Guides & Advice

Improving cash collection – every little helps

In a world where cash is king, cash flow is all important to ensuring the survival of any business, which has been bought into even sharper focus now in our new COVID-19 world.  Whether your business is sailing smoothly, treading water or struggling during these tough economic times, having a reliable collection strategy is integral to remaining solvent.

What is a cash collection strategy?

A cash collection strategy is one way to ensure that your accounts receivable (money in) stays under control and you continue to collect your cash and a collection strategy sets a particular standard and a set of processes on how to collect your money from people who owe you money for goods or services.

The problems cash flow can cause

Many businesses do not realise just how much cash is NOT flowing. The key to the future of a business can be tied up in just that process – the gap between money out and money in, and to enable your business to survive you need to make sure that the people who owe you money for goods pay you on time.  Not receiving monies on time for goods and services, means you may well not have the money to pay your bills and staff and is a fundamental requirement for a successful business.

It’s time therefore to review your cash collections strategy.

As a business you can set your own payment terms.  Many small businesses and sole traders submit invoices which are payable on presentation.  Other common terms of business are seven days, 14, 28 or 30 days.  However this means you should have the cash in your account by that date.  This is not the timescale that you should then use to start a collection process to chase cash.

All too often, invoicing and chasing cash is not given the focus it needs and particularly when a business is in trouble, this needs to change and quickly.

Steps to take to improve your cash collection
  • Review your overall invoicing and cash collection strategy and ensure that it is someone’s responsibility within the business to manage this most vital of tasks. Sometimes this job is given to reception staff or office administrators and often it will not be done properly or in a timely manner. Asking people for money is difficult so ensure adequate training is given to enable them to do the job properly and well.  If you have a credit controller this is their job to manage this process proactively.
  • Review your whole process carefully. What is your process?  Is it too long?  Is it fit for purpose?   Make the changes needed.
  • As a business you should not be waiting until a payment is due to start chasing that debt. If you know when your customers set their payment run, call your customer to check that payment is on the next run. This can often be done under the guise of a customer care call – are they happy with the product/service etc.
  • Do not send a statement by mail as the next communication, this will not encourage payment. Send an email invoice reminder.
  • Call the customer and ask when you can expect to receive payment – after all this is your money. If there is an issue with the goods, be prepared to sort this out.  However this should not prevent a customer paying for the goods that are correct, so push for a part payment.
  • Keep calling your customers at regular intervals until you receive payment. Customers will almost certainly divide invoices into urgent and ‘can wait’.  If you keep calling, you keep your invoice top of their list.
  • Develop good relationships with the credit control team at your larger customers.
  • If payment is not forthcoming get in touch with your actual business contact – they may be able to expedite payment as they are not close to the accounts team.

If payment is still not forthcoming do not delay in starting the formal proceedings and contact a debt collection expert. If you work with the correct third party, they will support you in the collection of your debts, without damaging your reputation.

What else can I do to help with cash collection

Review your terms of business.  When many businesses start out it is often the case that the terms of business can be a slight afterthought, often ‘borrowed’ from somewhere else or found on the web. In order for a business to claim all monies due to them, it’s vital to ensure your terms are drafted correctly and includes several very key elements.

An important thing to consider is:

  • Do your terms of business do what you think they do?
  • Do they allow you to recover your goods if your customer becomes insolvent?
  • Do you have an enforceable retention of title clause within your terms of business?
  • Do your terms of business allow you to recover collection costs or claim contractual interest on overdue invoices?

If you are in any doubt we can review your terms of business, ensure they are drafted correctly and review your cash collections strategy ensuring you are in the best position to ensure your cash keep flowing.

Contact us

For further help in developing a cash collection strategy contact Jayne Gardner or another member of the debt recovery team in your local office.

For legal support in relation to the coronavirus or any other matter, get in touch with your team today.

We have launched our guide to recovery and resilience, helping to support businesses and individuals unlock their potential, navigate their way out of lockdown and make way for a brighter future. Further advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.

From inspirational SHMA Talks to informative webinars, we have lots of educational and entertaining content for life and business visit SHMA® ON DEMAND.

How can we help?

Our expert lawyers are ready to help you with a wide range of legal services, use the search below or call us on: 0330 024 0333

SHMA® ON DEMAND

Listen to our SHMA® ON DEMAND content covering a broad range of topics to help support you and your business.

