How to protect your business when a major customer goes into liquidation

The recent collapse of Carillion sent shockwaves through the construction industry as it not only affected large companies but also thousands of smaller subcontractors.

Carillion, the UK’s second largest construction company went into liquidation on 15th January 2018, after running up huge debts of around £1.5bn, meaning that many of its 30,000 private sub-contractors will not be paid for their hard work.

Whether you are in construction or another trade, there are several ways to protect your business, regardless of its size, should you lose one of your largest customers.

Business plan

A strong business plan is the very foundation upon which a successful business is built as it will help identify which work will be the most profitable. Updating your business plan would be the first move in planning your way forward to protecting your business.

 It’s necessary to highlight the resources that you have and whether your business model would benefit from having many small customers rather than one or two major clients. This would mean that if one customer cannot pay it would not cause too much damage to your company’s finances.

By relying on large contracts that ended up being less lucrative than originally thought, Carillion saw its debts rise to £900m.


Even the smallest disruption in cashflow can halt a business’ growth plans, annoy staff and suppliers if they are not paid on time, or even stop a business from paying its fixed operating costs. You can engage in debt recovery services who will contact customers on your behalf to chase any outstanding monies owed to your business.

Try not to rely too much on single large invoices when any projects are finished as it can be risky. Instead, invoice clients regularly for partial amounts agreed in advance with the customer, also known as stage payments. Although no one likes additional paperwork, it can make a huge difference.

If your cashflow is tight because there are disputes with customers or they’re taking too long to pay, you may be able to get income tax or corporation tax relief for the outstanding amounts. If you’ve already paid the VAT to HM Revenue & Customs, you may also be able to recover it. An accountant could advise you on your options. 


What you might not be aware of, is that credit insurance can be arranged to help protect your business from financial loss incurred through a customer’s non-payment or insolvency. It’s available across all trade sectors and typically pays out 90% of lost revenue, providing you hold an insured limit from the underwriter.

“Cover can be arranged for single or multiple customers,” says Adrian Cooper, credit insurance specialist at Alan Boswell Group. “We can discuss and review your requirements to make sure you’re protected. For instance, we can cater for extended payment terms, arrange cover for self-billing trades as well as applications for payment & retention payments.

“Some credit insurers also provide a free or contributory debt collection and legal service for those customers that don’t go bust, but from which it’s difficult to extract payment.”


Don’t be afraid to discuss payment terms when engaging with a new customer right at the start. Online credit checks can be implemented to see who you are doing business with and their means of paying you for your services. Consider payment services like direct debits and accepting credit cards which are all viable alternatives to improve your cashflow.


The construction industry, like many other sectors, can be subject to market forces outside of your control. Should you find that your business is having financial difficulties, don’t leave it until it’s too late to contact your bank, who may be able to offer funding options to tide you over. 

Kelly Hamill, Head of Sales East Midlands, at Bibby Financial Services, said: “Having a healthy and stable cashflow is vital for a business to grow, enabling them to operate efficiently, invest and pay their staff. Often businesses can be put at risk through late payments or in some cases bad debt, due to customer insolvency, dispute or inability to pay.

"Sourcing and securing external finance can really help a business manage cashflow fluctuations, enabling them to grow. In the past, traditional sources of funding, such as bank loans and overdrafts have been the first and only port of call for many businesses. However, today, there are a range of options available that provide more flexibility, without the need to take on additional debt.

"Increasingly businesses are looking towards asset based finance, which enables them to unlock cash tied up in their own assets. For example, Invoice Financing helps businesses to access cash tied up in customer invoices. It’s a stable source of funding that grows alongside a business’s sales ledger, providing ongoing working capital for growth.”

How we can help 

Your local TaxAssist Accountant may be able to identify any tax losses within your business and we also work with business rescue service providers such as FA Simms & Partners, who will be able to discuss what other options are available.

By Jo Nockels FCCA
Last updated January 2018

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