Holland & Barrett, the high street health food chain, has been named and shamed by the government’s small business commissioner for its payment practices and perceived intransigence when asked to explain the issue.
It’s perhaps the biggest skirmish in the name and shame era thus far. Holland & Barrett, purveyors of protein powder and vitamin pills, have been publicly shamed for an endemic culture of late payment.
Paul Uppal, the government’s small business commissioner, was drawn into the case after a small IT business lodged a complaint with his office. The business, which wanted to remain anonymous, contacted the commissioner over an unpaid £15,000 invoice.
The agreed payment terms for the invoice was 30 days. After the deadline lapsed, the small business contacted Holland & Barrett and struggled to get the issue resolved. Eventually, three days after Uppal’s intervention, the payment was made 37 days late.
But that’s not the end of the story, according to Uppal. In his full report on the matter, he castigated the chain for its refusal to cooperate. “Holland & Barrett refused to discuss the details of the delay,” Uppal wrote and the company “ignored a further request to engage with the commissioner on the publication of this report”.
“Holland & Barrett’s refusal to cooperate with my investigation, as well as their published poor payment practices says to me that this is a company that doesn’t care about its suppliers or take prompt payment seriously.”
Interestingly, the report indicated that it was Holland & Barrett’s CFO that was Uppal’s main contact regarding this matter. The commissioner’s report details the correspondence between him and the CFO in question, including the CFO’s written reply stating they did not feel obliged to respond.
It would seem, at least for the time being, the small business commissioners office harbours little fear among the UK’s big businesses. The payment dispute was resolved, yes, but certainly, Holland & Barrett was not effusively apologetic.
Government data indicates that the high street chain has a culture of late payment. Holland & Barrett took an average of 68 days to pay its invoices and that 60% of invoices were not paid within agreed terms.
Rachel Reeves MP, who leads the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s committee, labelled the payment practices “outrageous”. She added, “These actions show that it is not only a parliamentary committee and the small business commissioner which Holland & Barrett hold in contempt but small businesses too.”
This is not Holland & Barrett’s first skirmish with the government over late payment. Last year the company was identified as one of the few high street retailers that took on average more than 60 days to pay an invoice.
“The behaviour of Holland & Barrett in these instances underlines the BEIS committee’s call for companies who flout the rules to not only be named and shamed but also subject to fines.”