Tax & admin · 28 September 2018

Named and shamed: 35 worst offending late payers and the crippling impact on small businesses

Micro businesses and freelancers may go out of business because of late payments. These are the 35 worst offenders.
Micro businesses and freelancers may go out of business because of late payments. These are the 35 worst offenders.

The top 35 worst offending businesses for late payments in the UK include household names like E.ON and Thomas Cook.

Late payments are the scourge of the business community, especially for micro businesses that rely on steady income to keep them in the black. New research, however, reveals that only 4.7% of the businesses pay all their invoices within 30 days.

Companies with a £36 million annual turnover have an obligation to report to the government about their payment practices. According to research from invoicing specialists at Business Expert, only 316 out of the 6,613 businesses in the latest government report stick to 30-day payment terms. Additionally, 20% of the businesses in this list pay more than half of invoices days late.

The result? UK SME’s are owed £44.6 billion in late invoice payments.

Here we round up the 35 worst offending businesses for late payments and what to do if you’re owed payment from a key customer.

The top 35 worst offending late payers

Business Expert’s research uncovered the top 35 worst offending businesses for late payments which include several household names.

Position Company Average days to pay % Invoices not paid within agreed terms
1 WT FILM PRODUCTIONS LIMITED 287 100%
2 BAE SYSTEMS (OMAN) LIMITED 176 79%
3 ERNST & YOUNG (ASIA-PACIFIC) SERVICES LIMITED 175 92%
4 ERNST & YOUNG (ASIA-PACIFIC) SERVICES LIMITED 149 94%
5 KYOWA KIRIN LIMITED 144 72%
6 ERNST & YOUNG (EMEIA) SERVICES LIMITED 136 83%
7 COSTAIN OIL, GAS & PROCESS LIMITED 131 82%
8 TUI UK TRANSPORT LIMITED 129 96%
9 E.ON CLIMATE & RENEWABLES UK HUMBER WIND LIMITED 118 63%
10 ARDAGH METAL BEVERAGE TRADING UK LIMITED 113 92%
11 ERNST & YOUNG (EMEIA) SERVICES LIMITED 109 75%
12 NBCUNIVERSAL INTERNATIONAL NETWORKS ACQUISITIONS LIMITED 107 64%
13 BROWN AND MASON LIMITED 103 66%
14 ASPEN HEALTHCARE LIMITED 101 92%
15 SELECTA U.K. LIMITED 96 68%
16 UNIVERSAL PICTURES GROUP (UK) LIMITED 93 68%
17 SPORTSENGINE UK LIMITED 92 100%
18 TELSTRA LIMITED 92 83%
19 CARLSBERG SUPPLY COMPANY UK LIMITED 92 67%
20 FNZ (UK) LTD 91 90%
21 PLEXUS CORP (UK) LIMITED 91 78%
22 WILLIS INTERNATIONAL LIMITED 91 76%
23 CAPE ENGINEERING SERVICES LIMITED 91 66%
24 TELSTRA LIMITED 88 82%
25 THOMAS COOK GROUP PLC 88 80%
26 KIER PARTNERSHIP HOMES LIMITED 87 81%
27 WILLIAM GRANT & SONS UK LIMITED 86 71%
28 SDC TRAILERS LIMITED 85 78%
29 MWB BUSINESS EXCHANGE CENTRES LIMITED 84 90%
30 WORLDPAY AP LTD. 83 94%
31 MCNICHOLAS CONSTRUCTION SERVICES LIMITED 81 92%
32 MHR INTERNATIONAL UK LIMITED 81 85%
33 KIER PARTNERSHIP HOMES LIMITED 81 70%
34 COCA-COLA EUROPEAN PARTNERS PLC 80 61%
35 RANDSTAD MIDDLE EAST LIMITED 79 100%


The real-life impact: Micro business owners speak out

It’s all too easy to look at the report and think “these large businesses don’t affect me.” But this late culture is a problem for the whole of the UK. It’s estimated if SME’s were paid on time, the economy could be boosted by £2.5 billion.

“I have young children who are going without things they need”

Self-published children’s author, Ellie Jackson, has sold over 7000 books in a year and has over 150 stockists in the U.K. Yet, she has had to take out a loan to pay for more books. “I currently have thousands of pounds of outstanding invoices and this is having a huge impact on my ability to reinvest in my business,” she says. Jackson adds that she has four young children who are going without things they need because of this systemic payments problem.

