What’s the best HR software in the UK for SMEs? 

54 min read  |   9 April, 2024   By Aimée Brougham-Chandler

Breathe's HR dashboard is shown on a laptop, next to a G2 software award badge

Are you overwhelmed by the number of HR software options on the market? We get it.  

That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you. We’ve researched the popular options available to SMEs, so you can make an informed decision that’s right for your business.You might think we’re biased – but we’ve done our best to create an honest comparison (based on public-facing information & customer reviews) to help speed up the decision-making process for busy SMEs.  

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Ideal HR functionality for SMEs

Price point

The importance of good customer support

The best HR software for your small business

Breathe's affordable HR software, just for SMEs


What’s the best HR software in the UK? 

If you need a new HR tool to help manage your people admin and are weighing up which HR software is right for your SME, this article is for you. 

We’ve collated top-level information around different HR software options on the market for small businesses - covering the main features, functionality & customer service you might be considering.  

We’ll look at the pros & cons of Bright HR, Access People HR, Charlie HR, Personio, Employment Hero & Sense HR – along with how Breathe measures up. 

Whilst all these HR software providers seem to have similar offerings, there are critical differences that you should pay attention to.  

We’ve evaluated HR systems based on what matters most to SMEs, establishing a clear comparison criterion: 

  • Effective HR functionality (tailored for small businesses) 

  • Affordability 

  • Exceptional customer support, available when you need it. 



Ideal HR functionality for SMEs 

SMEs have a unique set of challenges that require a unique HR solution.  

Essentially, an ideal HR management software for SMEs is: 

  • tailored to the needs of a small business  

  • simple to set up 

  • easy to use by both HR and non-HR users.   

In this section, we’ll look at how different HR software systems measure up in terms of HR software functionality & user experience, by reviewing the pros & cons for each provider.  

We'll cover the functionality of other HR software in this article, but first things first - let's see how Breathe measures up. 


How Breathe’s functionality compares 


  • Along with holiday management functionality, you can also track absences within Breathe. Employees can view holiday in a centralised calendar, and HR documents can also be securely stored. 

  • Breathe also offers the ability to manage your team’s performance and view your data in detailed reports. There’s also the Kudos employee recognition tool, if you want to thank your team for their hard work (supporting people-first company cultures).  

  • At a low additional cost, you’ll have the option to utilise our Rota, Time & Attendance module to help with rota creating & time tracking. Breathe’s additional Learn and Recruitment modules can help you to easily upskill your team & streamline recruitment, too.  

  • Breathe is simple to use, offering a straightforward, intuitive user experience. You’ll also benefit from a free, flexible 14-day trial 

  • Implementation is easy with a quick data import to get you up & running (using your own information, so you can start saving time immediately).  

  • Breathe has been designed to be user-friendly for SMEs – so there’s no need to waste time training your team on how to use Breathe. One reviewer says that Breathe is “easy to use with everything in one place. The HR dashboard is really useful and I like the extra features like upcoming birthdays.” 



  • In the interest of fairness, we’ve also included what customers don’t like about Breathe’s functionality. One G2 reviewer notes that “the performance section could be improved by having more fields and areas for comments, etc.

  • Another customer would like it if Breathe’s mobile app “had more capabilities, like letting users update personal information, emergency contacts etc.” (Currently, this can only be done on a web browser.) 

  • Breathe’s HR software is optimised for SMEs with less than 250 employees – meaning if you’re expanding beyond this, a mid-market HR software may be more suited to your needs. 

Overall, Breathe’s customer testimonials speak for its streamlined functionality:  

A must-have for all SMEs – I have used Breathe across multiple organisations and roles. The software is just incredible, and the user experience is intuitive and straightforward. They have now expanded out the product which means I can see even more value being had from such an easy-to-use and cost-effective software. I’d be lost without it as it helps me manage my teams across the business and have the visibility I need when planning.”  

