Is your business one of the many just hanging on?

The newly-published insolvency figures for Q3 (July to September) show a massive increase in the number of businesses entering Administrations.

A mid-October report by Begbies Traynor reported that the number of British businesses in significant financial distress has risen by 40% since the Brexit vote – with those in the property, construction, retail and the travel sectors the hardest hit and 489,000 companies in significant distress up by 22,000 on this time last year.

This was followed by KPMG’s recent analysis of London Gazette notices of companies entering into Administration and the picture became clearer with yesterday’s statistics from the Insolvency Service.

Administrations increased by 20% in the last quarter, compared to the previous quarter, to reach their highest level since Q1 2014. CVLs (Company Voluntary Liquidations) rose by only 2.3% compared to the previous quarter but were still at their highest quarterly level since Q1 2012.

The...

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Is the death of Thomas Cook a sign of more to come in the travel industry?

failure insolvency Oct 22, 2019

Commentators have been quick to predict the death of the package holiday and in some cases of much of the travel industry following the demise of Thomas Cook in September.

But is this really the case?

Johan Lundgren, the chief executive of easyJet, argues that it is too soon to predict the demise of the travel industry, or indeed of package holidays.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph he says: “sales of holiday packages have grown faster than the economy every year for the past 10 years”.

There is no doubt, however, that technology has made a significant difference to the way people search, book and pay for their holidays.

Lundgren acknowledges that requirements and buying methods have changed significantly: “Rapid development in technology and AI, combined with a focus on data now allows the customer to find holidays suited to them online”.

Holiday companies, he said, needed to invest in technology to support customer interactions.

The tour...

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Sector update: have there been improvements in care home viability?

It hardly seems any time since I last assessed the viability of the UK’s care home sector, but in the light of recent developments with one of the UK’s largest providers it’s time for an update.

The last blog in December 2018 focused on the implications of the collapse of Southern Cross in 2011. This time it has been prompted by reports this month that Four Seasons, Britain’s second-largest private care home provider with around 320 sites and 22,000 staff, has confirmed it has failed to pay rent on time. It is being seen as a negotiating tactic in order to cut bills, but is this really the case?

Its latest troubles began in 2017 when its owner Terra Firma was unable to pay interest on its debts, most of which are owned by private equity firm H/2 Capital Partners who took control and have overseen the group since then.

The business, which has more than £700 million in debts, appointed Alvarez & Marsal as administrators...

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The change to HMRC preferential creditor status v emphasising insolvent business restructure

The Government’s proposal to restore HMRC preferential creditor status when a business becomes insolvent is, in my view, at odds with its desire to shift the balance in the insolvency regime towards helping more businesses to survive.

In September 2018 I welcomed the Government’s newly-published proposed changes to the insolvency regime, whereby there would be a moratorium, initially 28 days, from filing papers with the courts to give still viable businesses more time to restructure or seek new investment to rescue their business free from creditor action. Consultation on this and other changes to the insolvency regime was begun in 2016.

This year, in the April 2019 budget statement, the then Chancellor Philip Hammond included a proposal to restore HMRC preferential creditor status, something that had been removed as part of the Enterprise Act in 2002. The new preferential status will apply to VAT, PAYE income tax, employee...

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Q2 insolvencies offer no sign of economic storms easing

There are no signs of the pressures on businesses easing off as insolvencies in the second quarter of 2019 (April to June) continued to climb, according to the latest figures released by the Insolvency Service.

While the number of compulsory insolvencies fell, there was a significant increase in the number of CVLs (Company Voluntary Liquidations), which showed a 6.9% increase, an increase of 2.6% in the total numbers of insolvencies compared to the first quarter of the year.

Compared to the same quarter in 2018 the numbers of insolvencies have risen by 11.9%, the highest underlying rate of insolvencies since 2014 according to the Insolvency Service.

It reports that those businesses that have fared worst in the second quarter have been “the accommodation and food service industry with 74 extra cases compared to the 12 months ending Q1 2019 (an increase of 3.4%) and the construction industry with 37 additional insolvencies (a 1.2% increase)”.

