Small businesses rely heavily on maintaining a good cash flow and having their clients pay on time. So when half of the UK’s small businesses are suffering from poor cash flow that is bad news for small businesses.

Recent research shows that small, medium and large companies have had many bounced cheques. Micro companies, with less than 10 employees, have been less affected.

One way in which this can happen is when someone pays a business by cheque for goods or services. The business pays it into their bank. The prudent business owner checks that the cheque has cleared and writes out new cheques based on the money that is in the business bank account. It later turns out that the cheque hadn’t cleared at all and the business owner is now overdrawn and in debt. This means steep bank charges and makes it less likely that business facilities will be extended in the future.

Understanding The Cheque Clearing System

Most people know that a cheque takes anywhere from three to seven working days to clear. The date that a cheque clears depends on:

  1. The currency that the cheque is in. Sterling cheques in the UK clear more quickly than cheques in French francs, for example.
  2. Whether the bank that has issued the cheque is in the same group of companies as the bank the cheque is being paid into. Cheques usually take longer to clear when paid outside the banking group.
  3. Whether the cheque is paid in on a business day.

What most people don’t know is that most banks ‘clear’ cheques when the normal clearing period has elapsed. This sometimes happens before the bank has verified that the funds are available. The bank makes the amount of the cheque available for withdrawal but it hasn’t really cleared.

Some unscrupulous people can use this to their advantage. For example, they could pay by cheque for goods or services, write the wrong amount on the cheque, ask for a refund and disappear with the money well before the cheque clearing process is complete. When the original cheque bounces, it is the small business that is left facing an angry bank manager and a large bill.

Payment Help For Businesses

Luckily, there are other ways for businesses to receive money from their customers. The first is the Banks Automated Clearing System (BACS). This is a secure system in which payments take only three days to clear. This system is commonly used to pay salary cheques directly to employee’s bank accounts.

A more costly system (with fees around £25 per transaction) is the Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS). This system allows same day electronic money transfers.

Business owners who are worried about being left with a large debt should consider getting their customers to pay by one of these systems where possible. This will reduce the high business cost of bounced cheques.

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