Late payments situation getting worse for some SMEs

late payments penalty?According to the ICAEW (Independent Chartered Accountants of England and Wales) late payments to SMEs are a bigger problem than they were a year ago.

Of the nine SME industries analysed, it said, six had reported that the problem of late payments was worsening.

The FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) too, has said that while there have been some improvements thanks to the efforts of the Small Business Commissioner Paul Uppal, late payments remain a major problem and research by Lloyds Bank Commercial released at the end of last month found that last year almost two thirds (62%) of SMEs that were being paid late “failed to chase up for fear of harming customer relationships” also cited time constraints as a significant factor.

The cost to small businesses has been considerable, according to research published by Hitachi Capital earlier this month. It estimates late payments have cost SMEs £51.5bn in the last year.

Its survey of 1000 businesses found that 31% have experienced late payments costing their business at least £10,000 in the last 12 months.

It said that 27% reported that late payments have hit profits, while 12% said the issue had forced them to defer pay to staff. Around 40% have had to use their own money to fund cash flow in their business, with 80% using personal savings to keep their business operational.

Mr Uppal has meanwhile continued to investigate SME complaints and published reports since I last provided an update on the situation.

In mid-July he suspended 18 companies from the Prompt Payment Code, including BT Plc, British American Tobacco and Centrica.

He investigated several complaints and has published reports naming and shaming the companies involved.

They included Bupa Insurance Services Ltd who had failed to pay an invoice for £29,403.76 on 2 November 2018 based on 45-day end of month payment terms. Payment was eventually made 30 days late on January 15 2019 after the SME and Mr Uppal had chased on several occasions.

Also named and shamed in separate reports were Zurich Insurance PLC which eventually paid a claim 65 days later than its agreed payment terms.

Another company, Sambro International failed to pay a small graphic design company within its promised 30 days, for two invoices submitted in November and December 2018. Eventually following Mr Uppal’s investigation, one was paid 56 days late and the second 23 days outside their contracted terms.

Clearly, Mr Uppal and the Chartered Institute of Credit Management (CICM), which administers the system of removal of businesses from the Prompt Payment Code are doing their best, but in the current uncertain economic climate SMEs have enough to worry about without this constant and relentless mistreatment by larger customers and it is well past time the Small Business Commissioner was given stronger powers of enforcement.

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