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Payment when payment is due

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A FORMER receptionist always said to clients who had ‘forgotten’ their wallets: ‘You wouldn't be able to walk out of Tesco without paying for your shopping, so why do you think you can do it here?’. It's a relevant point, although it is much easier for small animal clinics to extract money from clients before they leave the premises than it is for large animal and equine vets to persuade their clients to pay the monthly bill. Obviously, there are some who make a bank transfer or post a cheque the very same day that our invoice lands on their doormat, but some can be particularly difficult to pin down for payment.

In days gone by we used to send our mild-mannered practice partner round in his battered old car to have a cup of tea with the miscreants, mutter something apologetically about school fees and mortgages, and nine times out of 10 he'd return with a cheque that the debtor had handed over out of sheer guilt.

However, times are changing, margins are smaller and accounting practices have had to become correspondingly tighter. I also find that with my increasing years comes a decreasing tolerance for people trying to put off paying their bill for yet another month. As a result, I have had to come up with some inventive ways to collect our dues.

Which is probably how I found myself nonchalantly leaning on the bonnet of my car enjoying the spring sunshine the other day; my car which just happened to be parked so as to effectively block in a racehorse trainer's lorry and prevent it from leaving his yard. This was a morning on which he had several runners due to depart for a nearby race meeting. My argument was simple. I would continue to enjoy the sunshine in this inconvenient (for him) position until such time as he saw fit to pay his long-outstanding bill. Whether or not he was able to leave for the races on time was of no concern to me. I had nowhere better to be and was happy to sit it out. He stalked off to his office and slammed the door. Ten minutes later his secretary emerged with my cheque and I was only too happy to move my car and enable him to get on with his business.

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A bit more of a challenge was provided by a five-stage vetting and full set of radiographs for an overseas client. Somehow, this client had managed to slip through our ‘all vettings must be paid for up front’ net and he had stopped answering his phone or responding to my e-mails. All in all, he was proving rather tricky to track down. As the horse had spectacularly failed the vetting with more chips on its x-rays than you'd find in a fast food bar, I couldn't even employ my usual tactic of holding the x-ray images and vetting certificate hostage until the money was in our account. He wouldn't be buying the horse, so he had no need for either. However, this client happened to be a professional show-jumper with an unusual name, and it was but a few minute's work to track him down via his prolific social media postings. And it was the work of a few more minutes to send him a message via Facebook suggesting that he might find it rather embarrassing if his owners and sponsors were to find out about his disappearing act when it came to paying his bills. Now, obviously, client confidentiality would have prevented me from actually pursuing this route, but he can't have realised that, as the very next morning he rang us with his credit card details and the bill was settled.

I have to admit that I enjoy the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction of the victory in these cases, but it is probably fortunate that they are relatively few and far between. I suspect the novelty would soon wear off if I were to swap vetting for full-time debt collecting. If only everyone could pay their bills promptly then there would be no need for my Machiavellian tactics, but I guess the equine world in particular will always be full of such irritating ‘characters’. As our receptionist was also fond of quoting, ‘A man who pays his bills on time is soon forgotten’.

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