SMEs suffering because of culture of slow payments in UK

An ingrained culture of slow payments and cashflow issues is causing major problems for small businesses.

Two thirds of UK SMEs are of the opinion that there is a culture of slow payments in the UK, with the problem particularly acute in London (73 per cent), the South West (72 per cent) and Northern Ireland (87 per cent). The results were obtained from the Close Brothers Business Barometer, a quarterly survey that questions over 900 UK SME owners and senior management across a range of sectors and regions.

‘Late payments are a very real issue for SME business owners,’ says Neil Davies, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance.

‘In some cases directors are having to defer their own salaries, increase their overdraft or pay their own suppliers late to ensure they remain liquid, causing the vicious circle to continue.

‘This is clearly a national issue that spans both regions and industries. For example, 78 per cent of transport firms are affected by this issue, along with of 74 per cent manufacturing businesses and 73 per cent of printers.’

The effects of late payments are multiple, ranging from damage to the supply chain and business reputation to impacting credit ratings and consequently the ability to access further funding.

‘We should also not forget the very real human impact because, in many cases, the ability to pay staff in full and on time is a consequence of late payments,’ continues Neil.

Legal advice

One in four firms in the UK have been forced to seek legal advice because of slow payments, while in the Republic of Ireland the figure is significantly higher at 41 per cent.

‘In the sectors we serve the figures are, in most instances, higher than the national average,’ says Neil.

‘Construction (30 per cent), engineering (38 per cent), manufacturing (37 per cent) and transport (33 per cent) all track higher than the rest of the UK.’

Suitable legislation

Not only are many SMEs seeking legal advice, but 74 per cent don’t feel that suitable legislation exists in support of SMEs to counteract slow payment by debtors, with firms in the East (85 per cent) and West (84 per cent) Midlands feeling particularly strongly about this issue.

‘What these results confirm is that late payments are not merely a regional or sector issue, but one that is felt across the SME community,’ says Neil.

Further reading on slow payments

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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