Subcontractors write-off £2.8bn in bad debt each year

  • Three-fifths of subcontractors have written off sums in the past year
  • Firms lose more than £16,000 each as customers fail to pay
  • Industry experts call for tougher action on non-payment 

Customer non-payment continues to hamper the growth of small subcontractors working in the UK construction sector, according to a study by specialist financial services provider Bibby Financial Services (BFS) and industry experts, The Vinden Partnership (TVP).

Findings of the Subcontracting Growth 2018 research, undertaken in the aftermath of the collapse of Carillion, reveal that three-fifths of subcontractors (60%) have suffered from bad debt in the last 12 months, with the average firm writing-off £16,149 each year.

Specialist Finance Director at BFS, Kash Ahmad, commented: “Bad debt is a serious issue for many construction businesses and, across the entire sector, more than £2.8bn* is written-off each year, representing a significant economic leakage.

“Bad debt occurs due to insolvency in the supply chain, protracted default or dispute and the issue is particularly challenging for smaller firms that have already footed the bill for raw material and labour costs. This places a massive strain on these businesses, sometimes even causing viable firms to fold. For many, bad debt is the hidden cost of doing business.”

Almost a fifth of subcontractors (17%) said the most common reason for not receiving the full amount billed was due to a customer going out of business. A change in the scope of work part way through a project (8%), queries over the quality of work (6%) and disputes over contracts (6%) were also among the top reasons firms would lose money.

More than two-fifths of businesses (44%) said that construction contracts are difficult to understand, with less than one in ten firms (6%) seeking expert advice.

Kash Ahmad added: “The Carillion situation has highlighted three fundamental issues in the sector: endemic late payment, bad debt and complexity of contracts. Each of these issues needs to be tackled by both the public and private sectors. However, there are also measures that small businesses can take in order to protect themselves against such issues. Such measures can include conducting thorough debtor reviews, seeking advice on contract negotiation and considering bad debt protection.”

Helen Wheeler, Managing Director for Construction Finance at BFS, commented: “Making full and correct payment in accordance with contracts is a fundamental pillar of the Government’s Construction Supply Chain Payment Charter, but it is clear that this simply isn’t happening. Unless something more tangible is done, the growth of tens of thousands of small construction firms will continued to be stifled.”

Posted on 11 June 2018

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