Supply chain · 20 November 2017

Half of UK businesses are paying suppliers later than agreed terms

late payment culture
Up to 15 per cent of small business turnover could now be tied up in late invoice payments

Almost one in two business owners have admitted to paying suppliers later than the agreed terms, new survey findings have shown.

According to research from e-invoicing firm Tungsten Network and the Institute of Finance and Management (IOFM), 47 per cent of businesses fail to fulfil at least one in ten of their supplier payments after the agreed date – typically between 30 and 60 days.

Additionally, just five per cent of companies paid all invoices on time, while one in 12 were failing to monitor supply chain practices altogether.

Britain’s late payment problem has emerged as one of the biggest constraints of small business growth in recent years. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) predicted that if small companies received every payment on time in 2016, profit growth for each firm would be on average 2.6 per cent higher – representing an extra £4.8bn in economic value.

The latest research arrives as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) introduces payment reporting legislation for large businesses guilty of so-called “supply chain bullying”, while the government’s small business commissioner was appointed in October with a mandate to address the problem.

Read more: Premier League suppliers chase £1.3m in overdue payments from top football clubs

Researchers also asked businesses why they were failing to pay suppliers on time, and identified the five most common causes of late supplier payments:

  1. Slow internal processes (64 per cent)
  2. Lack of automation (39 per cent)
  3. Administrative errors (27 per cent)
  4. Team capacity to manage the volume (20 per cent)
  5. Managing cash flow (16 per cent)

Commenting on the findings, Richard Hurwitz, CEO of Tungsten Network, acknowledged the economic impact of paying suppliers late, but said chasing invoices was a “source of frustration for suppliers and buyers alike”.

“There is a common misconception that these late payments are solely as a result of managing working capital or businesses holding onto their funds for as long as possible,” he added

“Our research shows that when it comes to late payments, clunky internal processes and slow paper-based systems are the predominant causes, leading to friction in the supply chain.

“Businesses ultimately need to get paid in order to invest in more work. Late payment impacts working capital and economic production. Arranging invoice payments can be a complex task, particularly if it’s cross-border and involves ensuring compliance with local tax laws. Businesses should feel supported, not pressured, in ensuring that their suppliers can be paid on time.”

Payments scandal: It’s not late payment, it’s unfair payment terms to start with

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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