is the first step towards payment but consideration may need to be given to the various methods of enforcing the judgement of the court.
Lawson Lewis Blakers is able to offer advice and assistance on a number of issues relating to debt collecting, including:-
- A review of your business/organisation’s terms and conditions;
- Sending a “letter before action” – letting the person who owes you the debt know what needs to be paid (including any applicable interest) and advising them of your intention to issue proceedings if payment is not received;
- Issuing court proceedings to recover the debt;
- Enforcing judgment debts once obtained – including advice and assistance with applications for charging orders or attachment of earnings orders and bankruptcy/winding up proceedings.
Our services for debt collection:-
We have set out below the costs and fees involved at each stage of the debt collection process. Where we indicate that the work to be carried out will be done on the basis of an hourly rate (rather than a fixed fee) the hourly rates of our litigation solicitors presently range from £185 + VAT to £225 + VAT.
Please Note: The below fees assume that the debt is not disputed at either Stage 1 or Stage 2. If the debtor disputes your claim at any point (i.e. by responding to the Letter Before Action indicating they do not intend to pay or by filing a defence to a claim) we will discuss with you any further work required and provide you with revised advice about costs if necessary. This may be on a fixed fee basis (for example if a one off letter is required) or an hourly rate if more extensive work is needed.
Stage 1 – Pre-action
Where the debtor is a limited company or a firm (partnership) we will write a formal Letter Before Action requesting payment within a specified period. This may include a claim for interest and/or your reasonable debt collection costs where applicable (under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998.
Our fee includes:
- Taking your instructions and reviewing documentation
- Undertaking appropriate searches
- Sending a letter before action
Stage one fee:- £150 + VAT
Debts owed by individuals
Since the introduction in October 2017 of the Pre-action Protocol for Debt Claims (which applies to debts owed by individuals and not businesses) there is a different procedure to be followed when sending a formal Letter Before Action.
Our fee for the work as above (but in relation to an individual) is £185 + VAT
NB. If the debt is paid at the conclusion of this stage then you will not be charged any of the costs or fees for the following stages
Stage 2 – Court actions in England and Wales
Where the debtor does not respond to, or pay the debt following, the Letter Before Action, the next stage is the issuing of a court claim. We are able to assist in issuing claims for debts of less than £100,000.
Our fee is based upon the value of your claim and includes:-
- Drafting and issuing the claim;
- Where no Acknowledgment of Service or Defence is received, applying to the court to enter Judgement in default;
- When Judgement in default is received, writing to the debtor to request payment;
- If payment is not received within 30 days, providing you with advice on next steps and likely costs.
Stage 2 fees:-
- Debt Value up to £5,000 - £185 + VAT
- Debt Value £5,001 to £10,000 - £250 + VAT
- Debt Value £10,001 to £50,000 - £300 + VAT
- Debt Value £50,001 to £100,000 - 1% of the value of the claim + VAT
Court fees for issuing a claim at present range from £25 for low value claims up to 4.5% of the claim value for larger value claims of between £50,000 to £100,000.
The applicable court fees for issuing a claim can be found on the Ministry of Justice website by following the link below:-
Stage 3 – Court judgement and enforcement in England and Wales
There are numerous methods for enforcement of a court judgement in England and Wales. Should your matter proceed that far, our litigation solicitors will be able to assist and advise you on the options available to you.
Our fees for this advice and any enforcement assistance provided will be charged on the basis of an hourly rate for time spent (unless a fixed fee can be agreed for carrying out specific enforcement action).
The applicable court fees in relation to enforcement can be found on the Ministry of Justice website by following the link below:-
Matters usually take around 8-10 weeks from receipt of instructions from you (at stage 1) to receipt of payment from the other side, depending on whether or not it is necessary to issue a claim. This is on the basis that the other side pays promptly on receipt of Judgement in default. If enforcement advice and action is needed, the matter will take longer to resolve.
Please contact one of our litigation team below for further information or to book a consultation
Employment Law- Fixed Fees
INITIAL FREE HALF HOUR APPOINTMENT
This includes:- Attending you for a preliminary appointment to see whether you have a case or can defend a case. Please note that this is for 30 minutes only and does not include advice in writing.
We are able to offer fixed fees to both claimants and respondents in relation to Employment Tribunal claims. Please contact us for specialist advice and further details.