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Overdue invoices hurting your cash flow? Customers who pay you late could be fined

3-minute read

Sam Bromley

7 October 2020

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The government wants to order companies to pay up if you make a complaint about late invoices, with fines for firms that don’t comply.

The proposals are part of a consultation launched by the Small Business Minister, Paul Scully, designed to help small businesses with their cash flow amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

Small businesses are currently owed £23.4 billion

Pay.UK estimates that small businesses are owed £23.4 billion in overdue invoices. The government says that this is threatening the survival of small businesses.

So the new consultation includes six key proposals designed to give new powers to the Small Business Commissioner, with the aim of resolving (and preventing) overdue invoices.

Here are the proposals:

  • when a complaint against a company is investigated and upheld, it’ll be ordered to pay either through a lump sum or payment plan. If the company doesn’t comply, the Small Business Commissioner can issue further penalties and fines
  • if the Small Business Commissioner is investigating a company’s payment practices, it can compel the company to share information
  • the Small Business Commissioner can launch investigations into company payment practices without first receiving a complaint from a small business
  • expand the scope for complaints to the Small Business Commissioner, so it can investigate complaints relating to payment issues around the supply of goods and services
  • the power to review other matters not strictly related to late payments, including supply problems or barriers to new payment technology
  • the ability to claw back the cost of investigation against a company, when there are adverse findings

The consultation is open until 24 December and you can give your views here.

Who is the Small Business Commissioner?

Last year, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) estimated that 50,000 small businesses go under each year because of late paying customers and clients.

The Small Business Commissioner’s office was set up in December 2017 under the remit of tackling poor and unfair payment practices.

The office aims to resolve complaints made by smaller businesses (with fewer than 50 employees) against large business customers (with more than 50 employees).

But the office has had limited success. While the government claims the Small Business Commissioner has retrieved £7.5 million owed to small businesses, this is still a small portion of the estimated £23.4 billion currently owed in late payments.

And the first Small Business Commissioner, Paul Uppal, was forced to resign in 2019 after less than two years in the role, following an alleged conflict of interest.

In December 2019, Uppal told The Times that he was “shocked” and “bruised” by the episode, saying: “I think we exceeded expectations for our limited budget and ten staff”.

The interim Small Business Commissioner is Philip King, who has previously been a board member of the Start Up Loans Company.

What can you do to resolve (and prevent) late payments?

Late invoice payments cost small businesses time and money – research from digital bank Tide reveals that the average small business spends up to one and a half hours a day chasing payments.

If you’re owed money, you can use our free late payment letter and outstanding invoice template to nudge your customers and clients.

But there are also steps you can take to prevent late payments, including:

  • being clear on your payment terms
  • using invoice software that issues automated payment reminders
  • forming a close, trusting relationship with clients and customers, so that they know late payment has a human cost

Do you think the proposed powers will stop overdue invoice payments – and will you send a response to the consultation? Let us know in the comments below.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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