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The ultimate guide to debt collection in Europe
Do you struggle with European customers not paying you on time?
Then you have come to the right place!
Unfortunately, late payment is a common problem in Europe, and with many small countries with local regulations, payment behaviour and different cultures, cross-border collections can be quite complicated.
At Debitura, we can help you get paid by customers from all over Europe.
We do this by partnering with some of the best debt-collection attorneys and agencies in all 44 European countries.
This gives you the convenience of having Debitura as one single point of entry while simultaneously having access to local experts with deep market knowledge.
But enough about us!
Let's have a look at how debt collection works in Europe.
The European economy
Europe is the world's second-smallest continent, but it is home to some of the most diverse and remarkable countries in the world. From the ancient city of Rome to the modern bustling cities of London and Paris, Europe contains many cultures, languages, and experiences. The continent is surrounded by oceans that create breathtaking shorelines and incredible beaches, while the interior is filled with breathtaking mountain ranges, rolling hills, forests and meadows.
Europe has a rich history that dates back centuries, with each country having its own unique culture and tradition. From the art of Amsterdam to the ski resorts in Austria, there's something for everyone in Europe.
Europe is a leader in economic terms, boasting an impressive range of industries and sectors. The economy in Europe is diverse and complex, with each country having its unique set of economic strengths. The European Union provides a single market that allows the free movement of goods, capital, and people between member states. This has made Europe one of the world's largest and most successful trading blocks. The European Union also supports a range of policies designed to promote economic growth, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, which supports rural areas, and the European Regional Development Fund, which provides support for small businesses and regional development.
Europe is home to several of the world's most successful economies, such as Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. These countries are the largest contributors to the European Union's gross domestic product (GDP), accounting for nearly half of the total economic output of the bloc. Germany has consistently been Europe's largest economy for years due in part to its robust manufacturing sector. France is a significant player in the global financial market, while the UK is a leader in services-based industries such as banking and finance.
Overall, Europe's economy is strong and resilient, with countries like Germany leading the charge in vital economic areas like exports and innovation. The continent has a long history of being a major trading partner with countries worldwide, and its economic success is part of what makes it one of the most attractive places to live in the world. With its strong economy and diverse people, Europe will continue to be an essential player on the international stage for many years to come.
The challenge with late payments in Europe
Selling on credit is very common in Europe.
Especially B2B invoices, where most industries make +50% of their sales on credit.
The key reasons why European businesses offer credit to their customers are to
- Enucrage sales to existing customers
- Win new customers
- Stay competitive.
When selling on credit, the average payment term (average days) set for B2B customers varies from 24 days kin the steel/metal industry to 39 in the Agri/food industry. Despite these averages, surveys show that approximately 15% of all businesses offer credit terms of +60 days.
The challenge with offering credit is that late payment of invoices has become a real problem for businesses in Europe. The latest figures show that about 60% of all B2B invoices are paid late, resulting in significant cash flow issues for SMEs and large corporations alike.
When businesses don't get paid on time, their liquidity suffers, and for SMEs, this often means that they will go bankrupt. This has tremendous economic implications, not to mention the human costs for people who lose their jobs.
The other negative effect of late payments is, that many of these invoices end up being written off as bad debt. Between 5-8% of all invoices are written off, costing businesses their profits.
The regulatory framework for debt collection in Europe
Europe consists of 44 countries, with individual laws regulating how you can collect debt.
27 European countries are part of the EU, and these member states follow an EU-wide “Late Payment Directive”.
We will get back to this directive in more detail, but the idea is that the directive describes some minimum requirements member states have to implement to protect businesses from late payment. While this has many advantages and streamlines the collection process, the directive is still implemented in local laws across all 27 countries.
Other countries like Switzerland and Norway are not part of the EU. These countries have their own debt collection laws which differ from the EU. In most cases, though, these non-EU countries also provide businesses with legal protection against late payments, quite similar to the EU framework. For instance, the UK still follows the same guidelines even post-Brexit.
Other countries part of the European continent, such as Rusland, have very different rules and practices.
To keep this guide simple, we will focus on the EU member states, and the frameworks provided by the EU.
If you are looking for a more country-specific guide (or for guidance on how to collect debt in a European country not part of the EU) please have a look at our country-specific guidelines on this page.
The European Late Payment Directive
As promised, let's have a closer look at the European late payment directive.
Late payments are one of the most common reasons for SMEs in the EU to go bankrupt. As small businesses are the backbone of most member states' economies, helping businesses to get paid on time is a high priority for the European Union.
Therefore the EU implemented Directive 2011/7/EU in February 2011, also known as "The European Late Payment Directive".
All EU countries were mandated by March 2013 at the latest to implement this directive into national law.
The main provisions of the European Late Payment Directive are as follows:
- Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, public authorities must pay for any goods and services procured within 30 days; in rare cases, this timeframe can be extended to 60 days.
- Companies must pay their invoices within 60 days, except if they mutually agree on another timeline.
- Businesses can add a minimum fee of 40€ to compensate for late payments by other businesses (not consumers)
- Businesses can add interest on late payments, and the interest rate must be no less than 8% above the European Central Bank's reference rate.
