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Business Distress Index - What does the future of SMEs look like in 2021?

COVID-19 has strongly affected the global population, but how badly has it affected the future of British SMEs and the British economy as a whole? Research from Real Business Rescue (part of the Begbies Traynor Group) shows surprising results.

Real Business Rescue (part of the Begbies Traynor Group) have conducted some in-depth research into how COVID-19 has affected the UK business markets and various sectors. We are excited to share the main findings with our itsettled insights readers, and if you want more details, you can read the full article here.

The latest Business Distress Index from Real Business Rescue has revealed that the number of SMEs in significant distress now stands at 620,000. Since lockdown started in Quarter 1 (Q1) of  2020, 118,000 more SMEs have been plunged into distress – a 23% increase since Q1 2020. In the last quarter alone, there has been an increase of 14%, or 76,000 businesses in distress.

Significant’ distress is defined as those businesses with minor County Court Judgements (CCJs), which are judgements of less than £5k filed against them, or businesses which have been identified by Red Flag Alert’s proprietary credit risk scoring system. This system screens companies for a sustained or marked deterioration in key financial ratios and indicators, including those measuring working capital, contingent liabilities, retained profits and net worth.

Additionally, Real Business Rescue discovered that the number of start-up businesses (those formed after 2017) in significant distress soared by 21% in the last quarter. Currently, there are 131,000 of these fledgling businesses in distress - a 68% increase since the start of lockdown in March 2020, at which point only 78,000 start-ups were in financial distress.

As a result of the 620,000 businesses in distress, a total of 2.8 million jobs are at risk, which is a worry for many SME owners and employees.

However, despite these increases in distress for many companies, the number of corporate insolvencies dropped by 27% in 2020, with 12,557 insolvencies compared to the 17,196 in 2019. This can largely be attributed to the UK government’s COVID-19 support schemes, which are helping to keep many troubled businesses afloat.

The Real Business Rescue research states that the top five regions with the largest increase in distressed businesses are:

1. London (26% increase)

2. The South East (21% increase)

3. The North East (21% increase)

4. Northern Ireland (20% increase)

5. The Midlands (19% increase)

Wales has seen the smallest increase in distressed business, but even they have seen an increase of 16%.

The top three industries in distress are;

  1. Support Services
  2. Health & Education
  3. Construction

How businesses in distress can use credit management software to survive.

Although these figures are worrying for many, remember that itsettled is here to help. We are the first of our kind - an automated credit control software that improves customer relationships whilst ensuring you get paid on time, every time.

Sign up for a free 7 day trial of itsettled here.

We hope you found this itsettled article interesting and hope you feel empowered to make the right financial decisions for your business with our itsettled explainers and guides. If you need help with invoice queries or late payment, we’re happy to help! If you have any questions, or would like to see us cover a new topic, simply email us at

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