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SMEs owed more than £44.5bn in late payments

London, April 12, 2017

Results from the latest Zurich SME Risk Index show that more than half (52%) of Britain’s small-and-medium sized enterprises are owed in total an estimated £44.6 billion in late payments.*

The survey of over 1,000 SME owners and decision makers showed that more than one in five (21%) are owed more than £25,000 and almost one in ten (9%) are owed more than £100,000. 

Of those who have experienced late payments, almost two thirds (64%) experience typical delays of more than one month on payments which are already more than 30 days overdue. Almost half (45%) are subject to payment delays of up to three months on late payments, while considerably more than one in ten (14%) typically wait up to six months.  

Small business owners are seeing the devastating effects of late payments in the market, as almost two thirds (65%) agree that late payments are leading to SMEs being forced to close down. 

Nearly two in five (39%) confirmed that late payments have had a significant impact on their own business’ cash flow, while almost a quarter (24%) said that late payments had caused their business to go into its overdraft in the past. 

Concerns were also raised about the support on offer to mitigate the problems caused by late payments, with half (50%) of small business owners saying the government should be doing more to help SMEs in these circumstances. 

Paul Tombs, Head of SME Proposition at Zurich, comments, "£44 billion owed in late payments to British SMEs is an enormous sum. It is no surprise that many have experienced cash flow problems or have been forced to enter their overdrafts as a result.

"On an individual basis, many small businesses are owed hundreds of thousands of pounds. In an environment where cash flow is key to small business survival, the situation is simply unsustainable. It is imperative that SME owners receive the support and guidance required and fair access to the funds that they are owed to secure the future of their businesses."

- Ends - 

Notes to Editors:

*Total number of British SMEs (UK excl. Northern Ireland) is approximately 5,490,000 (November 2016), according to UK Government statistics (

The mean average of late payments owed to SMEs is £16,250. The proportion of the UK SMEs that have reported late payments is 52%, which takes into account the high proportion of sole traders in the UK (76%, according to figures from the Federation of Small Business) of which just 30% are owed late payments. 

A simple calculation assumes that 52% of the total 5,490,000 SMEs in the UK equals 2,741,960, multiplied by the £16,250 that are owed late payments means that UK SMEs are owed a total of £44,556,850,000 (£44.6bn). 


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1060 senior decision makers from British small and medium businesses (less than 250 employees). Fieldwork was undertaken between 20 - 28 February 2017. The survey was carried out online. 

Media contacts

Andrew Lyons
Media Relations Manager - Zurich
Tel: +44 (0) 7875 888 462 

Henry Adams
FleishmanHillard Fishburn,
Tel: 0208 618 2975