05 November, 2010
Identifying who you are selling to is not always as straightforward as it seems, but is crucial. Having the correct name and details of your customer makes a successful recovery more likely. In a recent case at the Court of Appeal a supplier of goods was unable to recover a debt as they had failed to confirm the identity of exactly who they were dealing with. We would recommend you ask customers to complete credit application forms, make sure orders and acknowledgements are documented, double check details through public sources and update details regularly.
In any sale of goods or services there are some terms which are implied by Common Law or Statute, but it is rarely satisfactory to rely on these. For instance, in the absence of a specific term to the contrary, the ownership of goods passes at the time the goods are delivered to the buyer, even if the buyer has not paid for them. That will mean that if the buyer becomes insolvent after the delivery has taken place those goods can be sold for the benefit of other creditors. With a simple "Retention of Title" clause in your terms and conditions, to alter the common law position, it might be possible to recover those goods when the buyer becomes insolvent, even if the prospect of getting paid remains remote.
There is a difference between an unpaid debt and a bad debt. An unpaid debt becomes bad when it can no longer be collected, or the cost of collecting it outweighs the benefit of receiving it. It is not a matter of size - very large debts can be as bad as small debts, and expending time, energy and money on pursuing them can sometimes be like throwing good money after bad. A cost/benefit analysis will help you to decide whether to take steps to pursue a debt or not.