Small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK are owed a staggering £26.3 billion in late payment debt. Will new regulations tackle UK late payment debt? And what can you do yourself to minimise late payments?
Research by the payment services company Bacs revealed that 47% of SMEs have clients and customers who flout agreed payments terms leaving firms, on average, out of pocket to the tune of £32,185.
The implications are far reaching, with the Bacs research finding 32% of SMEs saying that they were forced to delay paying their own suppliers and 12% saying they had trouble paying their own staff because of late payments.
In a bid to tackle the problem the government has introduced new regulations that came into force on 1 April 2017.
Kelly Mills, Partner at law firm DMH Stallard (pictured) and a specialist in commercial dispute resolution, said:
“Being paid promptly for many of these SMEs can be the difference between thriving and dying.
“It’s tough enough to run a successful business without having to spend inordinate amounts of time also chasing customers for payment.
“The new rules brought in by the government are to be welcomed and will hopefully bring a positive change to the way SMEs are paid.”
Since 1 April large companies and limited liability partnerships have to publicly report twice a year on their payment practices, including the average time it takes them to pay invoices.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is also creating a new role of Small Business Commissioner.
“While many businesses recognise that the practice of late payments is ethically unsound, SMEs can also help combat the problem by using best practice in managing their payment systems.
“It won’t prevent every late payment or bad debt, but by establishing strong protocols for how a business administers its financial relationships, cash flow will improve and the resources needed to chase outstanding bills will be greatly reduced.”
Kelly recommends the following five steps for SMEs wanting to improve their payment systems.
Five steps to help avoid late payments from customers:
1. Credit check your customers
This applies to new and existing customers – do you know their current financial position? This can provide a good indicator of whether you want to do, or continue doing, business with them and on what terms. How much credit, if any, do you want to extend?
2. Agree clear payment terms
Knowing what payment terms are in place is key to managing cash flow and debt. When is payment due? What sanctions are in place in the event of overdue payment?
3. Invoice promptly
Seventy-one per cent of businesses who claim not to have issues with late payments attribute this to robust invoicing practices. The longer it takes to invoice, the longer it will take to get paid, so why wait? Is it possible to send the invoice by e-mail, for example, to avoid unnecessary delay?
4. Make payments easier for customers
Consider offering on-line payments or direct debits, where appropriate. The easier it is to make payment, the more likely it is that payment will be made promptly.
5. Monitor and chase debt
Keep a record of when payments are due. As soon as an invoice becomes overdue for payment, make contact with the customer – one in five businesses cite the reason most often given by customers for late payment is that the invoice has simply been forgotten, so a simple reminder may be enough to prompt payment. Furthermore, making contact with customers can also provide an early indication of issues which may be a barrier to payment.