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Major industry survey warns of late payment mental health toll

Hundreds of HVAC and building services specialists have provided feedback on how poor payment practice has affected their mental health, as key bodies reiterate need for legislative changes

A survey of over 600 hundred business owners working across the HVAC and building services sector has found a strong majority have suffered stress and other significant mental health issues as a result of poor payment practices.

A total of four of the survey’s respondents said that they had attempted suicide in reaction to circumstances resulting from poor payment practices, in the most shocking statistic of the findings.  The study had been published to illustrate the human costs of bad supply chain practice as industry seeks to push for new legislation and controls.

BESA and the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) are among over two dozen trade bodies involved in the study of the impacts of late and unfair payment – a key area of campaign for the two organisations in recent years.

A total of 613 responses were received as part of the study, which sought the views of business owners, managers and chief executives of businesses. 213 of the survey group, who were surveyed between September and October this year, were classed as business owners and sole traders.

80 per cent of the survey group said they have experienced some form of mental health issue as a result of unfair payments for work they had undertaken. BESA and the ECA said that around 40 per cent of respondents had seen strained relationships with their partners as a result of payment issues, while five per cent claimed to have had relationships breakdown entirely as a result.

A breakdown of overall responses to the study found that 80 per cent of the survey group had experienced stress as a result of payment concerns, with 40 per cent having anxiety or panic attacks due to financial pressures put on them. 

The survey also found that 36 per cent of respondents had experienced insomnia linked to late payments or poor industry practice, with 10 per cent of those surveyed having had suicidal feelings.

Reform aims

Both BESA and the ECA, along with a range of other organisations that have supported the survey, have been involved in efforts to push government to introduce legislation on payment reform in recent years. This has included the introduction of proposed legislation to parliament as a Private Member’s Bill with the aim to ringfence retentions and prevent potential abuse or loss of funds through upstream insolvencies. This is seen by the associations as being increasingly important following the collapse of Carillion in 2018.

Rob Driscoll, ECA director of business, urged the next government to itself introduce legislation to tackle retentions and payment abuse. 

He said, “Doing so will help to address the serious findings in this survey and actually help construction to achieve its aspirations of delivering excellence for clients and being an industry that’s attractive to new talent. 

BESA chief executive David Frise argued that systematic payment abuse in the industry was having a negative impact on mental health as well as buildings.

He said, “The economic damage of these practices is well known but this survey has shed light onto its devastating human cost. Thousands of owners and workers of SMEs have struggled and suffered with this abuse for too long and with a General Election underway they will be reflecting upon who will most likely represent their concerns.”

Last month, the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC) announced that mental health awareness was the key theme for the latest Quality Plumber Week campaign that ran between 7 October and 13 October. The campaign was intended to raise awareness of mental health concerns across the industry and also provide support for anyone struggling in some way.

The campaign was also backed by the Samaritans charity, which continues to provide support and a means for individuals of any background to discuss mental health concerns, regardless of how small or large they can seem.

  • The Samaritans in the UK can be contacted for free, 24 hours a day, on 116 123

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