Tracing is a highly specialised and skilled activity which has to be undertaken with due regard to the Data Protection Act 1998.
Obtaining the correct information from the start
There are obvious steps a business must take to avoid a tracing/gone-away situation occurring. Start by getting complete and correct contact details for every customer via a proper Account Opening Form. This must include the correct address and telephone details which you should double check against alternative sources, such as the Yellow Pages. In the case of a limited company, request the full Limited name and registration number; and for a proprietorship/partnership, ensure that you take private address details and telephone numbers.
Using a Credit Reference Agency to check the credit viability of new and existing customers will often throw up any address anomalies which can then be double checked directly with your customer.
Regular contact with your existing customers, particularly those with outstanding debts, will mean that you quickly become aware if a debtor relocates. Do not just issue invoices to customers and wait for their payment to arrive! Contact them by phone to enquire politely whether your invoices have been received, and in doing so, you can verify that the address and telephone details you have are still accurate.
Further information can be gained from your delivery operations. Ask your delivery staff to alert you to anything suspicious about the way goods or services are delivered e.g. whether or not the customer insists on collecting the goods, without adequate verification of their trading addresses.
Remember, the longer you leave an overdue debt, the more difficult it becomes to recover, and the more likely you are to find yourself in a situation where the debtor is not contactable.
If a letter is returned via Royal Mail marked 'Addressee Not Known' or 'No longer at this Address', NEVER ASSUME that this is actually the case as many practised debtors simply return a letter as 'Gone Away' to give themselves more time.
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