Can I still take legal action to recover money that is owed to the business?
You will need to check the terms of the contract you have with the debtor to make sure you are still entitled to be paid (including checking any force majeure clause).
It is also important to remember that the current exceptional circumstances might also affect your contractual rights in other ways too – please see our commercial & contracts site for more information.
Depending on the type of debt you are owed, there might be some additional restrictions in place that you will need to consider. For example there are certain restrictions on landlords being able to forfeit leases, evict tenants or send High Court Enforcement Officers to collect outstanding rent.
Assuming there are no sector-specific restrictions in place then you should be able to start county or high court proceedings to recover the debt.
As an alternative to starting court proceedings, if the debt is undisputed a creditor can usually opt to issue winding up proceedings against a debtor instead. However, the recently introduced Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act introduces a temporary suspension on the ability of creditors to present winding up petitions to recover money unless the reason why the debtor cannot pay is not related to covid-19. For more information click here.
Often taking firm action is the right thing to do, particularly given that it is a sad reality that it is the creditor who shouts the loudest that will often get paid first. However, one important consideration is the commercial reality that many businesses (and indeed individuals) now find themselves in.
Whether taking legal action is likely to result in payment is always a question any creditor should ask themselves. Some creditors might also want to try to support their customers during these difficult times and/or have concerns about their long term reputation if they pursue the debt too aggressively. However, even if that is the case it is still possible to engage constructively and positively with those who owe you money to try to reach the best possible outcome. This could include:
- Having clear and consistent credit control processes in place
- Obtaining statements of means to help understand what a debtor can afford to pay
- Agreeing realistic payment plans
- Negotiating formal payment holidays
- Putting in place voluntary security to secure the debt
- Identifying those debtors who can’t pay as opposed to won’t pay and targeting resources accordingly
- Looking at what other options might be available, including recovering under parent company guarantees