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Your guide to recovery and resilience

Private wealth, family businesses and family

Your guide to recovery & resilience | Private wealth, family businesses and family

Screenshot 2020-05-27 at 11.18.02

The effects of COVID-19 will undoubtedly have a huge impact on our economy for years to come, with many businesses collapsing under the strain and the level of unemployment set to rise significantly. However, what is less widely reported on is the effect it is having, and will continue to have, on personal wealth. We’ve already seen that the pandemic has led to an increase in people looking at how they may pass on their wealth to the next generation – and even more so for those that own family businesses.

The uncertainty of what’s to come is understandably keeping many people awake at night but, whilst the scope of what our future may look like is still evolving, one aspect that can be controlled is putting measures and provisions in place to plan for the future and protect the wealth of you and your family. As we all try to pick up from where we left off, there are plenty of opportunities out there for effective wealth planning that will make a real difference.

Wills

Review your existing will 
It’s a good idea to regularly review an existing will, particularly if circumstances change such as entering into new relationships, having children or acquiring new assets.

Make a will 
If you don’t already have a will then you should look to put one in place. Begin putting your thoughts down on paper so you can gain a better understanding of your position and the provisions you may wish to make.

Executors of your will 
Decide on who you would wish to appoint as your executives and trustees to administer your will. Choose the right people for the role – you shouldn’t simply appoint people just because they are family and you feel a sense of obligation.

Guardians 
If you have children under the age of 18, consider appointing a guardian who will take over a parental responsibility. Family heirlooms and specified assets - Consider whether you wish to leave specific items of personal belongings, or indeed specific sums of money, to named individuals or charities.

Funeral wishes 
Although not legally binding, if you have a preference for how you wish your funeral to be carried out, and/or have strong wishes in relation to cremation or burial, then you should consider including instructions within your will. Investments – Seek advice about how a change in the investment market, particularly one where asset values are decreasing, could be a good time to make estate planning decisions.

Powers of attorney

Appoint attorneys
Make sure an ordinary power of attorney, and/or lasting powers of attorney in relation to both your finances and your health and welfare, are in place for you and for family members who do not already have them. Ideally, these should be prepared at the same time as preparing a will.

Appoint people you trust
Ensure that the people you trust the most can help you if ever you’re unable to make decisions relating to your property and financial affairs, personal health or welfare.

Specific powers 
Consider whether you wish for your attorneys to have wide-ranging general powers, which would enable them to manage all your property and financial affairs entirely on your behalf, or have more specific and restricted powers to carry out a particular task or transaction.

Tax saving opportunities

Capital gains tax (CGT)
If the value of your assets have decreased then now may be a good time to make gifts of those assets. As an asset value decreases, then so does the impact of CGT. Our blog on protecting your wealth during a period of uncertainty provides advice on how you can make the most of a falling market.

Inheritance tax
Inheritance tax can arise not only on death, but can also be triggered in certain circumstances when lifetime gifts are made. As with CGT, the tax is based on the value at the time the asset is gifted. You should explore opportunities to make lifetime gifts either to individuals, companies or through trust structures, whilst asset values are depressed.

Future changes in taxation
Any abolition or amendment of tax reliefs and measures could result in significantly higher taxes and a reduction in the options available. Therefore, you should act now and plan ahead. Read our thoughts on the types of taxation that could be affected, further down the line.

Donate to a charity
Gifts to registered charities are exempt from inheritance tax, both in your lifetime and on death. Gifts can be made directly or, if you want to be more actively involved, you can set up a charitable trust either during your lifetime or under your will.

Family businesses

Protecting wealth
Now may be a good time to reorganise the share capital of family businesses to create different levels of shares, reorganising them in a way that satisfies all parties in relation to reward and control, whilst potentially mitigating any one or more of inheritance tax, capital gains tax and income tax.

Loss of capacity
Consider making lasting powers of attorney specifically relating to your business role, or reviewing existing ones to ensure that important decisions can still continue to be made should you become incapacitated.

Family matters

Court hearings
If you have a case that has already been listed then check that arrangements have been/are being made to hold this remotely. If you are the applicant then the responsibility for making these arrangements falls to your solicitors. If you do not have solicitor representation yet then the respondent’s solicitors will need to make these arrangements. Our blog on remote court hearings gives an overview of how these work in practice.

