Adventures in Micro-Business: 'What can I do about getting bills paid sooner?'

Professor Russell Smith answers your queries
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Q: How many first aiders must I have for my small business?

A: A small business must have an "appointed person" who takes responsibility for first-aid equipment and who takes charge if someone falls ill or is injured. This is different from a first aider, a person who holds a first aid at work certificate, although the first aider may also take on the role of the appointed person.

The number of first aiders required by a business depends upon the type of risk present within the business. A low-risk business (eg, an office) must have at least one first aider when it has 50 or more employees. That number reduces to 20 and five for medium-risk businesses (eg, light engineering) and high-risk businesses (eg, construction), respectively. For further information and details about first aid training courses, visit the excellent Health and Safety Executive website (

Q: If I offer an annual party for my staff will they have to pay tax on that benefit?

A: If you plan any form of staff benefit, you should always check with your accountant about possible tax liabilities and whether the associated business costs are allowable. However, any business can host an annual staff event, and as long as the cost per head is not more than £150, staff are not taxed and the business can get full tax relief on the costs of the event.

Q: I would like to start a new business in a rural area and have been told that there may be grants available. Where can I find out about possible grants?

A: Visit the Business Link website (www.businesslink. since it has an online "Grant Finder" service that can be linked to your postcode. It would then be sensible to talk with your local Business Link adviser who will be able to advise on the application process. Call their national helpline on 0845 600 9006 to get local contact details.

Q: I've noticed that bills are getting paid later and later to me, which I assume is a sign of recession. What can I do about getting them paid sooner?

A: Apart from always chasing outstanding debts, you could consider Factoring or Invoice Discounting. In Factoring, a finance organisation takes over credit management and collection activities on your behalf. You will normally be paid around 80 per cent of the invoice value as soon as they receive a copy of the invoice from you and then the remainder, less their commission, when they get paid by your debtor. Invoice Discounting is very similar, in that you get an "advance" of around 80 per cent from the finance organisation, except that you retain responsibility for chasing payment from the debtor. That payment is paid into a bank account overseen by the Invoice Discounter and you receive the balance, less commission, after payment has been made. Be aware though that advances are likely to be "with recourse", which means that you would have to return the advance if your customer doesn't pay.

Q: What is the Small Business Support package that the Government has recently put forward?

A: This package includes a number of measures including "health checks" from Business Link advisers, training for staff and access to advice about finance. Of real value is the commitment for public sector organisations to pay bills from small businesses within 10 days.

Send your questions to Russell Smith at Selected questions will be answered each month. Answers are for the general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice. Professor Smith is the founder of Oxford-based Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University Business School, delivers support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent and Independent on Sunday readers can enrol on the university-accredited programme at a discounted rate; see