Don't let customer debt get you down

You've identified a potential bad debt. You've sent the friendly reminder, the follow up letter seven days later. You've then phoned two or three times and sent a final notice. Still no joy. Where does it go from here? It’s a familiar scenario for lots of business people. What seems like a slightly overdue payment is starting to turn into a troublesome debt. You don't particularly want to start formal legal proceedings, as they've been a customer for some years but you're getting increasingly frustrated.

The phone rings. It’s the customer telling you about their cash flow problems. Things will apparently be resolved next week, so you agree to give them more time. But next week rolls around… nothing. The following week... still nothing.

You are now getting increasingly worried. You might be a key supplier and of course you could place their account on hold, but that could make the situation worse and actually reduce the prospect of payment. What you need is for the customer to engage with you.

A good first step in this scenario is to speak to your accountant. If they are not themselves an insolvency practitioner, the chances are they will have a good working relationship with one. When they are instructed by a creditor, they will write to the debtor to advise that they have been consulted. The message is usually that failure to either make payment, or provide an acceptable and deliverable payment plan, may result in the creditor taking matters to the next stage, which could ultimately be an insolvency event.

By issuing an unambiguous statement of intent, you make your position clear to the debtor and in doing so you'll invariably find they'll try to prioritise payments to you.

The involvement of a third party in these circumstances will often produce the desired result. If not, then an assessment would have to be made to ascertain whether it's financially viable to pursue matters further.

If you find yourself in this situation and would like to discuss your options, the best thing is to contact your accountant initially. Appropriate action can then be advised on a case-by-case basis.

If you would like to discuss anything related to this article please do not hesitate to call Barnett & Turner on 01623 659659 or email Jonathan at