Limitation periods in various countries

Author: mr. Ramazan Akkaya

Overdue invoices are an unpleasant phenomenon that most companies will have to deal with at some point. But what if invoices remain unpaid for several years? Can such claims still be collected, or has the limitation period expired? This is a question that many companies would like to see answered. Bierens Debt Recovery Lawyers explains.

Imagine, you have delivered products to company X in the Netherlands on several occasions in 2007. On 1st June 2007 and 3rd December 2007 you have billed these products, with a 30 day payment term. Since then you have not received payment, nor have you taken steps yourself to ensure that you do get payment. Can these claims be recovered? The answer is: partly. The limitation period of the invoices in the Netherlands is 5 years. The law states that this period commences “after the commencement of the day following that on which the claim became due”. In other words: the limitation period of the invoice dated 1st June 2007 starts on 1st July 2007. Therefore, the limitation period expired on 2nd July 2012, unless this has been interrupted. The invoice dated 3rd December 2007 will expire on 3rd January 2013.

Interrupting the limitation period
It is, of course, a complete waste of money to let the limitation period expire. You can prevent this from happening by timely handing claims over to us for collection. If the limitation period is likely to expire, then we will ensure that this is interrupted and that a new period commences. In the Netherlands, there are several options to do so, such as sending a written demand letter and writ of summons to the debtor. You will have to prove that the debtor received such a letter. Which of these tools would be most effective, depends on the amount of the claim and the number of days that the claim is overdue. Furthermore, the limitation period could be more or less than 5 years, depending on what you have agreed with your client. For example, transport law often has a limitation period of just 9 months or a year and, therefore, taking action on time is even more important.

Rules abroad
Foreign countries can often use different limitation periods. Are you doing business across the border? Then keep a close eye on your foreign claims at all times. Not just because of the limitation periods, but also because the process of interrupting this period can be different in the country of your client. In the schedule below you can find an overview of limitation periods of invoices and judgments in various European countries, and you can see whether or not it is possible to interrupt the limitation period extrajudicially, or that this has to be done by commencing legal proceedings. Please note that the table does not cover our entire working field. If you have a specific question regarding (the interruption of) limitation periods in another country, or if we can be of service to you in order to collect your claim, then please do not hesitate to contact us.

Country Limitation period of an invoice Limitation period of a judgment* Possible to interrupt limitation?**
Netherlands 5 years 20 years Yes, extrajudicially
Belgium 5 years 15 years Yes, extrajudicially
Germany 3 years 30 years Yes, but only judicially
England 6 years 6 years No
France 5 years 10 years Yes, but only judicially
Italy 10 years 10 years Yes, extrajudicially
Poland 2 years 10 years Yes, but only judicially
Spain 15 years 5 years Yes, extrajudicially
Portugal 20 years 20 years Yes, extrajudicially
Turkey 5 years 10 years Yes, but only judicially

* These are general limitation periods.
** These possibilities depend on what is agreed between the parties.

For more information, please contact our offices.