Cash Flow Is A Growing Issue For SMEs

According to new research by the Asset Based Finance Association (ABFA), over the past year small businesses must wait 23 days longer on average for payment compared to larger companies. The figures show that companies with a turnover of less than £1 million have waited an average of 71 days to receive payment, while those with a turnover of more than £500 million were paid in an average of 48 days.

Two in five small firms cite ‘invoice lost or not received’ as the excuse they were given for late payment. And worryingly, one in three is being forced to write off bad debts every year.

This is despite the Government putting pressure on big firms to sign up to the Prompt Payment Code (PPC):  in fact, the current wait of 71 days for small businesses is a week longer than in 2006.

The PPC was set up in 2008 to improve small firm’s stability by helping them recover the billions of pounds owed to them in late payments more quickly. It is a voluntary register of almost 1,700 UK companies that have committed to pay invoices in accordance with contracts. But there are no sanctions for breaching the code.

ABFA Chief Executive Jeff Longhurst said, “These figures highlight that the relationship between some big businesses and smaller companies has become even more unbalanced since the credit crunch. It is alarming to see how much longer small and medium sized firms are waiting to receive payment compared with just a few years ago.”

Phil Orford, Chief Executive of the Forum of Private Business said, “Late payment continues to escalate in size and impact on small businesses. With companies facing sizeable cost increases over auto-enrolment of staff into pensions, we need to make sure cash flow is as good as possible.

WestWon CEO Jeremy Hall commented, “On-going issues with late payments and the knock on effect on cash flow is putting some small businesses in financial difficulties and it certainly makes it more difficult to make the investments they need in the recovery economy.

“At the same time we have seen a growth in the number of small businesses seeing equipment leasing as a vital financial tool in their kitbag. Asset-based finance enables them to spread the cost of essential capital investments over time, rather than having to tie up large sums of capital upfront – and given the current climate, they may well need the flexibility to deploy available funds elsewhere.”

Research from bank transfer service BACs revealed in July 14 that late payment debt is now £40 billion, up from £30 billion last summer. The forthcoming  Small Business enterprise and Employment Bill will legislate for greater transparency of payment practices, with large companies required to publish their practices and how they perform against them. But whether this will be sufficient to tackle what is a huge issue for the recovery and small business investment remains to be seen.

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