Dealing with unpaid invoices: five tips for businesses

Bimal Kotecha

Article written by Bimal Kotecha, Solicitor, Litigation department

Carrying the weight of unpaid invoices can make doing business challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial difficulties for many and the late payments of invoices could make it worse for small businesses, the self-employed and freelancers.

The Forum of Private Business indicates that 1 in 4 businesses fall into insolvency as a result of late payment of invoices. While business owners need to worry about paying suppliers, staff members, rent and bills, unpaid invoices can have serious consequences. For freelancers, invoices are direct income and unpaid invoices can mean getting into personal financial difficulty. With this being the case, can you really afford to wait?

This post looks at five ways you can manage debt recovery and payment procedures in your business.

1. Clear payment terms

From the outset, your clients should know when they are expected to pay you. This means setting out in unambiguous terms the work you are doing, when that work will be completed, the cost and when you will raise an invoice for the work. Once you have established a process, draft a document (or instruct solicitors to draft it for you) and include it in your terms of business. A clearly drafted document can help to avoid disputes and delayed payments.

2. Invoice on time

This may seem simple, but raising your invoice quickly, will enable you to get paid promptly. It also provides the person or business you are invoicing with certainty – they are not left waiting for an unexpected invoice to appear. Ensure your actions match your business terms and be prompt and clear when raising an invoice.

3. Schedule reminders

After you have sent your invoice, be sure to set a reminder for when it falls due and check if it has been paid. If your invoice has not been paid by the date mentioned, you should send a reminder email or letter. Following up sends a clear message that you take payment terms seriously.

4. Establish a process for late payments

No matter how diligent you are with your terms of business and chasing invoices, you are likely to encounter late payments. You should establish a clear process for dealing with late payments, which may even include the assistance of debt recovery lawyers. You may wish to include several steps in your approach, including starting with a simple phone call to establish why payment is late and when you could expect to be paid. Once you have established your process, you can explain to the client that you have a standard escalation process, which may include charging interest and if lawyers are instructed, seeking to recover the legal costs expended.

5. Getting legal advice

In some cases, it may be necessary to instruct experts to manage the debt recovery process for you. A debt recovery solicitor may initially send a letter seeking payment of the debt –  in many cases, this is enough to prompt the debtor into paying.

If your business is suffering as a result of unpaid invoices, you can find more information here. If you require specific advice, please feel free to email me or contact the Litigation department on 020 8858 6971.