Sarah M, Account Director 

Read more Breathe reviews captured from G2, Capterra, Google and Software Advice here 


Bright HR’s functionality – an overview 


  • Bright HR offer a holiday and absence management system, alongside rota planning & custom reporting. They also include time & expense tracking, and an LMS with CPD-accredited learning. 

  • At an additional cost, Bright HR offer support around health and safety, and an Employee Assistance Programme.  

  • As an additional service, they also offer 24/7 employment law & HR advice line.  

  • They offer a mobile app – but reviewers report the app isn’t very user-friendly (and not all features are available on the app).  



  • Bright HR’s system is more difficult to use compared to Breathe’s – a reviewer says “the payroll section is not easy to use. I have avoided setting it up.” 

  • Bright HR don’t seem to offer a free trial that you can run with and explore at your own leisure – they offer a free demo instead.  

  • According to multiple reviews, Bright HR tie you into long, expensive contracts that are difficult to get out of once you sign up (which isn’t ideal if you’re an SME looking for flexibility). 

  • One G2 reviewer notes that “it’s difficult to keep a track record of employees’ overtime” with Bright HR.  They don’t offer any form of employee recognition tool, either.  


Access People HR’s offering 


  • Access People HR offer holiday & absence management tracking, an ATS, along with time logs to manage attendance.  

  • They also offer HR payroll software & an engagement software to manage appraisals, along with a free trial. 



  • People HR’s software encourages employee self-service, and they offer a mobile app, too – although a G2 review says “the mobile app is not very good – easier to use desktop which isn’t great for all employees.” 

  • According to Trustpilot reviews, Access People HR’s software reportedly often suffers downtime and “glitches” within the system.  

  • Users reviewing via G2 report the system being “slow to load”, “clunky” and “unreliable with cache and easily unhappy with browsers unless you isolate from other tabs and software”.  


Charlie HR’s software  


  • Charlie HR offer holiday & absence management functionality, alongside performance management, engagement surveys and support for onboarding new hires.  

  • They offer a free 7-day trial, and customers appear to like their HR advice service. 

  • Charlie’s software is simple and easy to use – one reviewer calls it a “straightforward platform” that’s “easy to set up and operate”.  



  • Charlie HR only offer one plan size for all SME businesses – meaning there’s no ability to move to plans tailored to your business size as you grow.  

  • If you’re looking for a recruitment ATS, Charlie HR don’t offer this option.  

  • A G2 reviewer stated that some elements on the platform can be “a bit clunky” and they would find the option to download things as CSV files really helpful, as Charlie HR don’t offer this.  

  • One reviewer notes that whilst Charlie HR’s platform is easy to understand, “the reporting was incredibly basic” and “[the homepage was basically restructured every few months], which is super annoying as just when you get used to it again, it all gets moved about!” 


Personio’s functionality 


  • Personio’s software covers HR management, recruiting, talent management & payroll. They offer two different plans - ‘Core’ that limits certain features such as advanced document management & limited e-signature workflows, and ‘Core pro’ which offers unlimited feature (including absence management and time & attendance tracking).  

  • Personio provide software for businesses of up to 2,000 employees - meaning the system may be a bit complex for your needs as an SME. 

  •  A customer notes that “Personio are always working on their products and features…I have already seen a lot of further development that has helped to make our HR work easier.” 

  • Personio offers functionality that saves users time on manual work, too. “The ability to create multiple workflows and automate emails and processes saves a huge amount of manual time”. 



  • User experience is lacking, according to some G2 reviewers. “[There are] too many clicks for the most basic tasks. Sometimes 3x button clicks for one job.” Another customer support this by reporting there are “many clicks to finish a process”.  

  • And Personio may not be the most reliable of HR software, either. Another review states that “server errors are still there once every 2 weeks.” 

  • Personio’s reporting functionality can cause issues for some users, too. “Data in [historical] entries need to be very carefully managed, which means a lot of manual work, plus they cannot be deleted, so if you wrongly enter something, good luck, it messes up reports. 

