Empowering the Freelance Economy

58% of freelancers and SMEs waiting to be paid

Moe than half of freelancers and small businesses are waiting to be paid. Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels
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Small Business Commissioner Fights For On-Time Payment For Freelancers

  • Barclays and Small Business Commissioner call to unite the small business community to tackle late payments and raise the social conscience of larger businesses who don’t pay on time
  • Three in five (58%) SMEs are currently waiting on money which is tied up in unpaid invoices, according to research from Barclays
  • More than half of adults in the UK (58%) said they would boycott a business if they knew they were a late payment offender
Liz Barclay, Small Business Commissioner

Three in five or 58% of small or medium enterprises (SMEs) across the UK are currently waiting on late payments from customers, according to new research from Barclays surveying 500 small business owners.

For medium-sized enterprises with 50 to 249 staff, those waiting on late payments rises to more than 94%. Late payments negatively impact a business’s income, which can result in cash flow instability. For some businesses, this owed money might prevent new hiring opportunities or investment back into the business. In worst-case scenarios, the business might be forced to close.


Whilst customers and clients paying invoices late is no new challenge for businesses, a Barclays report said that two in five (40 per cent) SMEs say that they’re more likely to experience late payments as a result of the pandemic. If say, back-office staff are off work due to illness and small supplier invoices are overlooked or not prioritised. Late payments can happen once in a while. Mistakes happen. However, if they start to become a habit, then you have to reconsider your options, payment terms or if you belong to an industry union, ask for their advice on the next steps.

For those that have been on the receiving end of poor payment “practice”, the majority (80 per cent) said they would in future refuse a job with a potential customer if they were known for paying late.

Cancel culture

Barclays research has shown that paying late is not only putting off suppliers, but may also deter prospective customers from spending with known offenders. More than half of consumers surveyed (58 per cent) said they would boycott a business – big or small – if they knew they regularly paid their suppliers late.

For some business owners, the stress of waiting on late payments has more than just an impact on their finances. Two fifths (39%) of SME owners say their mental wellbeing has suffered as a result of late payments, with over a third (34%) having had sleepless nights.

A quarter of business owners say they haven’t been able to go on holiday over the past couple of years because of money owed to their business, and a higher proportion (27%) say their personal relationships with partners, family and friends worsen if they’re paid late.

Hannah Bernard, Head of Business Banking at Barclays, said: “Late payments is the single biggest cause of business failure. We want to unite the small business community in tackling this issue and raise the social conscience of larger businesses that don’t pay on time. Any business worried about the impact of late payments should contact their bank to talk about their options, whether that be for guidance on how to report a business for paying late, or to explore invoice finance and insurance options.

“Having a constant cycle of late payments will hamper the future growth of the economy and fuel a never-ending cycle of uncertainty for hard-working entrepreneurs. Business owners across the UK have a lot of challenges to juggle right now, and the stress of chasing late payments shouldn’t be one of them.”

Small Business Commissioner, Liz Barclay, said: “We welcome the bank’s commitment to make bigger firms face up to the consequences of paying their small suppliers late. The consequences for wellbeing and mental health can be catastrophic. But late payments are just part of the problem. Repeated delays and excuses, and extended payment terms of 90/120 and even 360 days are common. Uncertainty kills small and micro-businesses as well as freelancers and sole traders. As well as customers and would-be employees we need to see potential investors refusing to invest in firms that don’t treat small suppliers well. We also need this to be top of the Board governance agendas. A change in payment culture is decades overdue”.

What is the Prompt Payment Code?

Through the Prompt Payment Code (PPC), businesses are able to claim late payment interest and compensation to businesses signed up to the code if they miss a payment deadline. However, whilst almost two-thirds of businesses (64%) surveyed say they’re aware that they can take action, less than a quarter (23%) had done so, out of fear that this would result in not getting another job with the customer.

Those waiting on late payments said that with the cash they could expand their product or service offering (24%), invest in research and development (19 per cent), or even hire more staff (18%).

To find out more about the Prompt Payment Code, visit: www.smallbusinesscommissioner.gov.uk/ppc/

Here are some steps to take if you are dealing with an unpaid invoice:

Dealing with an unpaid invoice

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