These provisions are minimum requirements. All EU countries are permitted to maintain or enforce laws that benefit creditors more than what is specified by the directive.
In summary, the European Late Payment Directive is a unified framework of protections for European businesses. It provides you with legal protection to collect debt promptly.
It also streamlines the debt collection process across all EU countries since the same rules apply in each country. This makes it easier for companies to collect debts from customers in different countries.
However, it is essential to remember that different countries still have their own individual laws, potentially providing even more legal protection than what the European Late Payment Directive sets out.
It is, therefore, always recommended to research local laws when collecting debt from customers abroad. Please feel free to reach out to us if you are looking for legal advice in any European country!
The debt collection process in Europe
As mentioned, each European country's debt collection process is individual. Still, as the legal framework for most European countries is based on the European Late Payment Directive, the process is quite similar.
The image below explains our standard process for collecting debt in the EU:
1 Upload your claim
Unless you want to recover your debt yourself, you will start the process by finding a debt collection partner and upload your claim to their website. If you use Debitura, we will provide you with 3 quotes from local partners in the European country relevant to your case. This is 100% free - no strings attached.
2 Amicable collection
The collection process typically begins with a "campaign" of friendly reminders sent to your debtor via email, SMS, letter and all other available communication channels in the specific country. The goal is to get the debtor to pay or acknowledge the debt and start a payment plan. We offer a no-cure-no-pay solution for amicable collection, where you only pay a small success fee if we recover your debt. Amicable collections with Debitura are, therefore 100% risk-free!
If you have not received payment from the debtor after the amicable phase, it is time to evaluate the next steps. We will look at the size of your claim, the payment probability and other factors to guide you in take the best decision on what to do next. There are three typicall next steps:
If your claim is below 2.000-5000€, it is often unprofitable to take further legal actions. In this case, we recommend "debt surveillance", where we will keep reaching out to your debtor and try to negotiate an amicable settlement.
B: Legal collections:
We recommend starting a legal process for larger claims. The exact process depends on the specific country and the size of your claim. For debts below 5.000€, most EU countries have simplified legal procedures. We work with local debt collection attorneys in all European countries that can provide you with a personalised recommendation and quote for your specific case.
C: Debt enforcement:
If the debtor has acknowledged your claim or you have a court order, you can use the bailiff's court to enforce your claim.
EU frameworks for cross-border collection
If you are recovering debt from a different EU-member country than your own, the EU provides two great cross-border solutions.
There have been implemented to make it more simple to collect debt in other European countries.
European payment order
With the European Payment Order, you can easily and quickly settle monetary claims without any dispute from the defender. All it takes is filling out a universal form!
To start the process, a standard EU form must be completely filled out to provide all pertinent information regarding the individuals involved and details of the claim. Once submitted, a court will review it closely and, if correctly completed, should issue a European Payment Order within thirty days.
Once received, the European Payment Order must be presented to the debtor by the local court. The debtor has a window of 30 days in which he can either accept payment or oppose it. If contested, then depending on what is preferred by the claimant, the case could proceed under national law through regular civil courts, with a specific small claims procedure compliant with Europe's standards; or simply be abandoned altogether.
If no opposition to the European Payment Order is expressed by either side, it will automatically become enforceable. A duplicate of the order must be forwarded to enforcement authorities in the Member State where execution is intended. Enforcing this payment order follows laws and procedures within that particular Member State's regulation.
The Small Claims Framework
The European Small Claims Procedure is here to make the litigation process easier, faster and more reliable for small monetary claims of less than 5.000€. This procedure ensures that any judgment rendered has immediate enforceability across all Member States without needing extra declarations of enforceability or risk of opposition.
You fill out a form that goes to the court. The court needs to fill out its part of the form too. After the person, you are suing gets the form, they have 30 days to fill out their part of the form. Then, you will get a copy of the form with their answers.
If the person you are suing response within 30 days, the court will issue an official statement. If the court needs more information, it will ask for it in writing. Or, the court can summon both parties for an oral hearing. You do not need a lawyer to attend such hearings, but if possible, technology should be used to carry out these proceedings via videoconferencing or teleconferencing.
With the court-mandated certificate and a copy of the judgment, your ruling can be enforced in all other European Union countries without any extra paperwork. It might not be enforced only if there is already a judgment between those parties in that country. Enforcing such judgements follows each individual nation's established rules and regulations where it is being enforced.
If you are recovering debt in a European Union country, these two frameworks can make the process much easier. They guarantee that any judgement issued will be executed and enforced regardless of borders. If you would like to learn more about these frameworks or need guidance to recover debts in Europe, please feel free to reach out to us!
You can read our detailed guide about the European Small Claims Procedure here.
Despite the challenges, there are many ways to collect debts in Europe. By understanding the regulatory framework and using a professional debt collection agency, you can successfully collect outstanding invoices. At Debitura, we understand the ins and outs of debt collection in Europe and can help you get the money you're owed quickly and efficiently. Contact us today and receive three free quotes from local debt collection experts.