Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across the UK are still struggling with late payment woes, with almost half (45 per cent) now forced to wait anywhere up to three months for invoices to be settled.

A further 14 per cent of small firms have said that they regularly experience delays of up to six months, while the majority added that firms larger than their own are responsible for more than half (53 per cent) of the unpaid invoices they are owed.

The figures come from prominent insurance company Zurich, which quizzed more than 1,000 UK SMEs ahead of the appointment of the UK’s first ever Government-pledged Small Business Commissioner.

According to the survey, almost three quarters (73 per cent) of SME owners believe that the appointment of a ‘national champion’ for small firms is a positive step forward, and should help to reverse the UK’s so-called late payments crisis.

However, Paul Tombs, of Zurich, has warned that late payments are likely to prove “unsustainable” for many smaller businesses regardless of the introduction of the new Commissioner.

Meanwhile, 50 per cent of SME decision makers told Zurich’s survey that they believe the Government should be ‘doing more’ to support SMEs in combating the issue.

“For small companies, working with larger organisations and strong brands is an important part of building and running a successful business. But it is a two way street and large organisations are simply taking too long to pay small suppliers, which are dependent on reliable, regular invoicing to cover their own costs,” Mr Tombs said.

“The introduction of a champion for small businesses is a great initiative, but the new Commissioner must be more than just a figurehead.

“Large businesses should not be allowed to take advantage of their position in the food chain and remain unaccountable over their responsibility to pay their bills on time.”

According to Government data, late payments are currently responsible for approximately 50,000 small business closures every single year.