Complain to the Small Business Commissioner
The Small Business Commissioner (SBC) looks at complaints from small businesses about problems getting paid by larger businesses.
The SBC is:
- independent, but appointed by government
- free to use
Check if you can complain
To complain to the SBC you must:
- have fewer than 50 employees
- be complaining about a customer with 50 or more employees and a UK office
If you've got more than 50 employees
You can still complain if you had fewer than 50 employees:
- on the day when payment was due
- on average in your last tax year
- on average so far in your current tax year, if you’re at least 6 months into it
- on average since your business started, if that’s less than 6 months ago
The regulations explain how to calculate your average number of employees.
Complaints the SBC accepts
Your complaint usually needs to be about a problem with a payment:
- that was due within the past 12 months
- that you’ve already tried to resolve with your customer
The SBC might still accept your complaint if you have a good reason for not meeting these requirements, for example:
- trying to resolve the problem with your customer would have damaged your business
- deliberate delays by your customer stopped you complaining within 12 months of when payment was due
Complaints the SBC can’t deal with
The SBC can’t help if you’re currently trying to resolve the problem with legal action, mediation, adjudication or arbitration.
You’ll also need to resolve the problem another way if:
- your customer didn’t pay because they’re unhappy with your price
- you’ve already had a legally binding decision about the problem, for example from a court, arbitrator or adjudicator
- your customer is in the public sector –
- use the Mystery Shopper service if you’re in England
- the Supplier Feedback Service in Wales
- the Single Point of Enquiry in Scotland
- the information in the Central Procurement Directorate Supplier Charter in Northern Ireland
- if your customer is a supermarket, you can complain to the Groceries Code Adjudicator. To raise an issue with or provide information to the GCA please email email@example.com. You should also read GCA Guidance on raising issues, and the disputes and escalation process
- you’re in the construction industry and not working for a residential occupier – you’re probably covered by the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996. Check your contract for what to do in the event of a dispute, or get advice from your professional body.
Other ways to resolve your problem
If you can’t complain to the SBC, you can try mediation, legal action or other alternatives to court.
How to send your complaint
Email the Small Business Commissioner with your complaint. You can also call us on 0121 695 7770.
Include your business name, address and contact details unless you want your complaint to be anonymous. Bear in mind that it’s more difficult for the SBC to resolve anonymous complaints.
Your complaint should also include:
- the customer’s business name, address and contact details
- how much they owe you
- the date payment was due
- what you agreed about payment (say if it’s in a formal contract or not)
- a summary of goods or services you’ve supplied or agreed to supply
- a summary of any attempts you’ve made to resolve the problem – for example, emails or calls to the customer, attempts to mediate, any legal action
What will happen
You’ll get an automatic reply, so you know the SBC has received your email.
The SBC will follow up within 2 days to let you know if they can take on your complaint. You might also be asked for some more details at this point.
A caseworker is assigned to each case. Your caseworker might ask you and your customer for more information or documents, or ask to discuss the situation. This is voluntary for both of you.
The caseworker will be in regular contact to update you on progress. The whole process usually takes from 4 to 6 weeks, depending on how complex your case is.
How the SBC makes a decision
The caseworker will consider the evidence from both sides and decide what’s fair. They’ll then write to tell you:
- what they decided and why
- any recommendations they have to resolve the current problem or avoid future problems
The SBC’s recommendations are not legally binding. This means you can still take other action (for example, going to court) if the recommendations don’t help solve the problem.
When the SBC makes your case public
If the SBC thinks your case is an example that could help change payment practices it might be included in a public report. Details that could damage your business won’t be included.