  • Some customers report the lack of a centralised document overview as a frustration, too. “It is not possible to get an overview of documents and I had to go through every user individually.” 


Employment Hero’s functionality 


  • Employment Hero offer four different plans within their software – from ‘Hiring essentials’ offering the basics of a recruitment tool, to ‘HR standard’ which includes HR functionality such as onboarding, documents & leave management. Their ‘HR premium’ plan builds on this functionality plus performance, expenses & feedback modules, and ‘HR platinum’ includes goal setting, custom fields & branding, API access & one-to-ones.  

  • Payroll can also be added to HR plans for an additional charge, but we’ll cover this & what each of these plans cost in the pricing section.  

  • Employment Hero also offer HR & payroll implementation, and the option to add global teams, too.  



  • There’s no functionality to record TOIL within Employment Hero – so if recording time off in lieu is important to your SME, this is worth noting.  

  • A reviewer feels that Employment Hero has “limited performance review abilities” and it’s “convoluted tying it to objectives”.  

  • Employment Hero might not be very user-friendly, either. A customer on G2 cites “some of the features are in locations I wouldn’t have put them in”, and another says “the contractor module is less intuitive than the employee module ad lacks like-for-like functionality.” 


Sense HR’s functionality 

Note: Sense HR was launched in 2023, and don’t have any reviews at all on G2 yet - meaning we’re less able to see what actual customers think about their functionality.  

There are just 3 reviews for Sense HR so far on TrustPilot at the time of publication, which we’ll refer to in this blog. In the interest of transparency, it’s worth noting that Sense HR have less reviews than any other HR software we include in this article.  

Due to this, the pros & cons we list here could be seen as less evenly balanced than others due to the limited information available on this software in the public domain.  



  • On their most basic ‘Team’ plan, Sense HR offer employee file storage & basic HR data tracking, with task reminders. They also offer an iOS & Android app.  

  • Functionality increases across their 3 plan levels, to include document e-sign, site branding and people onboarding (‘Premium’ plan) as well as access to every feature (‘Elite’ plan).  

  • Sense HR offer free training & implementation, too. 

  • They can offer HR support to businesses with up to 5,000 employees.  



  • As a newer HR software, Sense HR doesn’t offer as many integrations as other HR software companies.

  • And due to this, the system is more likely to be less robust & developed than other HR software. 

  • It’s not entirely clear what’s included in their HR data tracking, and whether this includes leave and absence management functionality.   




Affordable price point 

Keeping costs down is crucial for small businesses – especially in the current economic climate 

We’ve looked at the costs of other HR software providers vs. Breathe - and researched things like contracts & exit fees, so you won’t have any unwelcome surprises.  


Breathe’s value for money  

Breathe offers great value & HR functionality at a low price point, with no implementation fees.  

With prices from as little as £18 per month per business, Breathe is arguably one of the most cost-effective core HR offerings on the market (less than the cost of a medium high street pizza, you might even say). 

Different plans are available, tailored to suit your needs as your small business grows. Breathe doesn’t charge per employee – pricing is based on the size of your business (up to 250 employees – we’re focussed on the needs of SMEs).  

You can also cancel any time with complete flexibility and aren’t tied into long contracts.  

Breathe’s free 14-day trial doesn’t require any payment details to get you started, so you can start adding your own data in straight away.  

Interested to hear what our customers have to say? The reviews detail Breathe’s value for money: 

Amazing feature-set for the value – We use Breathe to manage our small business’ HR needs. It includes so many features for its price point. Its UI is easy to use, and the feature set is constantly expanding. Their support team is fabulous and answers our minimal questions very fast and with ease.”  

Alison G, CAO Computer Software (see the review here) 


“Easy to use management software”G2 review from Beth E 

“Breathe has helped us with a variety or HR and management tasks, such as tracking sickness and holidays. The dashboard is great and easy to use. 

