The two most common reasons Direct Debit payments fail – and what to do about it

Why Direct Debit payments fail, what failure rate you can expect and what you can do about it.


You’ve done the hard work in acquiring and retaining your customers and your automated payment systems and processes are all set up. It’s time to collect your fees. It’s here that many businesses experience the pain of failed payments, and may struggle to recover all the revenue they were counting on.

When you take recurring or subscription payments, each customer represents significant longterm potential value to your business. So, if a failed payment causes a customer to churn, the impact of that failure is multiplied.

Thankfully, Direct Debit is the most reliable way to collect recurring payments, with success rates of 95-100%, compared to 80-95% for cards. That’s because it’s a bank to bank payment method, which means fewer intermediaries and points of failure, and no expired or cancelled cards to deal with.

What failure rate can you expect with Direct Debit?

Though more reliable than cards, Direct Debit payments can still fail. Failure rates vary depending on your sector, your customer base, your provider and on whether you have successfully taken a payment from a customer in the past.

GoCardless’ average UK failure rate across 35,000 customers and £5bn worth of transactions is around 2.9%, with customers in many sectors enjoying lower failures rates than this (you can see some examples below).

Average payment failure rates for different sectors at GoCardless

Businesses who use our payment retry function (available through our dashboard, our API and through some of our partner integrations) can reduce this even further to around 0.5%. In fact more than half of our customers have a 100% success rate.

So, why do Direct Debit payments fail – and what can you do about it?

Payments can fail for a number of reasons, from invalid bank details and bank accounts being closed, to not enough money in the payer’s account. UK Direct Debit scheme Bacs, assigns one of 10 possible reason codes for payment failure (plus 2 additional codes to mean that a customer has disputed a payment).

In reality, most of these are rare. We’ve analysed our transaction data to identify the two most common reasons Direct Debit payments fail. Here they are – along with our recommendations for what to do about them.

Most common reasons that Direct Debit payments fail

Reason 1: Insufficient funds

Bacs uses the error code ‘Refer to payer’ to mean that the payer's bank wasn't in a position to pay the Direct Debit, which usually means there wasn’t enough money in the payer’s account.

This is by far the most common reason, representing more than 80% of our customers' failures – accounting for 2.38% of the 2.9% average failure rate.

Retry the payment

If you’re using GoCardless through our dashboard, our API or through certain partner software, you'll see a Retry button in the top-right corner of the GoCardless payment status page. If you click this button, we'll re-submit your payment immediately. You'll see a new charge date and you can follow the status of the retried payment in the payment timeline. Payments can be retried a maximum of 3 times. Customers who use our retry function significantly improve their payment success rate.

Agree a different payment date

If this is happening regularly, you might want to consider agreeing a better payment date with your customer, for example after they get paid. GoCardless offers daily collections to facilitate this.

Reason 2: Mandate cancelled

Bacs uses the reason code ‘Instruction cancelled’ to mean that your customer may have cancelled the Direct Debit mandate at their bank, or requested this action from GoCardless.

This is the second most common reason for Direct Debit failure, accounting for around 15% of failed payments among GoCardless customers and 0.47 of the of the 2.9% average failure rate.

Contact your customer

In most cases if a mandate is cancelled you won’t be able to process a payment, but there might be times when a mandate is cancelled shortly after a payment has been submitted. In all these cases, you’ll need to contact your customer to set up a new mandate.

Don’t be the last to know a customer is leaving

Unlike other Direct Debit solutions, GoCardless sends automatic notifications when a payer cancels a mandate, giving you the opportunity to put in place re-engagement initiatives before it’s too late. UK gym LD Fitness, wins back 9 out of 10 customers who cancel a mandate, by getting in touch with their departing members quickly. Find out more in this customer story.

Smarter payments and retries

We’re rolling out our new smart retries functionality before the end of 2018, which will draw on our significant transaction data to advise you on the best time to retry a payment.

We’re also looking at how to make payments smarter and less likely to fail by using new services available through Open Banking, like the Account Information Service. This means, for example, we will be able to tell if there are insufficient funds in your customers account before taking the payment.

With these improvements to our processes and technology, payment success rates through Gocardless are getting ever closer to 100%.

How does your failure rate compare? If you want to discuss how to reduce your Direct Debit failure rates with one of our experts, get in touch using the form below.

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