Half of all businesses have written off bad debts, according to new survey

If applied to the UK as a whole, the figures, which have been reviewed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), could equate to some 2.8million companies.

The survey also found that 68 per cent of businesses said they have dealt with late payments – however only 36 per cent said their company was insured against financial risk.

Natalie Gasson, development manager for the FSB, said: “This is as much a policy issue as it is a cultural problem within UK business. Small firms need confidence to charge interest and complain about late payments. The fear among the smallest companies, particularly when dealing with larger firms, is that complaining about a late payment could result in lost future work which will harm cash-flow for their business.

“We must do everything we can to help small businesses tackle late payments. Small businesses simply can’t be expected to lend interest free to their customers, which is in effect what extended payment terms and late payments result in.”

Chloe Webber, operations director for Company Check, said: “Our survey was just one sample of the wider business community, but it clearly illustrates the huge challenge many businesses face to get paid on time and in full.

“The alarming thing about our results was how many businesses remain in the dark about the need to protect their business from this issue. While two thirds of companies admitted to not being insured, half of all the companies we spoke to believed their business was entirely free from financial risk. In reality, the consequences of being uninsured and then suffering from a bad debt can be severe. For many small businesses, prompt payment from their customers can be the difference between prosperity and failure.”