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Proposed HMRC preferential status a blow to financing and restructuring

The Government last week published its new draft Finance Bill, which includes the proposal to restore HMRC preferential status as a creditor for distribution in insolvency. This was originally granted in the Insolvency Act 1986 but removed by the Enterprise Act 2002.

In summary, HMRC is currently an unsecured creditor ranking equally with suppliers as trade creditors and unsecured lenders for any pay-out to creditors from an insolvent company. The preference would mean they get paid ahead of unsecured creditors leaving less or nothing for most creditors whose support is necessary when restructuring a company.

There had already been considerable consternation expressed by insolvency practitioners and investors after Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the proposal in the Spring, but it seems the Government has decided to press on making only a light amendment to the effect that preferential status will not apply to insolvency proceedings commenced before 6 April 2020.

The...

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Price and environmental pressures in the cargo shipping sector – stormy waters ahead?

In early April a national newspaper published a report on the captain and crew of a cargo ship who had been stranded in the Persian Gulf off the UAE for 18 months without pay or food.

The cargo ship, said the report: “became a floating prison from which he and his 10-man crew could not escape without losing their claim to thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.” The ship’s owners had got into financial difficulties but would not sell the ship because they “would not get a good price”.

This is becoming an all too frequent story and in 2018 alone according to the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) an estimated 791 sailors on 44 ships had been abandoned in this way as a slump in orders led to overcapacity in cargo shipping and took its toll on owners.

Over the last couple of years, a global economic downturn has been gathering pace exacerbated by Trade Wars between the USA and China leading to lower demand on trade routes between...

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UK business rescue culture isn’t working and new proposals won’t work

Since the Cork Report in 1982 that led to the Insolvency Act 1986 (IA86) there have been a number of initiatives that have led to legislation aimed at promoting a rescue culture in UK.

The shift was from a penal approach to insolvency one based on a belief that saving insolvent companies by restructuring offers a better outcome for all concerned than the alternative of simply closing them down.

This can be achieved by putting the company into Administration, where an IP (Insolvency Practitioner) takes over the running of the company, including negotiating with creditors with the aim of saving the company or at least saving the business by selling it to new owners. In addition to benefitting secured creditors Administration also helps save jobs.

The alternative is a CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement) where the directors effectively reach agreement with creditors for revised payment terms such as “time to pay” and sometimes for a write down of the debt as a condition...

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Sharp rise in personal insolvencies in 2018 – what might it mean for your SME?

insolvency smes Feb 01, 2019

Clearly many individuals are finding it hard to cope with rising prices, low wages and ongoing austerity given the latest personal insolvency figures published by the Insolvency Service this week.

Personal insolvencies in 2018 totalled 115,299, a 16.2% rise on 2017 and the highest level since 2011, according to the Insolvency Service.  The majority of these were IVAs (Individual Voluntary Arrangements) which hit 71,034, a record level and an increase of 19.9% on 2017.

Company insolvencies also continued to rise; at 16,090 in 2018 they were their highest level since 2014. The majority, 63.9%, were CVLs (Creditors Voluntary Liquidations).

The top three business sectors for insolvencies were construction, wholesale and retail trade, accommodation and food services.

What does the rise in personal insolvencies mean for SMEs?

The knock on effect of personal insolvencies is consumers reining back on their spending, as they have clearly been doing for some time and most...

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Why the big four auditors are under intense scrutiny – an update

insolvency legislation Nov 23, 2018

Following the collapse of the company Carillion in February this year the role of its auditors came under the spotlight and investigations were promised, notably by the FRC (Financial Reporting Council) and the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority).

The reason for this was that the business had won several large public sector contracts, among them to build two hospitals, and also because its collapse put a number of subcontractors and jobs in jeopardy. However, primarily it was because its financial health was revealed to be considerably shakier than the directors had suggested.

The company’s annual audit had been carried out by KPMG, one of the big four auditors, and in March 2017 it had expressed no concern over reported profits of £150m, even though four months later these proved to be illusory. Perhaps they may have been reassured by the company’s ‘internal auditor’, Deloitte, which might also be looked into since it may have involved helping...

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