Installing a ‘helpline’ that can be used for finance-related conversations outside of the buying relationships can make it easier for suppliers to raise issues about invoices or other payment disputes.
That was one of the messages from Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon in a recent progress report and newsletter.
Tacon said a number of retailers have put in place some form of helpline to enable suppliers to query invoices, cost prices or disputes, in “simple finance to finance discussions”.
This meant suppliers can raise issues that are finance-related without involving the buyer, which Tacon said suppliers felt might threaten their commercial relationship with the retailer.
Suppliers have reported that they sometimes felt reluctant to raise issues, such as invoice disputes, if they had to involve the buyer or if the buyer was present at discussions about the amount due, Tacon said.
While retailers aren’t obliged to install such helplines, Tacon said that by doing so they would reduce the worry for suppliers over handling conversations about money. The GCA will publish the contact details for any retailer's supplier helplines where available on its website, she added.
The GCA also reported results from a recent mini survey and supplier workshop, with recurring themes including:
· Unilateral deductions: including reports that these were taken immediately although payment was not due. Deductions appeared mostly to relate to alleged short deliveries; duplicate invoices; and consumer complaints which were clearly not the fault of the supplier (e.g. the consumer did not like a product which was manufactured to a retailer specification);
· Resolution time: including responses claiming that it took up to six months to resolve an issue;
· Not paying on time: including reports that entire invoices were held up while one element was in dispute; BACS notices issued on due date but payment not received until days later; and retailers insisting that credit notes were raised before an invoice was paid;
· Resolution of issues caused by the retailer’s haulier: including reports of no PODs having been issued but the supplier requiring a POD to challenge discrepancies; and of lost stock which was signed for on collection;
· Depot practices: reports of retailers not issuing PODs and not following procedures.
Writing in the newsletter, Tacon said: “As I have found when I engage suppliers directly they are happy to share experiences, but I also need suppliers to contact me proactively to let me know about issues in the sector and extend my evidence base.
“Suppliers can be assured I handle all information in complete confidence and look for patterns of behaviour before raising issues with retailers.”