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The eco brief. Lengthening payment delays during the crisis: a real danger for SMEs


A workshop of an SME in Morlaàs (Pyrénées-Atlantiques). Illustrative photo. (NINA VALETTE / FRANCE-BLEU BÉARN)

Many companies are dying of not being paid on time by their ordering customers. The phenomenon is not new and the crisis is not helping the situation. By payment terms, we mean the time taken by a company (industrial, mass distribution, even public administration) to pay its suppliers. The law limits these deadlines to 60 days from the date of issue of the invoice, under penalty of fines if the deadlines are not respected. Fines that can reach two million euros. Not being paid on time is a real scourge, especially for SMEs. According to the Business Mediator, Pierre Pelouzet, who helps settle disputes, every day, nearly forty SMEs go out of business because of late payments.

The latest figures released are those of the ARC law firm specializing in debt collection. Payment terms, which had improved in recent years, have lengthened with the health crisis. Part of this increase is due to small and medium-sized enterprises which themselves have difficulty paying their suppliers who are even smaller than themselves. It’s the downward spiral.

Money that comes in less quickly, there are more internal tensions and wages paid more difficult, especially in small structures. If the law were strictly observed, it is estimated that the cash released would be 12 billion euros. That is to say that twelve billion euros are now sleeping in the coffers of large groups instead of being paid to their suppliers.

The question also arises with the behavior of the public sector: 55% of companies questioned by the firm ARC now refuse to respond to calls for tenders for fear of unpaid bills or too long payment terms. All the more unfortunate that with the recovery plan, public tenders will amount to billions of euros in the coming months.

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