SME Finance Monitor by market researcher BDRC Continental found although nearly three quarters struck lucky in their overdraft applications in the last quarter of 2012, almost all of the rest failed, with a few companies securing funding elsewhere.

“Nine out of 10 successful applicants felt loan or overdraft facilities were put in place by the bank in good time for when it was needed,” said the authors. “Seven out of 10 successful overdraft applicants had a facility in place within a week. Loans took slightly longer with two thirds in place within two weeks of being agreed.”

Other findings included just over two fifths of SMEs reported using any external finance in the last quarter of 2012. This was virtually unchanged from the third quarter and from a year ago.

Larger SMEs remained more likely to be using external finance than smaller ones, but the proportion is declining. The proportion making a profit was stable, but smaller profits were reported. There was a slight increase in the proportion of SMEs with a worse than average external risk rating.

A fifth of all SMEs interviewed in the fourth quarter thought initiatives such as Funding for Lending or the National Loan Guarantee Scheme made it more likely they would apply for funding, the equivalent of around 900,000 SMEs.

The Forum of Private Business said the data suggested “confidence was low amid access to credit and cash flow problems”. But reworking the Funding for Lending scheme could change that sentiment, the forum added.

Head of policy Alex Jackman said: “Unsurprisingly the report on business lending shows a mixed picture across the UK. The one common theme is low confidence, affecting every region with around one in three firms citing it as a major barrier.

“The research suggests confidence is highest among business owners in England, where fewer numbers of businesses cite cash flow or late payment as a perceived problem (11%), and also access to external finance (10%).”

The findings supported the forum’s long-held view that bank lending and late payment remained huge issues for small firms. But Jackman hoped the chancellor’s recent “fine tuning” of the Funding for Lending scheme could help improve lending.

“If businesses feel they will be able to follow a growth plan without being hampered by issues around access to finance there’s every chance confidence will grow, and there is some evidence of this effect in the data.”

The SME Finance Monitor surveys 5,000 businesses every quarter about past borrowing events and future borrowing intentions. It is the largest such survey of its kind in the UK and BDRC Continental held over 20,000 interviews for this report.