Independent retailers are proving much less recession proof than their supermarket rivals, The Grocer can reveal.

While the multiples have announced thousands of new jobs since the start of the year, wholesalers are increasingly being forced to chase their smaller independent customers for payment, with one reporting that up to 80% of customers are not paying on time.

More direct debit payments had been cancelled in January than in the first six months of 2008, the wholesaler said. On one day, more than 50 direct debits had been defaulted on, he added.

"We put in tight direct debit terms, but quite often we are not getting them," he said. "Our customers are struggling to pay on time."

Between 10% and 15% of customers had been given longer payment terms, added Tony Deep, chair of East End Foods. The company normally allowed customers 28 days to pay, but would consider increasing that to 45 days in special circumstances if it was sure it would be paid, he said.

"It has been getting worse for the past three months. We are having to cut down on people's orders because we don't want to end up losing money - it's no good selling them more than they can chew.

Another regional wholesaler said nearly all his customers were asking for more time to pay.

"January is always a tough month and we would normally have about 30% of our customers not able to pay on time," he said. "This time 70% have not paid on time."

The problem is being made worse by banks, which are increasing their charges and reducing their lending, according to Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman.

"Some of those having difficulty paying are good businesses that have cashflow problems," he said. "The onus is on the banks, which are now taking such a radically different approach to risk and lending compared with a year ago. It's important for liquidity to come on-stream again."

John Murphy, director general of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, added: "Wholesalers will be doing their damnedest to help their customers through difficult times but it's difficult because cash is tight for them too."

Meanwhile, exclusive data from Dun & Bradstreet indicates that wholesalers in turn are now having difficulty paying their suppliers on time. The number of payments over 30 days late in the non-durable sector went from 7.1% in January 2008 to 10.5% in December.

In response to the crisis, risk manager Aon and credit insurer Euler Hermes UK this month launched Aon Tradeability, a credit insurance service for small to medium enterprises to help them manage the risk, which has already had enquiries from 70 businesses.