Businesses use information (the 'payment reference') to connect the payments they receive to their customers' accounts.
However, each year UK businesses spend millions of pounds resolving problems caused when their customers make electronic bill payments without the right payment reference information. The Payments Council has worked with a variety of billers, including HMRC, to help remedy this problem.
Today (30 September 2010), the Payments Council publishes its consumer advice. It provides five top tips for consumers and businesses to follow when making electronic bill payments:
1. Use the right sort code and account number: when paying a bill online or over the phone, enter in the appropriate boxes or quote to the customer service adviser the biller's six digit sort code and eight digit account number exactly as they appear on your bill.
2. Always include the 'payment reference' or 'beneficiary reference' when paying bills online or over the phone: don't leave the reference box blank or enter incorrect or additional information. Use your bill to check the reference matches what you've entered or quoted. It can normally be found on the payment details section of your bill.
3. Insert the correct company billing name: some online banking services let you select the biller's name from a list. If not, enter the correct biller's name yourself in the payee or beneficiary name box (online banking) or tell the customer service adviser yourself (telephone banking).
4. Double-check everything before you hit 'go.' Here are some things to look out for:
• Check the account number and sort code match those on your bill
• Check the payment reference matches your bill or invoice
- References are a maximum length of 18 numbers and/or letters
- References never include slashes, dashes or spaces
- Use capital letters if the reference is in capital letters
• Check the amount is correct
• Check the recipient details are correct
5. Getting help. If you get stuck when making an electronic payment online oent online or by phone, consult the help pages on your bank's site or contact your bank. If you need further information when paying a bill, contact the biller.
In addition to this consumer advice and following consultation with banks, businesses, payment service providers and vendors, the Payments Council has produced best practice guidelines for billers as well as banks and building societies for use with their customers, both corporate and personal.
The Payments Council, with the aid of billers, will monitor the effectiveness of these guidelines, making revisions to them as necessary.
Peter Finlayson, Director of Policy at the Payments Council, said: "We are delighted to publish today this advice to consumers and businesses, following close consultation with the banking industry and billers.
By following these five steps, consumers can help ensure their payments will be applied to their account quickly and easily. This could also help businesses save money and time currently spent investigating what happens when payment reference information is inaccurate or missing."