Debt Collection in England and Wales: An Introduction

January 19, 2015 by admin

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Our Company’s Practical Experience

Over the first decade of Rosetta Translation’s existence, we have accumulated a large amount of experience in the nuances of debt collection in the UK. This article aims to pass on some of the gathered information by adding some personal details on to the various stages. We hope this is useful both for other translation agencies, freelance translators and SMEs in general. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to add them, and we promise to help as best we can.

Payment practices in the UK and Cash flow

Statistically speaking, calculated by volume of outstanding debt, we get paid 75 days after invoicing. That is significantly slower than our standard 30 day terms, which creates a need for significant additional working capital (the outstanding debt easily fluctuates to the equivalent of over 90 days). Typically, the larger and more complex the corporate client, the later they pay. Usually this is nothing to do with ill will, but “just” with large dysfunctional organisations. These are usually otherwise excellent regular corporate customers, and they will eventually pay, so jeopardising the relationship to reduce the lag further would quickly prove detrimental to our business.

Our aim in our debt collection effort is therefore just to prevent this delay from getting even longer.

Debt prevention with credit checks

As so often, prevention is the best cure. It pays to try and check a potential new customer’s credit rating before extending credit to them. There are a number of credit check companies that specialise in providing information about how creditworthy a given company is. The results are typically provided in a score (say, out of 100), and an indicative credit line. The better systems provide additional information about significant recent events (movements in the ratings, change of directors, county court judgements, change in reported financials, etc).

The price of a subscription varies wildly, so shop around. It can be significantly cheaper to pool resources. We are fortunate to get a good annual flat rate with Creditsafe through the ATC (the UK Association of Translation Companies). If you are a freelance translator, and you don’t need a lot of checks, it may well be worth calling in a favour from a friendly translation agency to run a check for you.

Our own experience with Creditsafe has been excellent over the years. We demand upfront payment from corporate clients below a certain rating threshold, and we don’t think we lose significant amounts of business this way (these companies are mostly well used to not being extended credit).

There are two important limitations to bear in mind. No system is foolproof, and a default can happen rapidly without any significant advance signals. In 2008, Lehman Brothers enjoyed excellent ratings until days from the end.

The other obvious limitation is that some bad debt is not related to client companies being in distress, but is simply to do with negligence or, in some cases, aggressive cash flow management by those clients.

In the next post we will delve deeper into the debt collection process…

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