How do you deal with parents who owe a teaching institution money? I always wonder what words to use. I have used the following already: kindly settle your balance before Monday….etc.

Lydia

Answer

Hi Lydia

This is always a difficult situation and I guess many of these parents would pay if they could, but do not have the money they need. There will be some parents who can pay who are just testing out the situation though.


But that doesn’t help you pay your staff and cover your overheads does it? Are you the owner of the school? If so, it is harder for you to ask for money than it would be for an employee of yours. For example, a professional bookkeeper who is used to calmly but firmly insisting on payment being made to their employer for goods or services received. Is there such a person on your staff? Alternatively, is there someone you could employ part-time, even a couple of hours a week, to contact parents who owe money?

I think the best course of action, longer term, is to have a clear and carefully enforced policy on payments. Fees should be discussed before a child is accepted into school. Fee notices should be sent out, prominently displayed and discussed openly; Notices displayed reminding parents they should not fall into arrears, maybe even say their children cannot attend school unless payments are made.

However, in the short term, you probably need to collect what is owed as soon as possible. I know this can be an awkward conversation. Is it appropriate to send a letter, or note, or a text message? Collecting money owed is a skill in itself, don’t underestimate its difficulty or be surprised to realise how tricky it is.

If you are going to have the conversation in person, you should write a script for yourself and memorise and practice it. Speak in a light tone of voice but be professional, calm and assertive. Start by saying that you just want to touch base because you noticed that you have not yet received payment for a bill due xxx days ago. Continue by explaining that you need to cover your costs and pay your staff to stay in business.

Think about how you will respond to their remarks and plan the next response. As we have discussed, most would probably pay you if they could. If they say they will pay next week, say you will be expecting that and will look forward to their payment. Follow up if they don’t make the promised payment.

Remember that silence is an effective negotiating weapon. Once you have stated the case, pause for longer than you think they might need time to respond. Listen to what they say.

If the parent admits they do not have enough money to pay the bill, discuss the possibility of partial payment, and a payment plan with small regular payments of the balance over the next few weeks or months.

Be wary of waiving the debt though -if you do it for one case, many others will want the same treatment.

Good Luck