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Payment processing times in the UK explained

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Last editedMar 20233 min read

Many business owners fall into the trap of assuming all payments are processed instantly. When this isn’t the case, it can impact your cash flow and ability to pay expenses. Depending on the method, realistic payment processing times can be anywhere from minutes to several business days. Here’s a breakdown of common payment methods such as bank transfers, cheques, and more.

Types of payment methods

Business owners and consumers both benefit from the wide range of payment methods to choose from. Each offers its own pros and cons, as well as differing processing times. Here are several of the most frequently used payment methods to consider.

1. Cheque payment processing time

Processing paper cheques used to be a lengthy process. Fortunately, today in the UK all sterling cheques use the Image Clearing Scheme which operates using a two-day cycle. This means if you pay in a cheque before the bank’s cut-off time, it should be cleared by the end of the following business day.


  • Secure form of payment

  • Faster processing than in the past


  • No longer widely used

  • Settlement time can be delayed by weekends and holidays

2. ACH, Direct Debit and Bacs payment processing time

Many customers prefer to make electronic bank payments directly from one account to another. In the United States, bank customers use the ACH or Automated Clearing House network to move money. ACH payments include credits, or push payments, and debits, or pull payments.

Pros of ACH payments:

  • Payments are secure

  • Transaction fees are kept low due

Cons of ACH payments:

  • Payments are processed in batches which can add to processing times

Payments sent within the UK use the Bacs network rather than ACH. The Bacs system is used for Direct Debit as well as direct credit payments. Both ACH and Bacs payments operate on a three-day cycle for settlement.

Pros of Bacs and Direct Debit payments:

  • Payments are secure

  • Transaction fees are low

  • It’s easy to set up recurring payment plans

  • Payments can be automated with a Direct Debit mandate

Cons of Bacs and Direct Debit payments:

  • Payments can be delayed by bank cut-off times

  • They’re not the fastest payment method

3. CHAPS payment processing time

Clearing House Automated Payment System, or CHAPS, provides a faster alternative to the Bacs system. Payments are received on the same day they’re sent, provided you meet the bank’s cut-off time. Most UK high street banks are now part of CHAPS, along with a few international banks.


  • There’s no limit to transfer amounts, making it suitable for high value transactions

  • It guarantees same-day payment when instructions are received on time


  • Same-day settlement is subject to strict cut-off times

  • It’s difficult to cancel a CHAPS payment

  • It costs more in comparison to other payment systems, between £25 - £30 per transaction

4. Faster Payment processing time

You may have heard of the Faster Payment scheme which takes CHAPS even further in terms of speed. With Faster Payments, you can expect payments to be sent between bank accounts in real time. Funds typically arrive within a matter of minutes, though it can take as long as two hours in some situations.


  • They provide nearly instant payment processing

  • Payments can be sent 24 hours a day including weekends and holidays


  • Transaction amounts are restricted up to £1 million depending on the bank

  • Both sending and receiving banks must be part of the Faster Payments scheme

  • Identity checks can cause potential delays

5. Credit card payment processing time

When a customer pays with a credit card, this brings in third-party payment processors and card networks, all of which can delay payment. The processor batches together transaction details throughout the day or week, sending it through to the card payment network for approval. Processing times can vary between 24 hours and three days unless you pay extra for Same Day Settlement to expedite the process.


  • They cater to customer preferences, giving businesses a competitive advantage

  • They’re secure due to tools like encryption and tokenisation


  • Credit card companies charge higher fees between 1.5% and 5% of the total transaction

6. International bank transfer payment processing time

International bank transfers move money from one account to another using international networks like SWIFT and SEPA. Transfer times will vary widely depending on currency rates, time zones, intermediary banks, and holidays. Typical international bank transfer processing times vary between one and five working days. However, if you opt forEFT or wire transfers, you can speed up the process at higher cost.

Pros of international bank transfers:

  • They allow you to accept payment from international customers

Cons of international bank transfers:

  • Fees are high for wire transfers

  • Processing times can take up to five days if not longer

7. Instant payment processing time

Tools like GoCardless Instant Bank Pay use the power of open banking to provide real-time settlement and instant payment. Merchants can send a link to payers that lets them verify their details and confirm payment within minutes.


  • Funds are available immediately

  • You can send and receive transfers 24 hours a day

  • Fees are lower than with card payments


  • Banks might impose limits on transaction values

Typical payment processing times by method in the UK

Here’s a breakdown of the payment processing time associated with each method mentioned above:

Payment method

Cut-off time

Processing/clearing time


Varies by bank, typically 15:30

Two business days


Varies by bank, typically end of business day

Three business days

Direct Debit

Varies by bank, typically end of business day

Three business days


Varies by bank, typically end of business day

Three business days


Varies by bank

Same day settlement

Faster payments

No cut-off time

Two minutes to two hours

Credit card

Depends on credit card processor, typically end of day

24 hours to three days

International bank transfer

Varies by bank, typically end of business day

One to five business days

EFT wire transfers

Varies by bank, typically end of business day

Same day settlement

Instant pay

No cut-off time

Real-time settlement

How can GoCardless help?

If you’re looking for a way to speed up payment processing time, GoCardless can help. Our Instant Bank Pay solution uses open banking infrastructure to send links to customer requesting payment. Once the customer clicks the link, payment is taken directly from their bank account in real time, with instant confirmation for both parties. Open banking allows users to share financial data with full consent, opening up new avenues for faster payment processing. Payments are confirmed in less than 10 seconds, and all at half the price of card payments.

We can help

GoCardless is a global payments solution that helps you automate payment collection, cutting down on the amount of financial admin your team needs to deal with. Find out how GoCardless can help you with one-off or recurring payments.

Over 70,000 businesses use GoCardless to get paid on time. Learn more about how you can improve payment processing at your business today.

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Interested in automating the way you get paid? GoCardless can help
Interested in automating the way you get paid? GoCardless can help

Interested in automating the way you get paid? GoCardless can help

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