I often get asked about the “rules” for how long a business can take to raise a bill after the date when the service was provided. Laws and regulations vary from country to country and also depend on the kind of service being billed for. But what surprises me about the question is that people would actually want and ask for a rule for something like this. It is as if common sense and a basic understanding of how customers behave is not enough. Rules may be rules, but there is no rule that tells a business how to work out what people can afford to pay and when the risk of bad publicity is simply not worth the value of the bill. Statute is the last thing a sensible business should look at when working out how late it can raise a bill. The laws that I have come across all tend towards the same conclusion:
> laws are usually written to help businesses succeed rather than fail,
> governments agree it is fair and vital that businesses get paid for what they provide,
> governments can tax companies if they make money, so want them to make money,
> hence rules usually get written that allow bills to be raised very late indeed.
Most rules allow billing so late, in fact, that any normal customer would be very upset at finding how stupid their supplier can be for taking so long to raise a bill, or upset that they eventually got caught and made to pay for something they hoped to get for free, depending on how you look at it. Of course, such customers are right to be upset at their stupid suppliers, though you also have to wonder why simple business logic does not cause businesses to be more thorough in getting everything billed on a timely basis. Obviously there are still many firms that need to improve their revenue assurance.
Anyhow, if you want a great example of just how bad it can get, take a look at this story about an American couple who now owe US$1,600 for a utility back-bill after their supplier forgot to bill them for the last 18 years.