I chose Breathe over Sage HR due to the ease of use and bargain price point.” 


Bright HR’s pricing 

On their most basic plan for 2 employees, Bright HR’s core software offering would cost from £8.10 per employee, per month (according to their website). This doesn’t include any custom add-ons and excludes VAT. 

However, information listed on G2 states their pricing starts from £4.50 per month, per employee.  

A Trustpilot review by James of JRM details: “I quickly learned that I had been signed up to something that was actually completely unsuited and unnecessary for my business and when I went to cancel, I was told I couldn't and that I was tied into a 5 year contract with a big get out fee.” 

One G2 reviewer notesit is a bit overpriced”, and another that Bright HR’s software is “utterly overpriced.” 


Access People HR’s price point 

According to G2, Access People HR’s pricing starts from £3 per employee on their Essentials plan. This increases to £5 per person on the Professional plan, £7 per employee on the Enterprise, and £9 on the Elite plan. 

It’s difficult to ascertain clear pricing plans or structures directly, as this information isn’t clearly visible on their website. However, prices must increase, as this G2 review describes People HR as “awful software, not worth the large cost.” 


Charlie HR’s pricing  

Charlie offer the first 2 weeks free, then £4 per month, per employee following this.  

You can’t pay by direct debit, payment is by card only according to a Trustpilot review. 

If you want access to Charlie HR’s expert HR advice, this is a fixed monthly fee of £179 plus VAT for SMEs of up to 10 employees. For any businesses over 10, this costs £299 plus VAT. 


Personio’s pricing 

Personio’s pricing isn’t disclosed on their website – quotes are provided when you book a one-to-one demo. Customers have the option of paying monthly or annually, and annual plans will receive a 5% discount.  

Depending on the size of the company, Personio charge a one-time implementation fee to get you up and running.  

One reviewer stated that they were given a discount of 35% on the price, due to missing a feature they’d used on a previous HR software that they really missed. They had to write the software themselves to create importable data.  

The review explains “After one year the discount was reduced to 5%...sales offers discounts to make the deal. Then prices are being raised after one year and the customers are very unhappy.” 


Employment Hero’s pricing 

Employment Hero’s 4 plans start from no cost on the Hiring Essentials plan – offering a recruitment software for free that also helps to onboard new starters. 

Their HR Standard plan begins from £3 per employee, per month. The HR Premium plan starts from £5 per person, per month. The HR Platinum pricing isn’t available on their website, and instead directs you to get in touch with the sales team.  

The minimum monthly cost for Employment Hero’s Managed Payroll offering is from £240, and they offer P11Ds as an add-on charge of £7.50 + VAT per submission, per person.  


Sense HR’s pricing 

Sense HR offer 3 different prices, depending on which plan you’re on. These plans start from £2 per person, per month, £4 per employee per month and £6 per person, per month.  

They offer 30-day contracts with no cancellation fees. They also say they offer fixed prices for life. 



The importance of reliable customer support 

This section will detail the importance of reliable & helpful customer support, should you ever need it (though you hope you won’t - it happens). 


Breathe’s friendly, responsive & reliable customer support 

At Breathe, our experienced and helpful support team always respond to messages in a friendly, timely manner.  

We also don’t charge extra for support – it’s free.  

And you don’t have to take our word for it – the reviews speak for themselves: 


  • “Easy to use, scalable platform”G2 review from verified user 

“The system works very well - web based so works across all devices, and lightweight so is fast and responsive to use. The setup process is very easy and you can be up and running in no time. The customer support is quick and responsive on the few times I have had to use this. We use the system daily across the group - we have had an account with ten users and an account with 300 and it has scaled perfectly.” 


“We have used BreatheHR for several years but just as a HR system, we are now looking at introducing T&A and using the employee self-service functionality. They genuinely could not be more helpful, every question asked receives a timely and comprehensive response. Very impressive – keep up the great work!” 


