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SME late payment crisis deepens through lockdown

30 June 2020

A new survey of more than 4,000 small firms has found that the majority have been hit by late payment as a result of COVID-19.

The study, conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), has found that 62% of small businesses have been subject to late or frozen payments in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The FSB's new report, Late Again: how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting payment terms for small firms, reveals that only one in ten small businesses have actually agreed changes to payment terms with clients, indicating that the vast majority of this fresh wave of poor practice has not been formally signed-off by creditors or debtors.

The study also shows that there is no discernible difference in late payment activity between public and private sector supply chains. Around two-thirds (65%) of small businesses that supply to other businesses have suffered late or frozen payments.

An almost identical number (63%) of firms in public sector supply chains have experienced the same treatment. Small firms in the wholesale (71%), legal and accounting (62%) and advertising and marketing sectors (62%) have been hardest hit.

The FSB is calling for the long-awaited review of the Prompt Payment Code to be launched, the fining of repeat offenders and for prompt payment to be made a precondition of state bailouts.

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: "Before the COVID-19 outbreak struck, many small firms were already under immense financial pressure because of late payments.

"With cashflow drying up as the lockdown took hold, this situation has worsened. Sadly, some unscrupulous corporations are trying to inoculate themselves from the impacts of COVID-19 by withholding payments, or even freezing them, at the expense of small businesses.

"Cash is still very much king for small firms, and withholding it has pushed many to the brink at a time when they're at their most vulnerable."

The government originally put forward a raft of late payment reforms in June 2019. "The government promised to act a year ago," said Cherry. "Time is running out - we need to see delivery."

Written by Rachel Miller

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