Late payments debt high enough to put UK SMEs out of business
By ECM Plus staff
ECM Plus /London/ +++ As the number of British small and medium-sized businesses facing late payments reaches more than a million – with a total aggregated outstanding debt of almost £36.4 billion, many SMEs are in danger of going under.
That’s the startling finding according to new research undertaken for payment specialists BACS.
According to the shocking findings, nationally, the average amount owed to one of Britain’s SMEs is £36,000 – yet 35 percent of SMEs reported that late payment debts of up to just £20,000 would be enough to put them out of business, in a survey by BACS Payment Schemes, the company the runs the Direct Debit system.
Apparently, in the South of Britain, the average amount owed in overdue payments to the region’s smaller companies stands at £53,000, yet almost half (49 percent) of those surveyed said that it would take less than that – up to £50,000 – to put them out of business.
Furthermore, Midlands SMEs face similar problems; while the average outstanding amount is much lower, at £22,000, 37 percent of companies said 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 percent) said the same.
The new research also showed that around six out of ten Britiah 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 percent but behind Midlands businesses (63 percent).
The average British SME experiencing late payment now has to wait a staggering 43.4 days beyond payment terms for their invoices to be paid – northern businesses are 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 lowly minimum wage rates, delayed invoice settlement will cost smaller UK businesses just short of £700 million in 2012 alone, the survey said.
Above all, nationwide, the majority said the worst offenders are large companies.
25 percent of those SMEs surveyed claimed that other SMEs were also guilty of paying late. Government and not for profits were 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 Britain’s 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.
The research also found that it is not only the businesses which are suffering; the people responsible for the finances pay an emotional price, too. Of those surveyed across the UK, 18 per cent said that they were anxious about the consequences of late payments on their business while a further eight per cent said overdue invoices left them very worried, constantly checking for payments because of the potential impact on the viability of their business and could affect jobs.
Mike Hutchinson from Bacs said: “Our newest research demonstrates 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” he said.
“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.”