A new report has confirmed the shocking impact that unpaid B2B debts have on the UK economy.
A survey of SMEs by Amicus Commercial Finance found that the average small business in the UK writes off a staggering £12,000 each year in unpaid invoices, mainly from larger customers and clients.
Taken across the entire economy, that adds up to an unbelievable £50bn a year in lost revenue - or £134 million lost to bad debt every single day.
Three quarters of the businesses surveyed said they had written off debts entirely in the past year. Amongst the worst affected group, businesses with 50 to 249 employees, a quarter of all invoices are not being paid on time, if at all.
The only thing anyone can be certain about at this stage following June’s vote for the UK to leave the EU is that no one is going to be certain about anything else very quickly. Brexit has understandably created huge interest and nervousness in the business community as companies try to work out how the break from Britain’s largest trading partner will impact on them.
Having to deal with invoices that are not paid on time is stressful for any business owner. Late payments can seriously disrupt cash flow, take precious time to sort out, and can sour relationships with clients.
Most late payments are one offs and arise from perfectly understandable circumstances. With a little dialogue and a little patience, most can be resolved amicably. But what about that small minority of clients who persistently pay late?
Small and medium sized businesses need to be aware of a rising wave of frauds affecting companies big and small. The current most frequently used type of fraud is often called “Fake CEO Fraud” and we would urge all UK businesses to stay vigilant or potentially stand to lose significant sums.
So you have just won a new client. You aced the bidding process, the initial project meetings went well and the money is good. You can’t wait to get started, when out of the blue you get the following note from their finance people:
“Please be advised that our payment terms are 60 days from date of invoice. This will override any payment terms stated on your invoice. Payments will be processed accordingly on the final Friday of each month.”
What do you do?
Work has stopped on the restoration of Lancaster Castle after the company working on it was placed into administration. York based William Anelay Ltd, one of Britain’s oldest heritage restoration and construction companies, had been working on a programme of work to repair 70 per cent of the castle’s roofs and deal with weather damage to the fabric of the 1,000-year-old Grade II Listed building.
Having to chase late payments is sadly an experience most people in business have to go through at one time or another. But knowing when irritating delays have crossed the line into a breakdown in the business relationship can be difficult to fathom.
Cash flow is important, but long-term survival depends on holding on to the clients that you invested in.
We recently blogged about Crowdmix, the London-based start-up that went into administration. It’s a sad fact that many businesses fail within their first year. This can’t always be prevented: starting a business is tough. But there are certainly things you can do to avoid disaster.
Profit is important to all businesses, but don’t underestimate the importance of cash flow either.
London based start-up Crowdmix Ltd was in the process of developing a social media music platform. But before it could even launch its product fully, it ran out of money despite having previously raised £14 million in funding.
As of Monday 11 July, 2016, it has left its creditors, many of them freelance contractors, tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket. If you’re owed money by Crowdmix the prognosis for recovery is not good, so let’s look at what happens next.
British businesses are facing a unique set of circumstances right now - the global economy is emerging from the deepest recession in living memory, domestic trade is uncertain with the EU Referendum looming, and there are issues of legislation from the National Living Wage to auto-enrolment pensions that are affecting company finances on a national scale too.
With all of this in mind, what are the implications for businesses of all sizes when it comes to getting paid for the work they do?
When Tesco was exposed for its long payment delays, it exposed an ugly trend among large businesses: delay, delay and delay some more, until your supplier is on its knees. And while the supermarket provided an extreme example of this unethical practice, a shockingly large percentage of global businesses see late payment to suppliers as a “fact of life”.
We recently wrote about a large fraud case involving at least six connected companies. Each of these companies used false accounts, identity theft and fake documents to achieve large amounts of credit. When the goods arrived, they immediately vanished, but they were never paid for. The suppliers were left out of pocket, and the fraudsters disappeared with the proceeds.
Clearly, this was a very large and highly organised fraud, and 6 companies known to be involved have been liquidated. This kind of operation is unusual, but increasing in prevalence and we suspect it will only get worse as more criminals start to hear about it.
The Insolvency Service has just completed an investigation into a network of fraudulent companies in the UK. The implications of this investigation should act as a cautionary tale for anyone that offers credit to their customers.
In this case, scammers used fake financial accounts to acquire goods on credit with suppliers, using fake details and false documents to elevate credit limits artificially. As the scam progressed, these companies acquired goods they had no intention of paying for and unwary suppliers continued to offer credit, because all of the companies looked profitable on paper.
Small businesses are extremely vulnerable to cash flow problems, and even the slightest slip in payment dates can leave the business unable to pay its suppliers and even staff salaries. In many cases, big suppliers don’t pay their smaller suppliers quickly enough to keep the small businesses running, and as a result the small business finds it simply can’t make ends meet.