LATE payment is a perennial problem for businesses large and small.
Firms and individuals failing to pay their bills promptly can create serious problems for their suppliers.
In the worst cases, companies can go bust as non-payment plays havoc with their own cash flow.
It is a scenario Clare Tollick knows all too well – and a situation she is resolved to tackle on behalf of her clients at Huddersfield law firm Armitage Sykes.
Clare is debt recovery manager at the firm. She was recruited to set up and lead the department following a decision to take a more pro-active role in tackling tardy payers.
And she is in no doubt that companies must get tough when they are owed money for their products and services.
“We still find it is something a lot of businesses don’t like to talk about,” says Clare.
“They don’t like to deal with it because it involves confrontation They push it to one side and let the matter slide.
“In such cases, it is better to instruct someone to deal with it for you.
“But late payment should never be ignored. It is extremely important. It is the reason people go into business – to get paid.”
Debtors often come up with excuses for not paying promptly. How often have creditors been told “the cheque’s in the post” or “the financial director’s on holiday and nobody else is authorised to sign cheques”?
Says Clare: “I have a good deal of experience in these matters and I know how debtors think. I know all the tricks in the book.
“But debtors should understand that they cannot mess around when it comes to paying up. They should respect their creditors.”
She adds: “It is amazing what a solicitor’s letter can do! The debtor soon knows we mean business.”
But she acknowledges: “There is a lot of bad debt about at the moment. Creditors have to be as pro-active as possible.
“I do whatever the client wants me to do. If they want to take a ‘soft’ approach we can enter into negotiating settlement terms. if they want to take a more bullish approach, that’s fine.
“I will advise how best to deal with the debtor. Whatever the approach, it has to be effective because firms don’t want to throw good money after bad.
“I would even advise on liquidating a company – but that would be a last resort for most clients because the chances of recovering a debt are much reduced.
“I aim to ensure the client has the best chance possible of recovering the debt.”
Sheffield-born Clare grew up in Pontefract, but she returned to the Steel City where she gained a degree in English at Sheffield Hallam University.
She worked for British Coal Insurers dealing with compensation claims from miners before joining Wake Smith, a firm of solicitors in the city, where she worked for seven-and-a-half years and qualified as a legal executive.
Clare spent four-and-a-half years specialising in commercial litigation, working with businesses ranging from sole traders, SMEs and blue chip companies and dealing with issues relating to property and insolvency – and debt recovery.
“I enjoy working in litigation,” says Clare. “It is always interesting because you are dealing with quite tense situations and I like the pace of it.
“You can be dealing with anything – a property dispute or a breach of contract.
“You have to have a good general knowledge of every area of law.
“You are also working closely with commercial clients and you need to understand their business needs.
“Every business is different and every case is different.”
Clare joined Armitage Sykes earlier this year when the firm was looking to set up a debt recovery department.
“I had managed a department before and I had the experience and the knowledge,” she says.
“The department has been up and running for a month and we are already making headway.
“There are a lot of good businesses struggling because they are not getting paid.
“The advice we give them is based on a substantial amount of experience.
“We have developed two fee packages – a fixed fee package and a no-win-no-fee package which are competitive with what’s on offer elsewhere.”
Clare is happy in her new role. “Armitage Sykes is a great firm to be working at.
“It is a bit smaller than Wake Smith, but that’s nice because you get to know people really quickly and the partners are really friendly.”
Clare admits that she always wanted to be a writer – an ambitious she has realised through her passion for food!
She writes two “foodie” blogs – one of her own and another for a Sheffield-based listings magazine called Exposed, which is aimed for twenty and thirtysomethings.
Her weekly blogs include restaurant reviews and articles on topics such as the problems facing the pig and dairy industries.
“Food is a passion,” says Clare. “I base quite a lot of my life around food – even holidays! I love Rome and Barcelona because I love the food.
“I do my research on restaurants and if the food is bad where we are going on holiday I’m not keen on going at all!
“Food reflects the culture of the country. In Italy and Spain, they make time for family meals. We don’t seem to do that here – probably because we are all too busy.
“I like cooking, but I wouldn’t want to work as a chef. I would quickly start to hate cooking – especially if I was working for Gordon Ramsay. It would be a chore rather than a pleasure!
“But cooking for friends is something I really enjoy. I love having people round and being the hostess.”
Clare still lives in Sheffield and commutes by car to her job in Huddersfield.
She lives in a city centre apartment. “It is a new building slap bang in the city centre,” she says. “It’s certainly good for restaurants. I can’t remember the last time I had to take a taxi home!
“But I’m getting around the restaurants in Huddersfield to see what they’re like. I’ve heard about the Huddersfield Food Festival and I’m looking forward to that. It will all find its way onto my blog.”
Clare’s also discovered Yummy Yorkshire ice cream. The dairy at Denby Dale is on her route home, so its difficult to resist calling in. “I highly recommend their Chilli Jam Man ice cream,” says Clare. “It’s cool, but it has a bit of a kick.”