8 Questions to ask to find the right Direct Debit bureau

A Direct Debit Bureau is a third party which submits payments into the Direct Debit system on your behalf. Finding the right one isn't always easy.


A Direct Debit Bureau is a third party which submits payments into the Direct Debit system on your behalf.

There are over 20 bureaus in the UK, all of which provide a very similar service. We've put together these 8 questions to help you work out whether they are the right option for you. (If you’re not sure what a bureau is, read this overview first.)

1. How can I sign up customers?

Customers can authorise Direct Debits with paper or online forms, or over the phone. Most bureaus specialise in paper forms. Some offer online and telephone services too.

If you’d like to sign up customers online, make sure you ask a developer to look at a bureau’s API docs before committing, and watch out for additional costs.

GoCardless offers a simple dashboard you can sign up for instantly and open access to the API (our API documentation is publicly available here), with no set up costs or flat fees.

2. How do I submit payments? Can I automate this process?

All bureaus will ask you to submit a file of the payments you want to collect in each run. This could be email, fax or through an online portal. 

Typically, a bureau will limit you to one or two payment runs a month. This will significantly impact your cash flow, invoicing and reconciliation processes.

Unlike other bureaus, GoCardless allows you to submit payments on any day of the month.

3. How can I track my payments? What reporting do you provide?

You should expect in depth and fast reporting of all payments, including failed payments.

Most bureaus will send you a report by email containing a series of coded messages detailing the failures in each payment run. These messages are not easy to interpret, and can take a small business up to a day each month to interpret and action.

GoCardless provides you with an online Dashboard that summarises all this information for you.

4. Can your system integrate with my accounts?

Integrating your accounting and payment systems will save you the hassle of manually re-keying and reconciling data each month. Not all bureaus will offer an integration with your particular accounting platform. Discuss this with a potential provider to find out exactly what they can offer you.

GoCardless integrates with all the major online accounting platforms including Sage, Xero and KashFlow.

5. How much do you charge?

Most Direct Debit bureaus do not publish their pricing online, and their charges can be complex.

Typical charges are:

  • £400 - £800 setup fee (online or telephone Direct Debit is more expensive)
  • £0.20 - £0.50 transaction charges
  • £1.50 to set up a new customer
  • £5 per payment batch
  • Additional fees for retrying payments and chargebacks

Access to their API, if they have one, will cost an additional £30 a month and a £300 setup fee. 

All GoCardless costs is 1% per transaction, capped at £2 with no set up for monthly fees. Further information on our pricing can be found here.

6. Are there any restrictions?

Depending on the size of your business and the length of your trading history, a bureau may impose some restrictions on your account such as payment limits.

Typically, you will have a £800 limit per customer, per month. GoCardless has a standard limit of £5,000 per payment which can easily be lifted with some simple checks.

7. Will you hold back any of my funds?

Bureaus often hold back a percentage of clients’ funds each month to cover their risks. If your business is small, or very new, they could withhold as much as 30% each month. 

This should only happen if you are using the bureau’s SUN to collect payments not if the bureau has set up your own SUN for you. With GoCardless, you can use our master SUN to collect from your customers and we will never withhold your funds from you.

8. How long does it take to get started?

Signing up with a bureau typically takes 4 - 8 weeks. If you’re raring to get started, you could sign up online with GoCardless in just five minutes.

If after asking all of these questions you still haven’t found a bureau which meets your requirements there are two other options you can consider: direct access through your bank or GoCardless.

Not sure what the best option for you is? Check out our 60 second guide to accessing Direct Debit. Alternatively, you can watch a short video about how you could use Direct Debit to save time and money collecting payments.

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