“Any queries are dealt with promptly and positively. Great advisors and really helpful. Marcus has just assisted me and given really clear instructions, really fab!” 



Bright HR’s customer support 

Reviews around Bright HR’s customer support are positive overall. People especially like the onboarding experience & level of service provided.  

However, one review notes that service is “terrible”, and that Bright HR have “poor customer service and rude staff.” 


How does Access People HR's support measure up? 

According to customer reviews, Access People HR’s customer support appears to be lacking. Whilst a few reviews praise their support, most appear to be overwhelmingly negative.  

A G2 reviewer statesI have never experienced such poor customer service in my entire life.” Ouch.  

One review says “[Access People HR’s] customer service is unable to help me no matter what issue we have.” 

It also appears to be difficult to access any support at all when problems arise - Trustpilot reviews report unresponsive support from many customers.  

“Service can be slow when opening a chat, and very frustrating that you get 'stock' replies with requests that are unnecessary if they just checked a couple of things before responding - e.g. "can you allow access to your system while we investigate" when the access has already been granted - it leads to elongated response and resolution times.”  

“…Also, have a case that has been open 8 months!!! It appears there is no actual SLA in place. PHR response usually involves ‘due to ISO27001.......’”. - G2 review, December 2023.  

Due to the number of negative reviews, customer support is listed as a negative aspect of Access People HR on G2 


What about Charlie HR's support? 

Charlie HR’s customer support “are always on hand and keen to solve any issues”, according to a review 

Some users mention members of the support team by name, praising their service.  

Customers praise Charlie HR’s HR advice line, as well. “Their helpdesk and specialist HR support are amazing, too!” 


Personio’s customer support 

Lots of customers are happy with Personio’s levels of customer service. There are many reviews that support this, or say that the friendly customer support is one of the things they like best about Personio. “The support from our Customer Success Manager is also very good, always helpful and competent.”  

However, a reviewer notes that Personio offer “NO SUPPORT if you aren’t the Admin / Contract owner. They don’t offer support for actual business users… the support pages I don’t find useful as they are difficult to search and navigate.” 


Employment Hero’s support 

Reviews of Employment Hero’s support are generally positive. One reviewer cites, “…a huge shout out to the customer support team who are always willing to go the extra mile when providing support”.  

Another otherwise positive G2 review notes that “while support is good, response time might be slightly slower as everything is communicated via email. Hopefully it will be further improved.” 


Sense HR’s support 

Sense HR offer UK-based telephone support, help articles & an online chat service. Their support is free for customers to use.  

A TrustPilot reviewer says they moved to Sense HR from their previous HR provider “mainly due to poor customer service, and we’re pleasantly surprised by the team’s responsiveness.” 



The best HR software for your small business

It comes down to what’s right for your small business. With any comparisons, we would advise you to do your own research into what’s the best option for you. 

Don’t forget to look at reviews such as G2 and Trustpilot for independent reviews from real-life customers – to make sure you know what you’re signing up for.  

Case studies can also be a good thing to explore, too – what have customers got to say about how the software has helped them?  

It’s also important to weigh up the different customer support options & how effective they are, should you need them.   


Breathe’s affordable HR software, just for SMEs 

Designed just for SMEs, Breathe offers cost-effective, affordable pricing & a flexible free trial. 

It’s easy to import your data & get up and running – and our friendly, reliable support team are on hand to help with any questions you’ve got.  

We’re ISO 27001-accredited, too, so your data’s safe with us. 

You can trial Breathe for free for 14 days without entering any payment details. Why not try Breathe for free today? 

Information included in this article is correct at time of publication (April 2024).  


Author: Aimée Brougham-Chandler

An IDM-certified Digital Copywriter as of February 2023, Aimée is Breathe's Content Assistant. With a passion for guiding readers to solutions for their HR woes, she enjoys delving into & demystifying all things HR: From employee performance to health and wellbeing, leave to company culture & much more.

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