Child arrangements
If your child’s time is usually divided between yourself and another parent then that child should continue to see both parents (subject to any restrictions which may override those existing arrangements, such as households having to self-isolate with COVID-19 symptoms). Take a common-sense and co-operative approach to making and adhering to arrangements during this difficult time. However, if you’re unable to reach an agreement with your co-parent, speak to a solicitor to negotiate and settle the arrangements on your behalf, or if that doesn’t work, they can make an application to the Family Court. Watch the recording of our recent webinar on maintaining child arrangements during COVID-19.

Financial settlements
If you’re in the middle of negotiations then it is likely that the disclosure you have already exchanged reflects a much healthier previous financial position. Considerations should be given to existing valuations, and also if there has been a sudden change of income, as this is likely to negatively impact access to capital. Our blog on the impact of coronavirus on financial settlements explains the position where it looks likely that one party may be declared bankrupt in the near future.

Contact us
In response to the pandemic we created our coronavirus hub which includes advice, guidance and insight to help you navigate through these uncertain times. As we all begin to adapt and prepare for the future, our hub will evolve to provide you with further help and resources for surviving, reviving and beginning to thrive in life and business, throughout the challenging times ahead.

Our free legal helpline offers bespoke guidance on a range of subjects, from employment and general business matters through to director’s responsibilities, insolvency, restructuring, funding and disputes. We also have a team of experts on hand for any queries on family and private matters too. Available from 10am-12pm Monday to Friday, call 0800 689 4064.

For legal support in relation to the coronavirus or any other matter, get in touch with your team today.

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Many well-run family operations have managed to avoid too much hardship over the past few months by keeping an eye on cash flow. However, with Brexit and a general election on the horizon, potential buyers are still choosing to hold back until the situation is clearer.

Nevertheless, this slowed enthusiasm from investors should not be seen as an excuse for business owners to sit back and await its return. Instead it provides the perfect opportunity to make the business as attractive as possible.

Regardless of the route a business owner might be thinking of taking, be it a trade sale or management buy-out, there are a number of areas that must be considered in order to ensure that the highest possible value is gained from the sale.

Business health check:

It is hard to predict what 2020 has in store for all organisations, not just family businesses. Therefore, if an exit is likely to be on the cards, planning ahead will continue to be crucial to a successful sale.

Find out more about our corporate team or for further advice and guidance on corporate and family business matters, a member of our team can walk you through everything. Click here to discuss.

However, there are a host of benefits that the process can provide, especially for those businesses facing complications.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a voluntary form of dispute resolution, where an impartial third-party facilitator helps people to find their own solutions. A final decision is never forced onto the participants, with the mediator there only to guide those involved through the various options available to them.

It is particularly effective in situations where power imbalances and deadlocks between family members must be overcome.

What disputes can it solve?

Mediation can be effective for the majority of family business disputes, including:

Succession planning

Bringing new people into the business

Diversification

Once a persistent issue begins to get out of hand, mediation should be considered.

How much control do participants have?

.. Mediation allows the participants to have ownership of the process, and in what can be emotive circumstances, this can make all the difference. They can adjust the amount spent on sessions, the time scale the sessions are held over, and who takes part in the discussions.

What does the process look like?

Although emotionally challenging, the process itself is simple. To assess whether a case is suitable for mediation, mediators speak to each party separately first. If it is suitable, a joint session is arranged, the main topics for discussion are identified, and an agenda is created. Flip charts are used to allow the situation to be visualised and contrasting opinions are talked through. Mediation will usually comprise of three to five sessions spread over a few weeks.

How to ensure mediation is a success

An open mind is vital for families entering into mediation. Unless participants are willing to listen to the opinions of others without instant disregard, there is no point in them taking part in the process. Everyone must also feel comfortable with the mediator, as they need to be happy sharing their honest views in front of this person.

When people are living and working with family members, it can be difficult to separate the two worlds. However, mediation can stop disputes from carrying over into family life, ensuring bonds are maintained and businesses continue successfully.

For further advice around mediation, contact Nikki Aston on 0115 945 3731 or any member of our family team, or click here to get in touch.

For example, it could be for tradition’s sake or it could be due to a lack of understanding of the alternative options available. However, not every family successor will want to take on the responsibility and may take over the business, only to sell on immediately without the consent of the previous owners. Founder shares offer a possible solution to this problem.

Duncan James, our head of family business, has created a guide to explain the protection that founder shares provide and how to ensure a smooth succession process.

What are founder shares?

