Small and medium-sized UK businesses are being severely impacted by chronic reductions in working capital, according to new research of over 1,000 SMEs.
For many SMEs, uncertainty around when they will get paid is all too common. More than a third of UK SMEs admit to having no set payment terms with their customers, with almost a quarter complaining that they regularly receive payment for invoices late. Of those receiving payments late, more than half are left waiting ten days or more beyond their contracted terms.
This dire situation leaves SMEs dangerously exposed with many expecting a further squeeze as a result of Brexit uncertainty. More than one in ten SMEs say they have experienced a worsening in payment terms in the last 12 months, and 8 per cent are coming under further pressures as customers increase payment terms as a result of Brexit woes.
Late payments are also hurting UK business’ ability to trade around the world at a time when Brexit pressures mean exploring new growth opportunities is more important than ever. The findings indicate that over half a million businesses are being held back from expanding overseas due to the chronic late payment problem.
It’s clear that tackling the late payment problem is key to post-Brexit success. As many as 600,000 UK businesses are unable to export due this payment crunch. But, with an improved payment programme, the same amount of SMEs noted that they would target new growth overseas.
Stifling the economy
Crucially, this late payment crisis doesn’t live in isolation. SMEs that do not receive payments on time often struggle to meet their own obligations further down the supply chain. The research found that 16 per cent of SMEs admit to having to delay their own payments to suppliers as a result of unstable income.
This crisis hurts staff too: nearly one in ten of those surveyed admitted that late payments have meant that they have been challenged to meet their own payroll obligations.
The findings also come against the backdrop of the introduction of new government obligations requiring large businesses to publicly report on their payment practice to suppliers, serving as a timely reminder of the need for further progress to be made in ensuring SMEs are able to receive prompt payment from customers.
Tony Duggan, Crossflow Payments CEO, commented on the research: “There is no doubt that UK SMEs are facing a working capital crisis at the worst possible time. We face a difficult economic future as we prepare to leave the EU, so we need to find solutions for our homegrown businesses to be well placed for Brexit.
“We need to look at these new financing solutions and a fresh approach to avoid subjugating UK enterprises and putting our economy at risk. Businesses of all sizes need to address this growing crisis and explore innovative approaches offered by the alternative finance and FinTech community to sit alongside more traditional providers.”