Direct Debit
Bacs, Bureau Service, Direct Debit, Training, Uncategorised
26, MAR 2019

We are an organisation focused on providing Direct Debit help. As a result we hear about Direct Debit issues organisations have faced. The biggest headache is caused when a problem prevents the successful submission – and therefore collection – of a Direct Debit run. If this has ever happened to you – or you would like to ensure that it never happens to you – read on.

Several issues could prevent you being able to submit your Direct Debit files to Bacs. These could include:

  • Loss of smartcard
  • Smartcard stops working
  • Staff absence, leading to a lack of understanding of the process & existing systems
  • Loss of access to Bacs submission software. For example, due to a fire / flood in the office, internet connection issues or power loss etc.

There are of course other reasons why you may be unable to submit your Bacs files – the above are just a few examples. Whatever the issue preventing submission, the consequences can be problematic.

  • no / reduced income for the business
  • queries from customers wondering why their payment hasn’t been taken – would they potentially be denied access into a lottery; lose insurance cover or membership benefits?
  • colleague & staff uncertainty – for example how to answer customer queries
  • Negative impact on the organisation’s reputation
  • Questions from management about why a simple task has not been done!

If you are facing a situation where you cannot submit your Bacs files, what should do?

Do you have a Backup / DR plan?

All organisations should have a Disaster Plan (DR) in place – a document that provides practical advice and support about how to proceed in such a situation. Does your organisation have this? Do staff know where it is / do the relevant staff have access to it?

Having a written plan of course, is only the first step. Is it up-to-date or is it full of contacts who have left the organisation / phone numbers that have changed?  A good DR plan should be updated at least once per year – preferably more often – and should be tested on a regular basis. In a challenging situation, most staff members will be a bit stressed and will need a DR plan that provides simple and practical help. This should include contact details for your software provider, your bank & Bacs.

Do you have a DR Direct Debit system in place?

If you use a bureau like Clear Direct Debit to submit your Direct Debit information to Bacs then they will have built-in DR processes and you won’t need to worry about this.

If you have your own in-house software however, what would you do if you can’t access your Direct Debit system. A power-outage in the office is just one of numerous scenarios that could mean you may not be able to use a system that sits on a stand-alone desk-top machine.  Do you have a second, DR system somewhere and if so, when did you last test it? Will your log-ins still work? If your Direct Debit system is cloud-based, then in theory you can access it from any machine / anywhere. However, is this the case?  Is access restricted for example by IP address? Do you have a VPN set-up? When did you last test it?

Do you have your Smartcard Reader software installed and up to date?

If you are trying to use a machine that isn’t your regular PC to submit your Direct Debits and you use a smartcard then you need to ensure that you have a spare smartcard reader to hand. (This is the device you use to allow you to authenticate files with your smartcard). The readers are not widely available on the high street so having a spare reader available is best practice. You should also consider whether you have the latest smartcard reader software installed. Updates are issued that could mean existing software no longer works. It’s often the part of the process that fails and prevents you from submitting.  Also, do you keep your smartcard to hand?

Smartcard failures!

Many staff keep their smartcard ‘safe’ in a locked draw in the office but if you can’t access the office for some reason – you can’t access the smartcard. Best practice is to keep the smartcard in your purse / wallet – and also to ensure that at least 2 smartcard holders are working at any one time. You don’t want to have an emergency and then realise that the other smartcard holder is on holiday for 2 weeks and can’t help out!

Smartcard failure is a key reason why Direct Debit systems can run into trouble. We are contacted on a frequent basis by organisations unable to submit their Direct Debits due to smartcard issues. These have included:

  • smartcard locked – the password was incorrectly entered 3 times in a row and so the card stopped working. You can’t reset them so have to order a new one from the bank
  • a handbag / wallet was stolen containing the smartcard
  • the smartcard was left in the reader and snapped when a desk was moved
  • the smartcard became out of date

When you need a new smartcard, it will typically take at least 5 – 7 working days to receive it in the post and then you have the delight of trying to activate it. That’s if you can even order one. Often when someone phones the bank they realise that the nominated contact for the bank, left months ago and no one has yet updated the details for the new contact.

Up-to-date Contacts

We can’t stress enough the importance of keeping your organisations contact details up to date with the bank / Bacs.  This isn’t just important for if you need to order new smartcards – it’s also important if you submit a file in error and need to withdraw it. We have seen organisations where staff use smartcards of colleagues who have left the organisation, but this isn’t a good idea. A Smartcard is issued to a named individual and should be destroyed when that individual leaves. If you need to discuss a submission with the bank but you are not the named smartcard holder this can be problematic. In a challenging situation you want to be able to resolve it quickly and if you don’t have up-to-date contact details this can be a barrier.

Speak to your Sponsoring bank

Whatever the difficulties you are facing, remember that your bank is there to help. Not just with difficulties submitting files, but if you have submitted a file in error. Many people are reluctant to admit that they have made an error however your bank will have seen far worse errors and have probably dealt with the one you are having many times before. The quicker you speak to them the more help they can be.

Planning ahead – Top Tips

Plan for emergency situations and put contingency plans in place. It means you are better able to deal with anything that arises. In turn this can help ensure no interruption in your Direct Debit collections.  So, in summary, some top tips to ensure Direct Debit continuity:

  1. Have a DR plan, keep it up to date and readily available to anyone that could need it. Test it regularly. It should contain contact numbers for your sponsoring bank, Bacs helpdesk, your software support team and or Bacs approved bureau. Have you got an out of hours’ number for them and do they have one for you?
  2. Have a spare smart card reader and ensure you keep your smartcard reader software up to date.
  3. Ensure you have enough smartcards and smartcard holders for the size of your organisation – two as a minimum but preferably more and don’t have all smartcard holders on holiday at the same time. When colleagues leave or go on long term sick you don’t want them to be your back up plan.
  4. Ensure you aren’t using an old smart card / a card of someone who has left
  5. Make sure that your contact details are up to date with your sponsoring bank. When you need to urgently withdraw a submitted file or solve a problem, you want the bank to be able to help you. You will also want them to alert you if they see a problem with your submission. That can be out of hours – do they have out of hours contact details for you?
  6. Keep smartcards on you – in your handbag / wallet. Don’t leave them in a locked drawer
  7. Train your staff on the Direct Debit Rules so they know how to respond to different Direct Debit issues. It’s one of the best ways to protect your business and will give your team confidence in a crisis. Please speak to us about the Bacs accredited training we run at regional centres around the UK or onsite at your offices.

A Bureau – for peace of mind

And finally, the best possible advice from the experts – link to bureau! Have a bureau on standby. Having a relationship with a Direct Debit bureau is critical – if your software or smartcards fail then a Bacs Approved Bureau can still get your file submitted on time. If you engage with a bureau beforehand they can be ready to go should the worst happen. You simply need to link your Service User Number to their bureau number so they can send a file on your behalf. This is recommended by Bacs for all Service Users.


Every Direct Debit problem is subtly different but they are nearly all resolvable.  Knowledge is everything here. Some problems that look as though they will require a huge amount of work to rectify can be quickly and easily resolved if you know what you are doing. Act fast – if you have sent a file to Bacs that you shouldn’t have done then you may still be able to withdraw the file before it is processed. It is critical that you act fast as problems are much harder to rectify further down the line.

Still have questions? Contact us and we will be happy to help. You can call us on 01737 826957 or e mail us on: info@cleardirectdebit.co.uk.