Founder shares can be issued to the current owner or incorporated into a trust. They are a group of shares that give a minority group of family members the ability to control the future of a business. As well as preventing the sale of a business without the previous generation’s consent, they also require the successors to buy out the previous owners over time.

Considering introducing founder shares should be done as early into the succession process as possible.

Ensuring a seamless succession:

1. Think ahead – Succession is not an overnight process. Aim to look five or six years ahead when beginning the process, as this makes it far more tax efficient. If this isn’t done, successors can face heavy tax liabilities.

2. Assess what control you want to retain – Choosing which family member is to become successor is a decision that needs careful thought. Once selected, owners can identify the necessary protections and decide how other stakeholders will benefit. If external shareholders are to be involved, looking into specific share classes, such as growth shares, that can act as an incentive for them to grow the business with the successor is a wise move. Founder shares also help to maintain a level of control through stopping family members being removed from the board or the business by new shareholders, unless the specific class of shares agree.

3. Communicate – The succession process should not come as a surprise to those who are to be involved. As soon as the thought of succession arises, discussions need to be had with the family to ensure the wishes of the owner manager are known. Failure to do this can lead to animosity and significant tax issues for the successor.

4. Seek legal advice – Specifically seek advice from a professional experienced in family business law and succession issues. Succession is a sensitive topic that requires an understanding as well as knowledgeable approach. Professionals can advise on protections such as founder shares and help to keep tensions low.

If preventions, such as founder shares, are not implemented, successors are within their rights to immediately sell on a family business. In order to ensure a business keeps its family roots, discussing any doubts the potential successor has and considering founder shares at an early stage is vital.

Kuldeep Chauhan, an associate in our family team, discusses how forethought and communication can prevent a whole host of issues.

One topic that the majority of people find hard to bring up is the possibility of a relationship not working out. Nobody wants to think about break-ups, but they are always a possibility, no matter how impossible it seems at the beginning. However, if a person plans to live with their partner or get married to them, broaching the topic is vital.

Talking about pre-existing assets before entering into a housing contract or marriage is important. It allows agreements to be made, such as living or pre-nuptial agreements, giving people a level of protection over their assets. These agreements clearly lay out which assets will remain the property of the individual and which will be shared, avoiding arguments at an already stressful time.

It may also be worth considering creating a Declaration of Trust. Individuals can allocate trustees to manage any monies gifted to them from parents of family, or any property that is owned prior to the relationship commencing. This ensures the individual’s assets remain theirs.

Talking openly about finances and property can be uncomfortable, but not doing so can lead to animosity and issues in the future. Wanting to protect personal assets is not something to be ashamed of. It’s time to tackle the taboo.

If the parents cannot reach an agreement regarding the arrangements for the children, either between themselves or via solicitors, it will be open to either party to make an application to court. When a party makes an application to court, the Judge will appoint a designated social worker – known as a Cafcass officer – to the case.

In March 2019, Cafcass received 4,166 new private law children act cases, representing an 18 percent increase on March 2018. This increase would suggest that more and more separating couples are using the courts as a way to resolve arrangements for their children.

Issuing an application at court to resolve a dispute regarding the children can be an extremely daunting, stressful and emotional time. The process can be lengthy and time consuming and some cases can take years to conclude. It is always best, if at all possible, to try and reach an agreement outside of the court arena. Having said that, there will always be cases which do require court intervention.

If you have an ongoing children act dispute or require advice regarding the process of making an application for a child arrangements order, please get in touch with our family team.

According to statistics from Resolution, there are over 100,000 divorces in England and Wales each year and unreasonable behaviour applications are the most common ground pleaded.

Divorce is always hard and having to show fault most definitely raises the tensions between the couple and can hinder negotiations regarding the financial matters and the arrangements for any children of the family.

There has been a mood for family law reform within the legal industry and the general public for some time now. Resolution’s statistics also show that a whopping 71 percent of the population agrees that no fault divorce is desperately needed to protect the long-term interests of any children, protecting them from some of the hurt and upheaval which divorces can cause.

It is therefore extremely welcome news that new legislation has been announced by Justice Secretary, David Gauke, designed to overhaul divorce and reduce family conflict. This is a massive step forward for divorce law reform and it is hoped that in the very near future, couples will be able to issue a divorce application without having to ‘blame’ the other party, reducing the negative impact of conflict on the children and other family members.

If the deceased is involved in the family business, this can become far trickier. Debra Burton, an associate in our contentious probate team explains the main reasons why disputes arise and what can be done to limit the impact on the family business.

