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One of the hardest things about working independently is getting paid. 61% of small businesses – including the self-employed – are paid late by big businesses.
But once you’ve chased, what should you do next?
One option is to go to a debt recovery agency.
Over on our ‘Ask’ forum, Debbie Mynott from The Debt Recovery Bureau has written a few great answers about how their process works. “Actually getting paid.” she writes, “can be a skilled job which takes a lot of time, and sometimes you’re better off coming to a professional to do it for you.”
Here are the highlights.
1) They start by getting to know the party that owes the money
“When a case is referred to us, we issue our initial letter to the customer who owes the money that day or the next.
When we make contact our account managers are trained to build a relationship with the customer who owes the money. We can usually tell fairly soon if the person is a ‘can’t pay’ or a ‘won’t pay.’
Sometimes the first letter is enough to get the customer to pay up. Sometimes it takes more work than this.”
2) They go through a standard twelve week process
“We have a process which takes about 12 weeks which includes a series of letters, which escalate in severity of message, phone calls and emails. We also undertake in-house searches on a variety of databases to gather as much information as we can about the customer.”
If at the end of that time we haven’t had any success, we will review your case and a make recommendation about what we consider to be the next step.
As the money comes in we release the funds to the client on the first of the month with a report. Even if we haven’t collected any money we still send you a report so you know what’s happening.
We manage that – keep on top of it and keep track of it – until the debt is paid off.”
3) If the party that owes money can’t pay, they break the payment down into instalments
“If we get in touch with someone who owes money and they say they can’t afford it, there are a number of things we can do.
We have a number of in-house databases which we use to find out more information. So, for example, if it’s a company, we have ways of checking the position of that company. We can find out more information than you can get from Companies House.
So we check out what the position is and see if it’s actually true.
If it’s true and they’re really struggling, we can often set up a managed payment plan. We organise that on our clients’ behalf, and get the money back that way.
We deal with this sort of thing every day; we can usually tell whether someone’s a ‘can’t pay’ or a ‘won’t pay.’ It’s often actually very easy to tell.”
4) For some customers, their services are free. Others pay by only getting back 82% of what they’re owed. Here’s how it works
If you’re a business, the person who owes pays the Debt Recovery Bureau, so you get back 100% of the amount you’re owed. If you’re not, it’s taken off the amount which goes to you, so you get back about 82-85%.
“If you’re a business and you are owed money by another company, the company which owes you the money pays a little extra, which is our fee. This is a commercial debt. So if we recover all the money you get back 100% of the debt.
If you are business owed money by an individual not a company, or if you are an individual, you cannot add on our fees to the debt unless you have a contract with your customer which specifically says you can. This is referred to as consumer debt and our fee (15% plus VAT) comes out of any money we collect for you.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a business and you come to us and you’re owed £1000.
The Late Payment of Commercial Debt Regulations 2013, which are enshrined in law, allows you to add reasonable debt recovery costs to any business-to-business debt. So that’s what we do. We charge 15% + VAT (another 3%), which we think is reasonable. In the marketplace it’s a fairly standard figure.
So presuming we recover all of your funds, you get 100% of your funds back, £1000, and we retain our fee which we collect on top: £180.
Some of the people who come to us aren’t businesses of course. We had one case where the lady was a consultant. She did some work for a company and they didn’t pay her. We successfully pursued that for her, but because she wasn’t set up as a business, our fee had to come out of the money we recovered. If you were temping, the same thing would probably apply.”
5) They can sometimes recover debt internationally
“We work across the UK and Ireland, and can undertake the collection of large debts overseas.”
6) How to contact them
A lot of people don’t think about using a debt recovery company but if you needed an operation you’d go to a hospital and get a surgeon to do it. In the same way, actually getting paid can be a skilled job which takes a lot of time, and sometimes you’re better off coming to a professional to do it for you. We have trained staff who work in debt recovery all the time, and we have a process we work through.
The best testament to the way we work is the fact that there was someone who we first met as a debtor who then came back to us as a client when they were owed money because we had successfully got money from him when he was a debtor. They realised we’ll get the money back for the client if at all possible.
If you give us a ring and have a chat, we can tell you whether we think it’s best for you to pursue this on your own, or whether you should refer it to us.”
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Have you got a smart way to deal with clients who don’t pay? If you’ve worked with a debt collection agency, how did it go? Do you work for an agency and want to explain how you work?