Often businesses and sole traders are unaware of the rights they have to pursue issues such as late payment. They may not know where they can turn for support. A commissioner would be both a provider of advice and a ‘signposting’ service to other agencies that may be able to help.
Stop issues from escalating and preserve relationships
A key function of the commissioner would be to preserve business relationships and prevent escalation to an overburdened judicial system. By facilitating conciliation and mediation services, much like ACAS does in employment relationships, cases would stop going to court so often as measure would be put in place that both sides could agree on. A potential benefit would be a reduction in the instance of late payment cases in the small claims court.
Ensure the balance of power is fair
A commissioner’s office would independently criticise any business or industry that is guilty of bad practice by ‘naming and shaming’ them through its annual report. This adds extra clout in a dispute by reminding them of their legal obligations and ways of fulfilling them. In cases where the commissioner is unable to come up with a solution and a dispute does go to the courts, the fact that a complainant sought to resolve the situation first through the commissioner would be seen as evidence of positive intention.
Act as an ‘honest broker’
The commissioner’s office should also be able to suggest ways forward that benefit both sides in a dispute, as it has nothing to gain and is acting independently. Its decisions would therefore be more likely to be trusted by all concerned.
Where there is evidence of persistent industry-wide problems, the body should recommend legislation to address any such issues. The threat of regulation is likely to prove effective in disincentivising unfair treatment.
It is essential that the commissioner plays a central role in driving a culture change among companies that pay late and treat small businesses and the self-employed poorly. For this to happen it is crucial for the government to provide a commissioner that resembles the model currently used in Australia; that is one which easy to use, cost effective and powerful.
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