From today, 7th August 2002, the UK legislation which provides for
interest on overdue debts will apply to all businesses. Previously
only small businesses benefited from this right. Now, any business
owed money will be able to apply a statutory interest rate of 8
percent over base unless the contract provides an alternative
remedy which is substantial.
It is up to the courts ultimately to decide what
counts as a substantial remedy and so we await some reported
decisions for clarification. However, DTI guidance suggests that
the interest rate should compensate the supplier - so it must be at
least equivalent to the authorised overdraft rate at which it has
to fund its cashflow shortfall - and should incentivise the
customer not to pay late - so it must be more than the interest the
customer earns on its bank balance.
The Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act
1998 which introduced a statutory right to interest on late payment
of commercial debts has been brought into force in stages. Details
of the Act can be found by copying and pasting or clicking on the
following link: http://www.law-now.com/law-now/press.cfm?id=3691.
However, the government has recently amended the original
legislation in order to implement an EU directive on late payment.
The effects of these amendments are:
- the final phase of implementation has been brought forward -
from 7th August 2002 (rather than 1st November 2002 as originally
planned), any business or public sector supplier will have the
right to claim statutory interest from any other business or public
sector supplier which owes it money;
- the power of the Secretary of State to exempt certain contracts
from the right to claim interest has been repealed;
- creditors can now claim "reasonable" debt recovery costs -
these are fixed by law and range from 40 GBP to 100 GBP depending
on the size of the debt;
- representative bodies can challenge grossly unfair contractual
terms on behalf of small and medium-sized enterprises;
- calculation of the interest rate has been simplified - instead
of having to find out the base rate applicable on the day the debt
fell due, the rate applicable to debts falling due in the first
half of the year is now 8 percent over the base rate on the
previous 31st December and for debts falling due in the second half
of the year the rate is 8 percent over the base rate on 30th June.
These reference rates can be found on the website
The aim of the legislation was to encourage a
culture of prompt payment, especially for small and medium
enterprises, but suppliers are not required to apply the statutory
rate and it remains to be seen whether small suppliers will feel
able to impose such a rate on large customers.
For further information about the late payment
regime, please contact Alex Smith in London
(firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0)20 7367 3480) or Judith
Aldersey-Williams (email@example.com or on +44
(0)1224 622002) in Aberdeen.