Tax & admin · 20 December 2017

Government opens late payment complaints procedure for small suppliers

A three-stage process could help suppliers challenge unpaid invoices
A three-stage process could help suppliers challenge unpaid invoices

A late payment complaints procedure has today been launched by government to help small business owners challenge poor supply chain practices by large firms.

The start of a formal process sees the small business commissioner handed his first duties, an office first announced by former small business minister Anna Soubry in 2015 but only recently filled.

Having appointed former Conservative MP Paul Uppal into the role in October, the government has now published step-by-step guidance for dealing with late invoice payments and unfair contract terms.

A new website has been launched to act as the central resource for unpaid invoice complaints, with instructions on how to escalate payment issues. A three-stage “check, chase and choose” process has been established to allow small business owners to challenge poor supply chain practices by larger clients.

The first two stages will help owners challenge clients themselves, while the final stage provides instructions for accessing legal advice, negotiating solutions and submitting complaints to the commissioner.

However, certain cases will not be considered as within the commissioner’s authority. Supermarket suppliers have been told to complain to the Groceries Code Adjudicator, construction firms should contact the correct industry body, and government suppliers must use the Mystery Shopper service.

The service is available to businesses of under 50 staff, chasing payments from companies of over 50 staff.

In a statement, Uppal said the site would help small business owners “know their rights” and offer them an important point of contact to his office.

Welcoming the establishment of a formal process, Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said small business growth remained stifled by a “poor payment crisis” in Britain, with almost a third of invoices paid late at an average value of £6,142.

“This not only impacts on the small business and the owner, it is damaging the wider economy,” Cherry said.

“The small business commissioner is crucial to turning the tide on this late payments culture. FSB will be encouraging small businesses affected to use the service, and we hope then to see clear actions taken to tackle the worst examples of supply chain bullying.

“Success will be a UK economic culture where a business that does a job promptly, is paid promptly.”

Prior to Uppal’s appointment, we asked readers how much confidence they had that a small business commissioner would improve their payments situation. Over three quarters said they had none whatsoever.

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The late payment complaints procedure follows regulations introduced in April 2017 requiring large businesses to publically report average supplier payment times. Some 200 firms have so far published records online.

As the government sets its focus onto late invoice payments, Business Advice has previously revealed that excessive payment terms could be the underlying problem within Britain’s supply chains

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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.