Late payment has become the business community’s most pressing concern. It ravages cash flow and leaves many small businesses on the brink of insolvency. Government initiatives such as the Prompt Payment Code have proven ineffective. The efforts of the small business commissioner have done very little to ease financial distress.


A June article published in Economia magazine from the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) has questioned what can be done to resolve the issue- if anything.

Paul Uppal’s appointment as small business commissioner was seen to be a step in the right direction, a demonstration of solidarity to the small business community. Unfortunately, less than a month after Mr Uppal started the job, Carillion collapsed. The construction giant’s demise left behind billions of pounds of debt, leaving small construction companies desolate and without any hope of repayments. ICAEW executive, Rachel Wilcox, who penned the article, describes the fallout as a “baptism of fire” for Uppal, with immense pressure being directed at the small business commissioner, as well as the rest of the UK government.

The subsequent scrutiny of Carillion’s payment history further challenged the government’s assessment of credit risk, in relation to businesses they granted contracts to. Not only could it be readily seen that the company had for some time been taking 120 days to pay its suppliers, but hypocritically Carillion was also a signatory for the government’s Prompt Payment Code; an initiative promoted as bringing an end to late payments. Its voluntary make-up however ultimately brought the code limited success, with late paid businesses too intimidated to confront their perpetrators.

The Chartered Institute of Credit Management (CICM) defends the code, with Philip King, the CICM chief executive, insisting that the Carillion damage merely led to a misunderstanding of how the code worked. “When we get involved, things get resolved quite quickly”, Mr King insisted. The fact that late payments persist still hitherto seems to contradict his argument, indeed many industry heads are demanding a tougher approach than waiting for self-confessed late payers to sign up!


“This is symptomatic of a broader disease of the inequity in the commercial relationship between larger and smaller businesses,” Paul Uppal told economia. “If small companies don’t feel they can say no to the terms being dictated by larger companies, that’s effectively abuse.”

Economists have become concerned about how the late payment culture has for many years shaped the British landscape, effectively twisting late payment into a “cultural norm”.  Many small businesses are “bullied” by larger businesses into approving extended payment terms but without the financial strength to come forward. “If small companies don’t feel they can say no, that’s effectively abuse”, says small business commissioner, Paul Uppal.

Despite the ineffectiveness of its Prompt Payment Code, the Government has made other efforts to resolve the late payment problem. Small business minister Andrew Griffiths has described the government’s Industrial Strategy as the key to “stamping out late payments” and he hopes to see it help businesses to thrive. New reporting requirements within the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 have also called upon identified businesses to publish their payment times and terms, but with no penalties for late payers.

This is indeed the nub of the problem, with the Federation of Small Business demanding penalties and extra interest payments for late payment, but the Government continuing to resist. HW Fisher audit partner Nauzer Siganporia has suggested that the government simply doesn’t have the “appetite” for a tougher approach, with Mr Siganporia suggesting that Brexit is weighing too heavily. Actually, CPA can understand why the government does not have the appetite, as they already interfere in the free enterprise too much. It is up to individual firms to deal with this issue for themselves.

The ICAEW ultimately does not hold out much hope for government measures, perceiving the efforts made by small business commissioner Paul Uppal as too “modest” and overshadowed by the commissioner office’s focus on raising profile and keeping a fixed spotlight on the problem.

This is where the Credit Protection Association can step in. Along with our credit management and debt recovery efforts, we have also turned our focus to eradicating late payment for our Members without damaging goodwill.

Within the Credit Protection Association, we take advantage of the rarely used Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998. This recovers for clients late payment compensation in respect of past invoices that were paid to them but paid late, beyond the original credit terms extended to their customers. What is more, there is no outlay of funds for clients beyond a small initial processing fee. This, in turn, has unlocked hidden cash and potential for our members and brightened their prospects and confidence within the current business landscape.


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