What to do if a client’s cheque bounces in France

I run a small business in France and many of my clients settle by cheque. I have received a cheque that has bounced but the client is not returning my calls. What can I do? J.P.

20 December 2017

Firstly, it is very serious if a cheque bounces as your client’s bank will demand action that, if the cheque is not made good, could result in the Banque de France closing their accounts and banning them from issuing cheques for five years.

But no business, especially a small business, can afford to let an outstanding debt slide.

The procedure for dealing with unpaid cheques in France is relatively straightforward, inexpensive and – for the creditor at least – quite painless.

It follows the same steps no matter the amounts involved, and you are not obliged to chase the debt yourself; saving time for small business owners.

When a cheque bounces, your bank will, at no cost to you, give you an attes­tation de l’impayé – a certificate of rejection – detailing the cheque’s account holder, you as creditor and the amount involved.

From this point, the issuer of the cheque has 30 days to ensure that sufficient funds are in their account to cover the unpaid amount, after which the cheque can be resubmitted.

The cheque can be resubmitted at any point during this time but no action is taken until the grace period has expired. If, after the 30 days are over, the cheque bounces again when resubmitted, the bank will then send you, the créancier [creditor], a certificat de non-paiement, which you can take to a huissier de justice [bailiff] for recovery by recouvrement forcé.

The huissier will contact the debtor to arrange payment of the debt, in full or in part and with added costs, in 15 days.

If, after that period the sum has still not been paid, the huissier acting on your behalf has the authority to launch immediate enforcement action, without having to go to court, and seize goods as necessary to pay off the debt and the cost of the huissier.

The Chambre nationale des huissiers set up the website petitescreances.fr  to automate claims for sums under €4,000 – although you pay the costs, which start at €21.45 for debts up to €188 and a sliding scale to €256.89 to recover €4,000.

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