Data from Pay.UK, which runs the Bacs Direct Credit and Direct Debit payment services, shows that late payments to SMEs have reached a four-year high, with 54% seeing delays to payments last year.

Reported in the Scotsman, the analysis, which shows that the total late payments bill hit £23bn in 2019, also reveals that more than a third of SME owners feel stressed about late payments, even when away from work, while nearly 10% have considered seeking professional support to help with their anxieties over being paid late.

Some have had to resort to overdrafts and cutting their own salaries due to delayed payments, with bosses pointing to problems including struggles to pay bills and staff.

Paul Horlock, chief executive of Pay.UK, said: “Over the years, the late payment research has become an established barometer of SME financial health, and has offered an invaluable insight into the challenges faced by SMEs,” adding: “For the first time this year the research has also looked at the human, as well as the business cost of late payments, and we hope that this can contribute to the wider debate regarding this important area.”