How long can you recover debt from an old UK business invoice

Many UK businesses don’t know that their credit control can chase payment for invoices as far back as 6 years.

Debts for these are covered under the Limitation Act 1980 and this statute of limitations provides time scales as to how long a business can chase for an unsettled debt.

  1. The time limit from when the 6 years commences is from when your customer last acknowledged the debt was due or when they had made a payment on account against the outstanding invoice. It is however not from when the invoice became due.

  2. However, before your credit control speaks to your old debtors to claw in outstanding payments, there are some things you need to be mindful of before you you make that first telephone call:

  3. The Act only applies if you have maintained regular communication with your customer in relation to the outstanding debt, e.g. by sending them a monthly statement of account.

  4. If you have not maintained regular communication then your customer may be able to claim that the outstanding debt is "statute barred under the Limitation Act 1980". This essentially means that the debt is not enforceable because the time you have had to chase for payment has passed.

  5. If it is statute barred then you will not be able to use English Law to enforce remittance for the outstanding invoice balance.

  6. If you have provided goods or services then ensure you have proof of delivery, any original purchase order confirmations and any completed signed service reports, e.g. on-site statement of works. You must ensure you have proof of the goods ordered, delivered and any project work undertaken.

  7. Was the original invoice in dispute e.g. from poor service or damaged goods on arrival. If your customer has proof that they made you aware of a genuine dispute when the invoice was sent, then statute barred would be successful under the Limitation Act and you would not be claim for the outstanding invoice debt.

  8. You must allow sufficient time for your customer to look into the matter. Like any good policy e.g. compliants, a businesses cannot deliver a response within 24 hours. So do allow 5-7 working days for an initial reply and if you have still not received one after that period, chase up again. They may simply be attempting to access the information from archive due to the time past.