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Standing Orders and Direct Debits are both methods of making payments for goods and services that are set up to pay automatically.

But whilst they may look the same from the outside, there are a number of fundamental differences, relating to how they work, how they are set up and who’s in control. Whether you are a customer or a business, it is important that you know about these.

So in this post, we’re comparing and contrasting Standing Orders and Direct Debits to see what things are the same and what things are different.

· What is a Standing Order?

· How is Direct Debit different from a Standing Order?

· Who is in control?

· Setting them up

· Which is right for you?

What is a Standing Order?

A Standing Order pays a set amount of money on a set date or after a set interval.

These have been around almost as long as banking itself and as the name implies, they are an order to your bank that they leave on file (or “standing”).

For example, if you have rent to pay, you could set up a Standing Order with your bank to pay your landlord every month or every quarter.

In the past, they were used a lot in the publishing industry and customers would set up Standing Orders to pay for magazine or newspaper subscriptions.

Standing Orders vs Direct Debits - who is in control?

The biggest difference between Standing Orders and Direct Debits is that of control.

· With a Standing Order (or “SO” on your statement), the customer is in charge of setting them up with their bank. The value of the order can only be changed by the customer which they will do directly with their bank.

· A Direct Debit (or “DDM”) is set up by the customer with the business. Essentially the customer gives the business permission to take an unspecified amount of money from their bank when it needs to. The business then sets this up using a system that links to the BACS network.

Of course, this sounds alarming at first sight because, for Direct Debits, the control is all in the hands of the business. They decide when they take the money and how much they take.

Now the vast majority of DDMs are set for a specific date and for a specific amount of money. For example, you may agree to pay for your phone contract on the 31st of every month and you’ll know how much it will cost.

But the good news is that if the business takes the wrong amount or takes money when it shouldn’t have, then the consumer is covered by the Direct Debit Guarantee. So, although technically the business is in full control of the Direct Debit process, the customer is fully protected.

Standing Orders vs Direct Debits - setting them up

When a customer wants to make a regular payment, they have a choice between a Direct Debit and a Standing Order.

When they wish to use the Standing Order, they will need to fill in a form and send or take that to their bank. The bank will then lodge that on their account record and the payment will be made according to the order.

Conversely, when the customer wishes to use a DD, the business provides them with a form that is usually in electronic format. This could be on their website or provided using a specific link. The customer fills in their details and the business then sets up the DDM on a specialist, secure system such as PaySuite.

The system transmits the data into the BACS system to tell the bank that the Direct Debit Mandate has been set up and then when the payment is due, the business tells the bank (via PaySuite) how much should be paid.

One of the reasons that Direct Debits have become so popular is that it is much easier for the business to set up and much more convenient for the customer.

Of course, this means that Direct Debits require specialist software to action and there is also a charge that is payable by the business to their bank. Standing Orders are free to the receiving organisation and in most cases free to personal customers.

Direct Debits vs Standing Orders - which is right for you?

So how do you know whether a Standing Order or Direct Debit is right for you or your business? Choosing between the two will be highly dependent on your business needs.

When to use Standing Orders

Standing Orders are very good when you know exactly how much needs to be paid and when it should happen.

Remember that you can’t change the payment amount or the payment dates and so they would need to be cancelled and a new one set up if anything changes.

They are a cheap way to receive regular payments from people and they don’t require any specialist software as the customer (or donor) does all the work. This means that they are especially good for small organisations with just a few customers. A good example here would be a charity that wants to take a regular donation from a few supporters or a landlord wanting to use this as a way to receive rent.

When to use Direct Debits

Direct Debits benefit from the fact that they are much more flexible than Standing Orders.

A good example would be where a business is selling to another business on credit. They don’t know how much will be payable each month as it depends on how much the customer buys.

So the Direct Debit can be altered every month and this can be automated by integrating PaySuite with their accounting system.

Another use case would be where the business is selling something that needs to be paid for immediately and before use. So in the case of motor insurance, the firm will only allow a car to go ‘on risk’ when full payment has been made or a valid Direct Debit set up.

Direct debits are also useful when you don’t know when you want to charge the customer. A good example here would be where a customer reached their credit limit. In that case, a Direct Debit call would be made and the resulting payment would settle their account or at least bring it back within terms.

It is also important to remember that Direct Debits are completely automated. This means that they are cheap to administer for the banks, meaning that they are also the cheapest way to take regular payments for businesses and charities.

The connected nature of Direct Debits also means that there are notifications that are included within the system such as change of bank details, cancellations and missed payments. These aren’t available with Standing Orders.

Differences between Standing Orders and Direct Debits at a glance



Direct debits

Standing Orders

Specialist software needed

Yes, businesses can’t connect directly to the BACS network for security reasons

No, the customer does all the work


Very cheap. Free for customers to use

Very cheap. Usually free for customers


Good. The company does the work but this can be automated and integrated with a website

Poor. The business is relying upon the customer to deliver a Standing Order form to their bank


Great. Dates and amounts can be altered and more than one DD can be actioned a month.

Poor. You set the amount and dates at the outset and this can only be varied by cancelling and setting up a new SO


High. The customer gets the DD guarantee and the business can only connect using an approved system like PaySuite

Medium. The control is entirely with the customer but if they enter the wrong details on the order then they may never know and there is no guarantee.


Great. Company will quickly know when a payment has failed and bank account changes can be actioned automatically


Failure response

Great. The Direct Debit can be set to reapply on failure and the company will know within 24hr when a payment has not been made

Poor. A standing order may be cancelled if it fails and the company then has to rely upon the customer to set a new one up.