The advice given to creditors generally is that once their own procedures have failed to produce the money owed, the matter should then be passed to the specialists for collection.
Solicitors are often considered one of the specialists for debt recovery, provided that the action taken is efficient and objective.
Belfast firm White McMillan & Wheeler recently compiled a list of the various factors affecting the selection of a firm of solicitors for debt recovery, which also prove relevant generally.
The most important factors in any debt recovery are: efficiency; professional and/or technical expertise; calibre of personnel; integrity; speed of response; availability; consistent quality of service; good working relationships; knowledge of the particular market sector and good understanding of the client's needs.
The least important factors are: international connections and/or experience; personal recommendation; previous use; convenience of location; proactive approach; wide range of specialisms; high reputation, costs and fees; commercial awareness; commitment and enthusiasm.
One of the important steps in debt recovery is to choose the right proceedings. There is a choice between High Court, County Court and insolvency proceedings.
In the High Court, the proceedings must be issued by solicitors, and most solicitors issue writs over £600 as there is little difference between the High Court and County Court in debt actions.
In the County Court, the jurisdiction is now up to £15,000 (inclusive of interest), and is considered nominally cheaper, although the procedure tends to be a little slower than that in the High Court.
And. more importantly, if the case goes to trial then the costs are significantly lower than in the High Court.
Insolvency proceedings are, of course, a drastic option and are a comparatively expensive procedure because of a number of mandatory disbursements, including the Official Receiver's deposit of £270.
A comparison of the available debt recovery procedures in the courts and also in other jurisdictions is becoming necessary in the light of the recent creation of an international network of solicitors firms involved in debt recovery, as detailed in the adjacent box.
In Northern Ireland, it is anticipated that Belfast firm Hewitt Gilpin will be signing up to the network.