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Payment getting later

UK companies are now taking longer to pay their bills than at any time since legislation to combat late payment was introduced in 1998, according to new research from Experian, the global information solutions company.

Overall, businesses are taking 61.07 days to pay their bills, an increase of almost two days since November 2006 - the greatest rise since records began in 1998. Large companies are taking 81.5 days to pay their bills, 21.2 days more than small companies.

Medium-sized companies are now taking 61.3 days - one day more than they did six months ago - while small companies are taking two more days, at 60.2 days. Experian’s findings are based on the payment patterns of more than 435,000 companies.

Says Jo Howard, marketing director of Experian’s Business Information division: “Businesses need to be increasingly cautious about trading with companies that have a poor or erratic payment performance record. More alert companies are more likely to take steps to screen out poor performers from their new business activity and check for default or late payment amongst new and existing customers so they know who they are dealing with and are forewarned of any potential problems.

“At the same time, they might be trading with a very creditworthy and sound business that has a culture of late payment. It pays its bills, but traditionally later than its peers in the industry. Here a business can be prepared for late payment or take steps to change its payment terms to encourage faster payment or develop more creative collection strategies.”

The slowest paying industry overall is the electricity sector, which takes an average of 72.1 days to pay its bills. The agriculture, fishery and forestry industry has yet again shown itself to be the most prompt at paying its bills, taking on average 54 days.

Says Howard: “Many companies, whether they are large, medium or small, are very diligent about paying their invoices within the terms agreed with their suppliers. But there is still a hardcore that clings stubbornly to the culture of late payment of invoices and the latest figures indicate that this is getting worse.

“Companies seem to be happier to accept longer payment terms when business is going well, but will take a tougher stance when they begin to feel the pinch. There may be an upcoming battle between the two forces, as companies seek to retain more cash and slow payments in the face of higher interest payments, while suppliers seeing lower levels of growth will be less prepared to accept extended payment terms.

“It is intriguing to see where the power shift lies. The late payment battle is far from over and we predict very interesting times ahead.”

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