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Can I reclaim goods from a customer that does not pay?

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If you have provided goods to a customer and that customer refuses to pay, then you are within your rights to just go and take those goods back, right? You might think so but thanks to the Sale of Goods Act 1979, it is not nearly as clear cut as that.

The 38 year old law states that once ‘goods’ have been ‘delivered’, the ‘title’ or ownership of those goods passes to the customer, which makes retrieving them yourself more than a little murky, legally speaking.

It can be a very frustrating situation especially when you have provided goods or a service in good faith, then you have a customer who has the temerity to fob you off for payment.

Criminal Act

As the goods now no longer belong to you, to attempt to recover them yourself would be considered an act of theft and possibly include trespassing, which could land you with a police record.

If you are a tradesman such as a plumber or electrician, the goods you have supplied may have been ‘installed’, so ‘uninstalling’ (which is a euphemism for ‘ripping something out’) is treated as criminal damage should you, or anyone acting on your behalf, do so.

It is really not a good idea as you may well land yourself in trouble however frustrating the situation may be.

Perishable Goods

Another factor to consider when attempting to recover goods are the logistics of actually doing so. If the act of recovering those goods could ‘spoil’ them and in doing so decrease their value or damage them, then you have to ask yourself if you are acting out of spite or for business reasons?

Are there steps I can take?

A ‘retention of title’ clause in the contract of sale can be of use in these circumstances, as it states that the ‘title’ only transfers to the customer upon full payment. In truth however, this is difficult to enforce and does not guarantee that you will be successful however it may be an option to pursue.

Vet your customers – The savvy move when offering credit or ‘terms’ is to vet your customers before a sale is made and to keep on top of late invoices, delivering payment reminders at set intervals and passing the problem to a specialist Debt Collection service once an impasse has been reached.

Seek Professional Help

If you find yourself in the situation where you are owed money by a client or business that just will not pay, one of your first steps should be to seek Professional assistance. A Professional Debt Collection Agency will guide you through the issue, offering advice throughout on how to best proceed to find a solution.

In Summary

There are measures that you can take before, during and after encountering an issue with non payment. Do your homework on your customers, put payment procedures in place and above all protect yourself. If you do not then you could find yourself with a nasty taste in your mouth or even a criminal record.

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