Many small and medium-sized businesses are in danger of going under as a direct result of late payments, research finds.
Many small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are in danger of going under as a direct result of late payments, research finds.
Nationally, the average amount owed to a small businesses is £36,000, yet 35 per cent of small companies report that late payment debts of up to just £20,000 would be enough to put them out of business, according to a survey by Bacs Payment Schemes.
In the South of the UK, the average amount owed in overdue payments to the region’s smaller companies stands at £53,000, yet almost half (49 per cent) of those surveyed say that it would take less than that – up to £50,000 – to put them out of business.
Midlands SMEs face similar problems; while the average outstanding amount is much lower, at £22,000, 37 per cent of companies say unpaid invoices of up to £20,000 could cause their business to fail. In the North, where the average debt is £27,000, more than a quarter (27 per cent) say the same.
The research, carried out in July, shows that around six out of ten UK SMEs (59 per cent) experience late payments. In the South, the proportion of smaller businesses facing overdue settlement echoes the national average, ahead of northern companies at 55 per cent but behind Midlands businesses (63 per cent).
The average UK SME experiencing late payment now has to wait 43.4 days beyond payment terms for their invoices to be paid, with northern businesses waiting even longer, with an average delay of 46.8 days before bills are settled.
One consequence of the late payments culture is that hard-pressed businesses are being forced to invest an average of almost 14 days every year – or almost three working weeks – just in chasing overdue bills.
Even based on minimum wage rates, that means delayed invoice settlement will cost smaller UK businesses just short of £700 million in 2012 alone.
Nationwide, the majority (37 per cent) say the worst offenders are large companies, although 25 per cent of companies surveyed claimed fellow SMEs were also guilty of paying late.
Government and not-for-profits are right at the bottom of the offenders’ list, with just six per cent of SMEs experiencing late payments at their hands.
The most common excuse SMEs hear is that the delay is down to cash flow problems within the company being invoiced, with 47 per cent saying this is the reason they’re given.
Mike Hutchinson of Bacs says that even more SMEs are facing difficulties with late payments, with potentially serious implications for their businesses.
'Cash flow remains key for companies to stay afloat during challenging economic times, yet there does seem to be a growing culture of delaying invoice settlement until long past the due date.
'As our research shows, this issue not only hits the business but owners are reporting how it puts them under great strain personally, which has further negative repercussions.'
See also: Late payment lifeline