Late payments crisis threatens small firms in 2022

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Date: 4 January 2022

A concerned businesswoman worries she won't be able to pay her bills

A survey by the Federation of Small Businesses has found that almost one in ten UK firms say the late payment crisis is threatening their survival and it predicts that as many as 440,000 businesses could close their doors in the coming year.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has warned that late payments, high inflation and mounting admin for firms that trade internationally will cause the UK small business community to shrink in size if left unaddressed.

The latest FSB Small Business Index (SBI) has found that the UK's late payment problem has worsened over the past year and it predicts that as many as 440,000 businesses could be forced to close in 2022 due to late payment alone. It comes after an estimated 400,000 small businesses closed their doors in 2021.

The new FSB study of more than 1,200 business owners has found that:

  • 30% of small firms have seen late payment of invoices increase over the past three months;
  • 8% say late payment is now threatening the viability of their business;
  • 78% of small firms also say that costs are rising, representing a seven-year high.

The headline UK SBI measure of confidence dropped to -8.5 in Q4. The figure has fallen every quarter over 2021, having stood at +27.3 in Q1. More small firms now expect their performance to worsen over the coming three months than expect an improvement. Pessimism is especially pronounced in the retail (-40.3) and accommodation and food (-33.0) industries.

Businesses that trade with the EU are also now dealing with the introduction of full import checks and rules of origin requirements; the FSB findings show that 74% of small exporting firms said international sales were already flat or falling over the past quarter.

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: "The small business community diminished in size over the past year and, unless action is taken now to tackle the challenges it faces, history is set to repeat itself.

"Small firms are facing flashpoint after flashpoint. Today, it's a fresh wave of admin for importers and exporters - in three months' time it will be a hike to the jobs tax that is national insurance contributions, a rise in dividend taxation, business rates bills and an increase in the national living wage. On top of that, operating costs are surging."

The FSB is urging the government to do more on late payment. "Late payment is the issue that keeps thousands of entrepreneurs up at night, and one that has worsened in lockstep with lockdowns. We need to see words turned to action," said Cherry.

"Every big UK corporation should have a non-executive director on its board with direct responsibility for payment culture. And every big business and government organisation should be abiding by the prompt payment code: 30-day payment terms are not a nice to have, they're the norm for those who are committed to environmental, social and governance best practice."

Cherry also warned that "April's tax hikes are looking increasingly misjudged" and is calling on chancellor Rishi Sunak to "look again at how to protect small firms from this fresh blow". An increase in the Employment Allowance, he said, would provide some breathing space.

Any small firm that is experiencing difficulties because of late payments can contact the Small Business Commissioner for advice and support.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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