Late pay is growing problem for UK exporters

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Date: 18 February 2020

Dockyard worker checking ship containers

New data shows that many foreign businesses that bought goods and services from UK companies in 2019 paid their invoices late.

The latest MarketFinance Business Insights has examined over 11,000 invoices to understand the trading relationship between UK businesses and the UK's top ten trading partner countries - the US, Germany, Netherlands, France, Ireland, China, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy and Spain.

Overall, 43% of invoices from UK companies to businesses in these countries were paid late in 2019, a significant increase from 2018 when 30% were paid late. The analysis suggests that businesses typically agree 45-day payment terms from completion of work or delivery of goods. However, invoices were actually settled 17.6 days beyond these payment terms in 2019, an increase from 16.2 days in 2018.

US companies were the worst late payers, taking an extra 51 days to settle invoices from agreed terms in 2019, up from 13 days late in 2018. Additionally, more invoices were paid late, up from 40% in 2018 to 53% in 2019. Second only to European countries, UK businesses send the largest invoices to the US; worth an average of £40,115.

In Europe, the number of German firms that paid their invoices late doubled between 2018 and 2019 (from 36% to 71%) and delays in settling bills doubled from 14 to 32 days late.

French, Spanish and Italian businesses halved the number of days they paid late from 24 days late in 2018 to 12 days in 2019. The number of invoices paid late by Irish firms doubled from 25% in 2018 to 52% in 2019.

The findings also show that 84% of invoices sent to Chinese businesses were paid late, the highest amongst all countries, up from 57% in 2018. However, the number of days taken to settle an invoice (beyond terms) remained consistent at 11 days in 2018 and 2019.

The latest survey of 3,300 exporters by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and DHL has concluded that "exporters continued to tread water through the final quarter of 2019". The balance of manufacturing exporters reporting an increase in export orders fell for the second consecutive quarter while service sector exports remain at "historically low levels".

However, many business experts believe now is a good time for businesses - including small firms - to expand overseas. "With the right conditions in place, UK exporters could provide a shot in the arm for the economy over the coming years," said BCC director general Adam Marshall.

Meanwhile, accountancy firm Gerald Edelman has said that it believes there will be little or no substantive changes to any part of the VAT system in respect of the EU this year.

"The full impact of Brexit and the way the UK trades with the EU will not be properly felt until 2021 at the earliest," said Gerald Edelman ceo Richard Kleiner.

"So, SMEs planning to expand overseas need to take a number of things into account. First, don't panic. Brexit is still causing uncertainty and so it is easy to see why some SMEs may be put off by expanding and doing business overseas. However, SMEs should see Brexit as an opportunity and those thinking about exporting or setting up new operations overseas now, will find that they will be ahead of many businesses come 2021."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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