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Handling common late payment excuses – top tips

by Hugh Gage, managing director of The Prompt Payment Directory, together with Nicki Kinton of NK Credit Consultancy.

1. “We can’t afford to pay the bill”
Firstly, stop supplying and don’t make the problem any worse. Agree a payment plan to reduce the debt. If the organisation is keen for you to continue to supply because they need what you have to keep trading, establish their plans for getting out of the situation and check if they’re really viable. If you do choose to support them, protect yourself with robust terms which includes payment with order – an instruction to the buyer’s bank to make a payment or series of payments to you on an agreed regular date.

2. Accounts not in/is away
While this can sometimes be a legitimate excuse, you need to convince the business you can’t or shouldn’t have to wait until the next time they’re in the office to get paid. Support calls with an email. If you can’t get through, escalate the problem to the buyer, business owner or the relevant department, outlining what you need to happen and how to follow up in the most appropriately way. You should also remind the customer of any provisions around late payment such as charging of interest and how their intervention will keep any additional costs in check.

3. Your cheque is in the post
Technology may have moved on, but unfortunately even in this electronic age many businesses still insist on paying by cheque and this is one of the popular ‘fob offs’. Ask for the date it was sent, class of postage and the cheque number. If they can’t give you a cheque number ask why not? If it has been more than a week and it has still not arrived, ask them to cancel the cheque and send replacement by BACS/Faster payment and assure them the cheque will be returned or destroyed if it does arrive. You do have every right to refuse cheques, so look at your customer demographic and decide if this is a risk you’re willing to take if they refuse to comply.