Almost one in four big businesses take more than 120 days to pay their small business suppliers, with the worst offenders operating in the manufacturing, retail trade and construction sectors, according to new data from the Payment Times Reporting Regulator.
| "You can't be serious":
ASBFEO Bruce Billson
“These figures are appalling,” said the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson. “I say to the nation’s big businesses who are making small business wait four months to get paid, ‘you can’t be serious’.
“Big business must show leadership, respect and care for our small businesses and pay their bills on time,” Billson said. “And for big business leaders urging support for small business ‘doing it tough’, a practical and achievable measure is to get serious about improving payment performance to small business.”
The analysis of the data provided to the regulator by 7000 businesses, many with a turnover of more than $100 million, reveals that seven out of 10 big businesses failed to meet the 30-day payment goal set by the Business Council of Australia.
A breakdown of payment times shows:
23% of big business take more than 120 days to pay their small business suppliers
9% take between 61 and 90 days to pay
37% take between 31 and 60 days to pay
18% take between 21 and 30 days to pay
13% pay their bills in fewer than 20 days.
According to the data reported to the regulator, the worst performers were big businesses in manufacturing, retail trade and construction:
Only 14% of manufacturing businesses paid their small business suppliers within 30 days.
Only 22% of big businesses in retail trade paid small business within 30 days. This was also the case in construction.
“And even that 30 days can actually be 59 because you might do the work on the first of the month, send the invoice on the 30th of the month, and then there's another 30 days after that,” Billson told Radio 2CC Canberra.
“Small businesses can't avoid the demands on their cash. So, you'll often see a number of them having overdrafts, working capital, or as the Reserve Bank has revealed, in 2022 more and more small businesses tapping their own financial resources in order to meet the obligations of the business.
“And…there's a bit of gaming going on, you know, where people contest the detail on the invoice and therefore say it's not an approved invoice and then they'll talk about when the shot clock actually starts. I mean, these sorts of things are unnecessary.
“This is where I'm calling on big business to get serious and look after their vital partners that are their small business suppliers.”
Undue delaying of paying invoices is a heinous abuse of the trust implicit in the credit system. Some years ago, a symposium of prominent international accountants advocated and effective policy of: "screw debtors to get money in - delay paying creditors until they scream." On the surface, this may seem some kind of perverse but sound cash-flow management strategy but in fact it is akin to theft and extortion. For those too timid to oppose it, it is certainly a pathway to ruin.
This very publication has experienced such unethical behaviour when intermediary agencies are used to place advertsinng on behalf of quite significant corporations. They take the money in from the corporates, and hang onto it for as long as possible. 6, 7 even 9 months is not unheard of. Obfuscation in repeatedy asking for 'copies of invoices' is common. Duck-shoving from department-to-department or country-to-country for payment is used to further delay payment. You are not a bank, don't act like one and offer free interest loans!
In our experience, the only bullet-proof way to get paid in such circumstances is to initiate legal proceedings to take the recalcitrant party to court under local Australian or NZ law - from which point they risk loss of chattels, finances via costs and a huge loss in reputation from credit rating bodies. It's a last resort but in our case it worked and we got paid. It need not be expensive - a $75 letter from a reputable collection law firm, with a court date to be set, will ensure that any further costs are paid by the debtor. Ensure proof of debt is rock-solid. "But they might not place further orders" we hear you say. "So what?" is our reply - you don't want to do business with firms that don't pay their bills - let others lose money on them. There are plenty of fair, ethical traders out there - choose them and spoil them like family.
In the end it gets down to the adage: "Give credit where credit's due." Or, as the waggish shop sign once said: "In God we trust - all others pay cash!"
If your sign business is owed money long-term and you are fretting on how to get paid, drop an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org - we might just be able to advise on strategy to get paid before it is too late, so long as the debt is not reasonably disputed for valid causes.