Unpaid invoice? I wouldn’t ask me, Small Business Commissioner admits

The Small Business Commissioner tasked to help firms recover money owed has made a brave admission --- that not even he would use his own service back when he ran a company.

Paul Uppal, appointed commissioner in October, suggested that the mindset of an unpaid company owner-manager was behind his reluctance to ask the likes of himself for help.     

“If I go back to when I ran a small business,” he began in an interview with the Times, “would I have had the impetus to approach a government body?

“If I’m candid with you, no, I probably wouldn’t. I would try and sort it out myself.”

Unfortunately for the ex-MP, many traders seem to think the same as him. In fact, despite being in-post for eight months, Uppal has successfully sought payment for just four firms.   

On a monthly basis, the figures suggest he’s busier -- averaging a reported 10 complaints each month. But it is the formality of the process that appears to put small companies off.

“The problem we have got is people putting their heads above the parapet and pursuing it,” Uppal said, referring to the out-of-pocket preferring not to lodge official complaints for fear of reprisals from clients.

“Am I entirely surprised by that? The cynic in me says no, because I know what it’s like.”

Twenty years ago, Birmingham-born Uppal ran a construction company for over two decades, giving him “personal experience of the mental anguish that not being paid creates.”

But also in the interview, he implied that late payment has moved on since his days in business -- it is no longer simply a case of not receiving the cash on time.

“It is about big business pushing small businesses as far as they can go…it’s about contractual inequity,” Uppal said.

“Some of the contractual stuff I’ve heard going on is worse than bullying; it’ abuse. For many small businesses, it’s a dream to get a deal to supply a large company. Often, it’s the beginning of a nightmare.”  

Contactable online, the Small Business Commissioner can act on unpaid invoices; provide dispute guidance, make recommendations and potentially ‘name and shame’ the worst offenders.

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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