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A billing descriptor is a short description provided to a payer to help them identify who charged them. Merchants will generally use the same billing descriptor for all transactions (or at least all transactions of the same type). Payment references are used to identify individual transactions.
How billing descriptors work at GoCardless
All GoCardless merchants get to choose their billing descriptor when they are onboarded. How the billing descriptor is shown to the end customer varies according to the merchant’s service package.
GoCardless has three default service packages: Standard, Plus and Pro. With the Standard package, merchants only pay transaction fees. With the Plus and Pro packages, merchants pay transaction fees and monthly package fees as well.
When merchants are on the standard package, their billing descriptors are in the format GOCARDLESS-MERCHANT’S REFERENCE. The merchant’s reference can be up to 12 digits long and contain letters and numbers – this is how it will show up if added to a billing descriptor database. When merchants are on the Plus and Pro packages, their billing descriptors only show the merchants’ own names.
The reason for this difference is that the Plus and Pro package fees cover the cost of registering merchants with their own SUN. A SUN is a Service User Name listed with BACS. BACS is the organisation responsible for managing the UK’s automated Direct Debit service.
How billing descriptors are shown to customers
Some banks shorten billing references when displaying them to customers. This often happens if a customer looks at their bank statement on a mobile device, as these have relatively small screens.
As banks usually remove the end part of the billing reference, customers being charged by merchants on the Standard package may only see “GoCardless” rather than the merchant’s name. In this situation, they can check the transaction on GoCardless’ payment lookup tool and/or call GoCardless support for assistance.
Changing billing descriptors at GoCardless
Sometimes merchants wish to change their billing descriptor. Merchants on the Standard package can do so from within their GoCardless dashboard. Choose Settings>Company info then click on Edit account details.
You will see a list of menu options on the left-hand side of the screen. Click on “Add Your Brand” and scroll to the bottom of the page. Update your reference and click Continue to save your changes.
Merchants on the Plus and Pro packages will need to contact GoCardless support to have their billing descriptors updated. This process takes longer as the merchant’s details need to be updated with BACS.
Billing descriptors versus payment references
Billing descriptors are essentially a convenience to payers. They allow a payer to scan a list of transactions and, generally, know who has charged them. In most cases, if a payer knows who has charged them, they will also know why they have been charged. If they don’t, they know who to contact to ask about the charge.
Payment references, by contrast, are generally used by merchants and/or payment services, including GoCardless. As the name suggests, payment references are specific to each transaction. They are used for analytics and other management purposes such as refunds.
How payment references work at GoCardless
GoCardless, payment references start with PM and have a total of 14 digits. There are two ways you can find them on your GoCardless dashboard. Firstly, you can go to your Payments tab. You can then either scroll or use the drop-down menus to filter for payments.
Alternatively, you can go to your Customers tab. Select the relevant customer and open up their full record. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you'll see a list of the payments they've made. If the customer has made many payments, you may need to click to expand the list so you see them all.
In either case, once you find the relevant payment, click on it and you'll be taken to the payment page. This will have the payout reference at the top left.