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Late tradesman invoices: when do customers no longer have to pay in Deutschland?

12.12.2023
Late tradesman invoices: when do customers no longer have to pay in Deutschland?

In the world of trades, the timely payment of invoices is an important aspect of the business relationship between tradespeople and customers. But what happens if invoices are issued or paid late? This article looks at the legal basics of the limitation periods for tradesmen’s invoices and provides valuable insight into how both tradesmen and customers can understand and manage their rights and obligations in relation to late invoices.

Basics of the limitation period for tradesmen’s invoices

Tradesmen’s invoices are an essential part of the tradesman’s business. Once a job has been successfully completed, it is up to the customer to pay the invoice. However, non-payment can lead to the claim for payment becoming time-barred, which means that the creditor can no longer enforce his claim in court after a certain period of time. This limitation period is set out in the German Civil Code (§ 194 ff. BGB).

The limitation period for tradesmen’s invoices is a complex issue that can have significant consequences for both the tradesman and the customer. Not only does the timely issue and payment of the invoice play a role, but also an understanding of the legal provisions governing the limitation periods. This article provides a detailed insight into the various aspects of the limitation period for tradesmen’s invoices, including the importance of the timing of invoicing and the factors that can lead to a suspension or restart of the limitation period.

“It also presents practical tips for tradespeople on how to avoid invoicing problems. It discusses the importance of issuing invoices correctly and on time in accordance with legal requirements in order to avoid difficulties later on. This information is not only relevant for tradespeople, but also for customers who want to understand how they should respond to late or disputed invoices.

Three-year deadline: when does the clock start ticking?

According to Section 195 of the German Civil Code (BGB), tradesmen’s invoices generally expire after three years. This period begins at the end of the calendar year in which the service was accepted, whereby the date of receipt of the invoice is decisive.

Suspension and recommencement of the limitation period: important distinctions

Two key concepts play a decisive role in the limitation period for tradesmen’s invoices: the suspension of the limitation period and the recommencement of the limitation period. Suspension of the limitation period means an interruption in the running of the limitation period. Such interruptions can be triggered by various events, such as negotiations between the contracting parties, legal proceedings or unforeseeable events such as force majeure. Each of these events leads to the limitation period being suspended and the three-year period being extended accordingly.

In contrast, the restart of the limitation period means that the limitation period starts from the beginning. This can be the case, for example, if the debtor expressly recognises their debt, for example by making partial payments or paying interest. Judicial or official enforcement actions can also cause the limitation period to restart. It is crucial that tradespeople and customers understand these differences in order to correctly assess their rights and obligations in the event of late or disputed payments.

Correct invoicing: avoiding problems

It is of the utmost importance for tradespeople to issue their invoices correctly and within the legal deadlines. Ideally, this should be done within six months of the work being completed. Failure to meet this deadline can not only lead to delays in payment, but can also result in claims for damages. Furthermore, tradespeople must ensure that their final invoices are verifiable and contain all the required information in accordance with Section 14 UStG. In addition to the basic details of the service, this also includes specific details such as the execution time and a precise list of the services and materials provided. A clear and comprehensive invoice not only protects the tradesperson’s financial interests, but also provides a transparent basis for communication with the customer, helping to avoid misunderstandings and legal disputes.

Retroactive invoicing: What do I need to bear in mind?

It is perfectly possible to issue invoices retrospectively. However, there is no statute of limitations for invoicing itself. It is crucial for tradespeople to ensure that the services they provide meet the agreed standards and that all the necessary information on the invoice is correct and complete. Correct invoicing includes a detailed list of the work performed, materials used, labour hours and prices. It is also important that the invoice is issued on time. If it is issued too late, the customer may no longer be obliged to pay the invoice, especially if the limitation period has already begun. Therefore, tradespeople should make sure to issue their invoices as soon as possible after the work has been completed to ensure that they do not lose their right to payment.

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