1. The deceased intentions haven’t been communicated

The business will form part of the deceased’s estate and will pass under their will or, if there is no will, in accordance with the rules of intestacy. Other family members may be involved in that business and so they are likely to be very interested in what happens to it. Hopefully, the deceased will have already planned for the future and taken proper legal advice about who should inherit the family business and the most tax efficient way of doing so. However, the testator may find it awkward to have the conversation about what is to happen to their assets after their death and so will leave it to others to sort out. The family members may each feel that they know what the deceased would have wanted and how best to interpret their wishes which could lead to a dispute. It is always a good idea to communicate to beneficiaries and the wider family at the earliest opportunity but that often does not happen.

2. Promises were made and not kept

Despite the best efforts and intentions of the deceased, there may be a disappointed family member who is not happy about who is due to inherit the business. This is often the case where one family member has worked in the family business for a long time, such as a partner or joint shareholder, on the basis of promises or an unspoken understanding that they would inherit it upon the deceased’s death.

A family member may claim that the business had been promised to them long before the will was made, and they could argue that the deceased had a duty to honour that promise and were not free to leave the business to anyone else other than them.

It can come as a real shock that the business has been left to someone else who in their eyes may not deserve it. This can cause feelings of resentment, bewilderment, envy and anger towards the deceased and the intended beneficiary.

3. The deceased capacity was in question

A disgruntled family member may allege that the will (or the life time transfer of the business) is not valid because the deceased did not have capacity at the time to make it. This is a very common allegation if the individual was particularly old or unwell. Whilst the deceased may have felt it was perfect timing to sort out their affairs, the disappointed family members could view it differently. They may not accept that the deceased had good reasons for making the will and may use age or illness as evidence that they were unwell and vulnerable at the time it was made and so wasn’t valid.

4. Reasonable financial provision was not considered

Alternatively, the family member may accept that the will is valid but believe that it doesn’t make reasonable provision for them based on their individual circumstances and they should have received more from the deceased’s estate.

What happens if a family member challenges the will?

A dispute from a family member has the potential to unravel the deceased’s wishes and create uncertainty for the family business. If any claim is made against the estate the final ownership of the business interest will remain in limbo until that claim is resolved. If the deceased was the majority shareholder in the business, then this could mean that decisions requiring shareholder approval could also be on hold.

The first step that a disappointed beneficiary is likely to take is to prevent the executors from getting a grant of probate. Without a grant of probate, the executors may not be able to deal with the business interest. Ordinarily the executors would have the authority to run the business until it is sold or transferred. However, if the will appointing those executors has been challenged by a disappointed family member, then it is unlikely that they will be happy to allow those executors to run the show whilst the dispute is being sorted out.

How long does a will challenge take?

Will challenges can take many months if not years to be resolved, especially in cases where there is a large amount of hostility between the parties. If there is no one who can make decisions on behalf of the business in the interim (such as those who have access to the bank account) then the business’ reputation could suffer and at worst, the business could fail.

What can be done to prevent a dispute?

Whilst it is not possible to prevent a claim being made against an estate by a disappointed beneficiary entirely, the individual considering making a will can take steps to minimise the risk by taking proper legal advice at the start to help to reduce problems later down the line. The solicitor instructed to draft the will can check that the individual has capacity to make such decisions and they should make a detailed written note setting out what the individual’s instructions were for their will and the reasons.

A solicitor should also enquire about any promises that may have been made to others about the business interest or any family members who may have a financial provision claim. The will can therefore address the choices and a note of explanation can be provided to form invaluable evidence should a dispute later arise. Prior communication with the family is also advisable.

If a claim is made against an estate involving a family business, acting quickly and taking specialist advice is key. All the parties should aim to agree on the appointment of an independent administrator to get an interim grant as soon as possible. Whilst the beneficiaries are left to fight it out between themselves, the independent administrator can make the key decisions to ensure the business’ survival and ensure that there is still something left worth fighting about.

The independent, not-for-profit awards recognise family businesses across the Midlands who have demonstrated innovation, growth and performance, with the service excellence award celebrating those who that go above and beyond to deliver exceptional service for their customers.

Read more about the awards here

We work with family businesses of all sizes and across all sectors, delivering a broad range of specialist legal services. Our experienced team are able to help family members to reach agreements, set long-term goals, establish a dynamic business strategy and futureproof their business for future generations.