Prevent your invoice from being prescribed

There really is something like a prescription period for an invoice. So it's important to take action as quickly as possible once the payment date has passed. Do you have an old, unpaid B2B invoice sitting on your desk that you'd still like to collect? Read more about the prescription of business invoices here.

Due invoice

We talk about a 'due invoice' when the due date has come and gone. Unless you've reached a different agreement with your customer, it is standard for this payment period to be 30 days from the day after receipt. As of that date you have the right to collect your money by legal means. It's best not to wait too long, because the later you take action, the smaller the chances of payment.

Prescription of an invoice

A prescribed invoice is no longer valid. This means that your customer's payment obligation expires after a certain period has passed. Exactly how long that period is, depends on the type of invoice.

Invoices for consumers (B2C) are only valid for 1 year. In a business context (B2B), invoices have a prescription period of 10 years. Furthermore, there are also a number of special periods for certain types of contracts, e.g. for gas, water, electricity (5 years), hospital invoice (2 years), etc.

Let's focus more closely on business invoices.

Can I collect a prescribed invoice?

From the legal perspective, once the prescription period has passed you no longer have an enforceable right to collect the invoice. Your customer's legal obligation to pay essentially just vanished into thin air... Should you ever attempt to collect a business invoice that is more than 10 years old, your customer can raise the defence of 'prescription' in court. Of course, you can still always try to get a payment via further reminders or telephone calls, but a court proceeding is out of the question at that point.

Prevent prescription of your invoice via interruption

You can extend the prescription period of an invoice by 'interrupting' its prescription. In that case the prescription period starts to run all over again from day one. A business invoice which – for example – is 9 years old will then be collectible for another full 10 years. So most business invoices are in practice exigible up to 20 years after the date – if you interrupt on time.

How do you interrupt the prescription of an invoice?

You can interrupt an invoice by passing it on to Unpaid sometime within that first prescription period. At the moment that the bailiff sends a formal notice of default, this extends the period by another 10 years.

Suspension of the prescription period

In some cases the prescription period can be suspended. This means that the prescription period of the invoice simply stops running for a certain period. When the cause for the suspension disappears, the prescription period will begin running again from the same point where it stood prior to the suspension.

Don't let it get that far...

A golden rule: don't allow unpaid invoices to become prescribed. Take action immediately as soon as the payment date has passed. A quick reaction is the best guarantee that you'll obtain your money.

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