"Prove it!" Debtors often try this simple question as a challenge. It's a way to change the subject and hope you can’t back up any claims. Thankfully evidence can come in many forms. Having a signed contract isn't the only way to show proof. Whether you are involved in business debt recovery or personal debt matters, evidence can create a watertight case.
AYOM faces these questions every day. It's nothing new and we always try to have evidence prepared. Whether your debt relates to work completed, money changing hands to secure something or goods and products, we recommend keeping documents. Not everything has to be signed to paint the true picture.
What counts as evidence?
So what counts? What can be used? What can't be? Depending on the type of debt; there are different rules regarding evidence of debt. Businesses are held to account differently than consumers. The nature of the debt and the evidence is important. Let’s focus on several of them and how they help build your debt recovery case.
The gold standard. This is a necessity in business matters. The basics of contract law require a document of what has been agreed. Who are the parties? What have they agreed? What is being exchanged? What time is to be expected? What are the penalties for not meeting the contract? If you are a sole trader, an SME or providing any service, product or something of value, a contract is advisable. The key to this is they outline exactly what is to be expected and shows an agreement. The signature attached by both parties prevents one party simply backing out (unless attached to a clause).
While not usual in personal matters, some form of written contract ensures both sides know their roles. You don’t have to be a legal expert to create one either with templates available online. When creating a contract, try to ensure there is 1 hard copy and both sides have their own photocopy. During debt recovery, a contract is a great starting point to overcoming disputes. Giving one of these as evidence makes it very difficult to hide from.
Written and signed conversations
What if you don’t have a strict contract? That doesn’t mean something hasn’t been agreed. A good backup is to get agreements down in writing. This can be something stored online but ideally is printed. Even writing up a conversation detailing what has been agreed can be as effective as a contract if it is signed and agreed. For digital agreements, we advise to get email confirmation from the other party.
While you never hope to be owed money beyond a reasonable time, it happens more often than you think. Because of this, setting up safety nets involving both sides is your best way of making it clear what is to happen and what cannot be denied. This is where agreements by handshake or unrecorded conversations struggle. It becomes a matter of hearsay. A classic "he said, she said" situation. To avoid this, find a method which gets confirmation of the matter before engaging in exchanging money, commencing work, or providing products/services.
Social media/WhatsApp chats
While these aren't watertight, the adage "get everything in writing" really does pay off. Social media accounts and phone numbers aren't infallible. They can be hacked or controlled by somebody else. But in general, sustained conversations via these platforms bring about doubts that is an issue.
Keep conversation logs and take screenshots. Many platforms allow users the chance to delete old messages for both people. This means if something is said that is important, a screenshot with details of when the message was sent and by who is vital. Even a simple acknowledgement that money is outstanding, or a text to state "I'll pay you back" indicates a debt is owed.
The point of all these methods is to keep a "paper trail" and have recorded, obvious proof that a debt is valid. The more evidence collected, the stronger your case. Your chances of success rise substantially if you keep a record which includes the other side. It also significantly reduces time taken to recover money on your behalf.
This format can be contentious. There are differing rules for businesses and individuals. A business can record conversations. However, it must be for business purposes. These purposes could be for training, security or otherwise. If you are a business and wish to record conversations, we recommend reading the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000). This act is otherwise known as RIPE (2000).
Should a business debt require legal action, you may wonder if you can use recordings as evidence. While the investigatory powers act prohibits unlawful interceptions, it does not mean you can’t use recordings. Our advice for businesses looking to record conversations is:
- Establish why recordings are being made
- Inform those being recorded why you are recording
- Halt recording if the person does not consent
- Ensure no sensitive information is included in the recording
For B2B companies, this is an easier conundrum as both entities stand on the same legal platform. It is when a business calls consumers that the situation tightens. However, so long as you follow GDPR and the RIPE guidelines, you are in a strong position to utilise recordings.
This one is key for those performing a service or delivering a product. Take pictures of your work if applicable. Are you a sole trader who has carried out a job, or delivered a product to a customer? Many delivery companies now insist on taking an image to show the product inside a house with the recipient in shot. This is to help establish a service has been completed.
As detailed already, documenting the process is your best method of building a case. Record agreements, record work completed, record proof of delivery, proof of work completed. While there is room for disputes or sidesteps such as workmanship disputes or claims of non-delivery, you can do your part and document what you have done. It is hard to argue against raw, unaltered photographs and videos. They don’t need high production values, they need to simply display what has been claimed.
Is there such a thing as "too much"?
When it comes to detailing a transaction, the simple answer is no. If you are taking a risk providing a service, product or exchanging money, you need to play it safe. Have recorded elements of the process. Give yourself the leg up you need should a debt recovery agency get involved. The more information and evidence you can send a debt recovery agency like AYOM, the faster we can bring a resolution. Get rid of the excuses and delays by building a strong case. This, backed up by persistent voices within a debt recovery company, will see your chances of a full collection, faster, increase exponentially.
To speak to a specialist debt adviser, you can call 0800 130 3357 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.