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This may sound like an odd question, but sometimes a business cannot recover a debt because there is a dispute over who the real customer was, and who is liable for the debt. For example, you might know your customer by its business name (eg “Smith’s Garage”), but that won’t necessarily tell you who owns the business, and therefore who is liable to pay the debt that is owed to you.

Customers can be many different kinds of legal entities: a company, an individual, a partnership, a trust, an incorporated society, an unincorporated association etc. You need to be sure what type of legal entity your customer is, and whether the person you are dealing with has authority to enter into a contract with you on behalf of the customer.

If the customer is actually a company or another type of incorporated body, the individual you are dealing with may not be personally liable for the debt, even if you mistakenly believe he or she is the customer. You must find out the full legal name of the customer, and if it is a company or other incorporated body, you may want to get personal guarantees from the individuals involved (such as directors and shareholders). The personal guarantees must be signed by the individuals. It is not sufficient to include a personal guarantee in your terms of trade. You must get it signed by the guarantors.

Taking care of these basic points will help you to recover unpaid debts, and reduce the possibility of a debtor escaping by a technicality.

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