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Late payment: How to get help from the Small Business Commissioner complaints scheme


The Small Business Commissioner (SBC) complaints scheme opened for business at the back end of 2017. It’s an independent public body, is free to use and covers the whole of the UK. FSB has campaigned for this service for quite a while. 

The aim of the scheme is to provide small businesses with an additional means of holding larger businesses to account on outstanding debts. The details can be found in the SBC (Scope and Scheme) Regulations 2017.

Who can use the scheme?

Broadly speaking, a ‘small business’ in this context means one with a staff headcount of less than 50, as determined by reference to a specific assessment date or assessment periods. Your complaint must be related to a customer with 50 or more employees and a UK office.

How does it work?

The regulations require small businesses to communicate the complaint to the person against whom it is made, and to give that person a reasonable opportunity to deal with it.

However, this is not required where the SBC has taken a view that there is sufficient information that such a communication would have a significant detrimental effect on the commercial interests of the person making the complaint.

Businesses that want to make use of this service should be aware that complaints to the scheme must be made in writing, or by email. The regulations set out the form of the complaint and specify the information that must be included in it. 

Time limit

The time limit for presenting complaints to the SBC is, in most cases, 12 months from the date on which the matter to which the complaint relates took place or started to take place. 

This time limit may be extended under limited circumstances, for example where the person against whom the complaint is made has given consent to the extension, where deliberate delays by your customer stopped you complaining within the time limit or because of the physical or mental incapacity of the person making the complaint.

Making decisions

The regulations set out the circumstances in which the SBC may dismiss a complaint and who needs to be notified when this happens. 

The SBC will be expected to determine cases by reference to what is fair and reasonable in all the circumstances. The regulations also set out the factors that the SBC must consider when deciding whether to identify the respondent in a report. 
The SBC won’t be able to help if you’re currently trying to resolve the problem with legal action, mediation, adjudication or arbitration. There are other examples of when they can’t assist, for example if your customer didn’t pay because of a price dispute or if you’ve had a legally binding decision on the issue. The SBC website provides more details on this. 

General advice

The SBC encourages a three-tier approach when dealing with unpaid invoices:
Check: Ensure that invoices are accurate and received by the responsible person. 
Chase: Initiate a process of chasing 
the debt.
Choose: Carefully consider your options to determine the best course of action. 

Why it matters

The Small Business Commissioner’s website has useful information on a range of debt-related guidance and an explanation of its procedure in dealing with complaints. It gives small businesses an additional option to take on larger organisations when it comes to overdue payments. Find out more at