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13 March 2018

Payments Register update coincides with second anniversary

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) this week celebrates two productive years helping small businesses throughout Australia.

“It has been a particularly busy and successful two years,” said Ombudsman Kate Carnell. “Each time we meet a milestone achievement in assisting dispute resolution or advocacy, a dozen more items are added to our ‘to do’ list.

“Today we release an updated National Payment Transparency Register, a key deliverable from our 2017 inquiry into payment times and practices. The Register promotes businesses that pay their small business suppliers in less than 30 days.

“Late payments affect a small business’ cash flow, impacts on business growth and in worst case scenarios, can put a business out of operation. Our Register allows small businesses to measure potential risks before entering supply arrangements with big business.”

Illion’s 4th Quarter 2017 Australian Late Payments report notes that overall, late payment times have reached their lowest level on record. Small business leads the way with micro and small businesses showing reduced year on year payment times of 21% and 17.8% respectively. In comparison there has been a 4% reduction for large businesses.

“Our payment times inquiry also prompted the introduction of 15-business day payment terms by Federal Government agencies, and compliments the Australian Supplier Code as Register signatories can promote their performance against terms,” said Ms Carnell.

Other significant pieces of work in the last 12 months include:

  • the Small Business Loans Inquiry; influencing the introduction of fairer, plain English financial contracts, greater disclosure of the use of valuers, investigating accountants and receivers, the establishment of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, and the revision of the Banking Code of Practice
  • a joint review with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission of standard form loan contracts; resulting in specific changes by the big four banks to eliminate unfair terms from their loan agreements
  • the release of ASBFEO’s Small Business Counts statistics report
  • the release of Barriers to Investment, which identified access to finance as a key issues due to lack of competition and the consequences of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s prudential regulation on banking commercial practices
  • publication of best practice tips to help small business get cyber secure
  • the commencement of our Access to Justice Inquiry. The first phase will identify when and why a small business looks to resolve a business-to-business dispute through a dispute resolution scheme
  • the recent release of the Fintech industry report committing to improving transparency and disclosure. Fintech is a growing and important alternative source of finance for small businesses. This commitment to self-regulation and greater transparency and disclosure will reduce the complexity for small business.

“During this time we also continued our work on assisting and supporting businesses, with more than 6,400 contacts recorded. Assistance cases have focused on range of issues, including IT services, intellectual property, unfair contracts, lack of payment for goods and services, leasing disputes, and advertising and marketing contracts not fit for purpose.

“We have also provided policy advice on streamlining red tape, access to government procurement, energy prices, succession planning for family enterprises and the importance of mental health and wellbeing,” Ms Carnell said.

“Looking ahead, we are determined to bring small business to the front and ensure national policies deliver significant benefits for them.

“Our focus is now on the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, government procurement, access to justice, unfair contract term compliance, a flexible and simplified workplace relations system, franchising and phoenixing.”