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EDITIONS
 Working Lunch Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 14:02 GMT
Small firms' long wait for cash
Small businesses are still being plagued by the problem of late payment.

And the main culprits are often bigger outfits.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses, publicly quoted companies are taking an average of 46 days to pay their bills.

That's well over the 30 days regarded as normal practice.

It's the fourth year that the FSB has carried out this research, and things show no signs of getting any better.

The overall results show that two-thirds of the UK's plcs are late payers.

Be forceful

However, the very worst performers - one took nearly two years to settle up - tend to be small businesses.

So what can companies do if their invoices aren't being paid?

The first thing is to chase the other party. The FSB survey showed that a lot of firms aren't forceful enough in trying to get their hands on the money.

There are also legal measures, following legislation originally introduced in 1998 but just being enforced in its entirety.

You can:

  • claim interest
  • claim debt recovery costs
  • challenge the terms of the contract.

    "There is a concern among small business owners that if they use the legislation they will be putting their major contracts under threat," says the FSB's David Bishop.

    "However the legislation is important as a basket of measures that small businesses can undertake.

    "But better credit management is key. They need to ensure that their payment terms and condition are outlined in writing to their major customers and that they chase bills before they become due."

    Action

    But it's good to know there is some action you can take.

    Suppose you have a 1,000 debt that's one month late.

    You can charge interest by the base rate (currently 4%) plus 8%.

    So on your 1,000 that would add up to 120 a year.

    For every month the debut remained overdue, you could charge 10.

    You could also claim compensation. It's on a sliding scale depending on how much you are owed:

  • Up to 1,000 - 40
  • 1,000 to 10,000 - 70
  • More than 10,000 - 100

  •   WATCH/LISTEN
      ON THIS STORY
      David Bishop, Federation of Small Businesses
    "Late payment is still a major contributing factor to businesses going under"
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