According to Business Expert, businesses are unable to operate in these conditions. This impacts real people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

View from a micro business: Nicola Simmons, Single Variety Co

Nicola Simmons runs Single Variety Co, a small batch jam business based in South West London. Her business makes single variety preserves that are sold across the UK in over 100 shops, from small independents to high-end food halls, (and online).

“The main issues that late payment causes (is that) it’s a constant struggle to ensure there is enough money in the bank in order to pay our fixed costs, such as rent and staff. I am having to rely on my customers paying us on time to ensure the money is in the bank to pay out on time. I go without paying myself to make sure this is the case,” she says.

Late payments from customers also means Simmons can’t grow her business as fast as she’d like.

“I need money in the bank in order to make stock. If our payments are late then we cannot make as much stock as we’d like or get discounts for buying in bigger volume.”

Because of this crippling problem, Simmons now asks all new customers to pay their first order upfront, which puts money in the bank. “With our larger customers we ask them to pay within 14 days rather than 30 days to help put the money in the bank sooner.”

Single Variety Co's Nicola Simmons opens up about how chasing payments is a business barrier.
Single Variety Co’s Nicola Simmons opens up about the pain of chasing payments.

The late payment issue has helped her rejig her business model and she aims to grow Single Variety Co’s online sales where the company can get the money within a few days.

“The majority of our customers are very very helpful and want us to succeed, but surprisingly it is the medium-sized customers who are the worst at paying- small independents almost always pay on time, as do the big boys!”

“I have come very very close to refusing to supply one customer who always pays over a month late and I always have to chase,” she explains. “Ultimately if they pay much later then they are not worth it for me… I lose out due to not having the money in the bank and the time wasted in chasing that I could be using to sell instead.”

View from a freelancer: Jenny Pace

“As a freelancer, I often manage late payments, and it’s a really tricky issue,” says veteran freelancer and late payments wrangler Jenny Pace. When she started her business in 2014, she didn’t really experience late payment or non-payment, but in the last two years, it’s been a bigger problem.

“In the last six months, late payments have meant that I’ve borrowed money from my husband or asked him to pay bills while I wait for clients to settle up. It’s also meant that I’ve then been delayed in paying suppliers or subcontractors,” she adds.

“The knock-on effect of becoming a late-payer is the worst: it feels like I’m perpetuating the cycle.”

“(I’m owed over) £1,000 and with the mortgage payment due on the first, I’ve only got £450 in the bank towards the direct debit,” says Rae Radford, a social media consultant who has featured on Good Morning Britain and This Morning. “I’ve asked and asked and asked but they always say the same thing! You just end up going around and around in circles.”

As a way to resolve this, she has tightened up her payment terms and takes more payment up front now. “There are a couple of clients I can’t do that with, but are a huge part of my income, so I’m staying on top of invoicing to make sure they have everything they need to pay me as close to deadline as possible.”

View from a small business supplier: Andy Lawson

At the head of a small business working with SMEs of all shapes and sizes, Andy Lawson experiences first hand the effects of late invoice payments and how the cogs in the wheel grind to a halt.

“Someone not paying us for services, means we struggle to pay suppliers, and so the knock-on effect in the chain continues,” he says. “I compare it to the house-buying chain. It only takes one delay in the chain to have a huge impact from the top to the bottom.”

To date, Lawson hasn’t used factoring services but it’s been on the table for consideration, he adds. “As a business, we don’t want to be holding up the supply chain but as a small business there is very little you can do. We tried planting a money tree in the office but it didn’t grow.”

Wall of shame: 5 shocking businesses guilty of late payment

WT Film Productions – The film company behind Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Theory of Everything – Average time to pay invoices is a massive 287 days with 100% being paid late.
E.ON Climate & Renewables UK Humber Wind Limited – One of the ‘Big Six’ energy supplies in the UK – This renewable division pays 63% of invoices late. On average the energy client takes 118 days to make a payment.
Universal Pictures Group (UK) Limited – The iconic Universal Pictures has many high-grossing films under their belt. – 68% of their invoices are paid late. On average they take a monstrous 93 days to make payments.
Carlsberg Supply Company UK Limited – If Carlsberg did invoices they would…definitely not be the best in the world. – The Copenhagen beer company takes an average of 92 days to pay invoices with 67% of invoices paid late.
Thomas Cook Group PLC – The British travel company that gained its fair share of controversy of late – 80% of Thomas Cook’s bills are not paid on time, spending a massive 88 days to pay on average.
Coca-Cola European Partners PLC – The favoured drinks company – Coca-Cola usually takes 80 days to pay an invoice. More than half of their invoices are not paid on time.

Do your customers default on their payment terms? Share your experience with us for a chance to be featured in Business Advice.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

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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