My autumn has been a CPE marathon: SWSCA, the R3 SPG Forum, the IPA roadshow, and the ICAEW roadshow. Thus I thought I’d try to summarise all the legislative and regulatory changes currently in prospect:
- Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Act 2013;
- Deregulation Bill (est. commencement: May/October 2015);
- Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill (October 2015 for IP regulation items, April 2016 for remainder);
- The exemption for insolvency proceedings from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (“LASPO”) comes to an end on 1 April 2015;
- New Insolvency Rules (est. to be laid in Parliament in October 2015, to come into force in April 2016); and
- A plethora of SIs to support the Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Act 2014 (coming into force on 1 April 2015, but, regrettably, I feel so out of the loop on Scottish insolvency now that I don’t dare pass comment!)
- IP fees (consultation closed in March 2014);
- DROs and threshold for creditors’ petitions for bankruptcy (consultation closed in October 2014); and
- Continuity of essential supplies to insolvent businesses (consultation closed in October 2014).
Revision of SIPs etc.
- Ethics Code Review;
- SIP 1;
- SIPs 16 & 13;
- SIP 9 (depending on how the government turns on the issue of IP fees);
- New Insolvency Guidance Paper on retention of title; and
- Other SIPs affected by new statute.
Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Act 2013
The Insolvency Service’s timetable back in 2013 was that the changes enabled by this Act would be rolled out in 2015/16, but I haven’t heard a sniff about it since. However, the following elements of the Act are still in prospect:
- Debtors’ bankruptcy petitions will move away from the courts and into the hands of SoS-appointed Adjudicators (not ORs).
- There was talk of the fee being less than at present (£70 plus the administration fee of £525) and of it being paid in instalments, although my guess is that the Adjudicator is unlikely to deal with an application until the fee has been paid in full.
- The application process is likely to be handled online. Questions had been raised on whether there would be safeguards in place to ensure that the debtor had received advice before applying. This would appear important given that the Adjudicator will have no discretion to reject an application on the basis that bankruptcy is not appropriate: if the debtor meets the criteria for bankruptcy, the Adjudicator must make the order.
The ERR Act is also the avenue for the proposed revisions to Ss233 and 372 of the IA86 – re. continuity of essential supplies – as it has granted the SoS the power to change these sections of the IA86.
The Deregulation Bill
Of course, the highlight of this Bill is the provision for partial insolvency licences. It was debated in the House of Lords last week (bit.ly/1tBmMhe – go to a time of 16.46) and whilst I think that, at the very least, the government’s efforts to widen the profession to greater competition are nonsensical in the current market where there is not enough insolvency work to keep the existing IPs gainfully employed, my sense of the debate is that the provision likely will stick.
I was surprised that Baroness Hayter’s closing gambit was to keep the door open at least to press another day for only personal insolvency-only licences (rather than also corporate insolvency-only ones). Will that be a future compromise? What with the ongoing fuzziness of (non-FCA-regulated) IPs’ freedom to advise individuals on their insolvency options and the rareness of bankruptcies, I wonder if the days in which smaller practice IPs handle a mixed portfolio of corporate and personal insolvencies are numbered in any event.
The Deregulation Bill contains other largely technical changes:
- Finally, the Minmar/Virtualpurple chaos will be resolved in statute when the need to issue a Notice of Intention to Appoint an Administrator (“NoIA”) will be restricted to cases where a QFCH exists.
- The consent requirements for an Administrator’s discharge will be amended so that, in Para 52(1)(b) cases, the consent of only the secured creditors, and where relevant a majority of preferential creditors, will be required. At present Para 98 can be interpreted to require the Administrator also to propose a resolution to the unsecured creditors.
- A provision will be added so that, if a winding-up petition is presented after a NoIA has been filed at court, it will not prevent the appointment of an Administrator.
- In addition to the OR, IPs will be able to be appointed by the court to act as interim receivers over debtors’ properties.
- It will not be a requirement in every case for the bankrupt to submit a SoA, but the OR may choose to request one.
- S307 IA86 will be amended so that Trustees will have to notify banks if they are seeking to claim specific after-acquired property. The government envisages that this will free up banks to provide accounts to bankrupts.
- The SoS’ power to authorise IPs direct will be repealed, with existing IPs’ authorisations continuing for one year after the Act’s commencement.
- The Deeds of Arrangement Act 1914 will be repealed.
The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill
I won’t repeat all the provisions in this Bill, but I will highlight some that have created some debate recently.
The proposed new process for office holders to report on directors’ conduct proved to be a lively topic at the RPB roadshows. There seemed to be some expectation that IPs would report their “suspicion – not their evidenced belief – of director misconduct” (per the InsS slide), although this was downplayed at the later R3 Forum. My initial thoughts were that perhaps the Service was looking to produce a kind-of SARs-reporting regime and I wondered whether that might work, if IPs could have the certainty that their reports would be kept confident.
However, I suspect that the Service had recognised that IPs would have difficulty with the proposed new timescale for a report within 3 months, but hoped that this would be mitigated if IPs could somehow be persuaded to report just the bare essentials – to enable the Service to decide whether the issues merit deeper enquiries – rather than putting them under a requirement to collect together substantial evidence. I suspect that the Service’s intentions are reasonable, but it seems that, at the moment, they haven’t got the language quite right. Let’s hope it is sorted by the time the rules are drafted.
Phillip Sykes, R3 Vice President, gave evidence on the Bill to the Public Bill Committee a couple of weeks ago (see: http://goo.gl/V1XSbX or go to http://goo.gl/jSTmI0 for a transcript). Phillip highlighted the value of physical meetings in engaging creditors in the process and in informing newly-appointed office holders of pre-appointment goings-on. He also commented that the proposed provision to empower the courts to make compensation orders against directors on the back of disqualifications seems to run contrary to the ending of the LASPO insolvency exemption and that the suggestion that certain creditors might benefit from such orders offends the fundamental insolvency principle of pari passu. Phillip also explained the potential difficulties in assigning office holders’ rights of action to third parties and described a vision of good insolvency regulation. Unfortunately, he was cut off in mid-sentence, but R3 has produced a punchy briefing paper at http://goo.gl/mBeU30, which goes further than Phillip was able to do in the short time allowed by the Committee.
Last week, a new Schedule was put to the Public Bill Committee (starts at: http://goo.gl/sY5QUG), setting out the proposed amendments to the IA86 to deal with the abolition of requirements to hold creditors’ meetings and opting-out creditors. A quick scan of the schedule brought to my mind several queries, but it is very difficult to ascertain exactly how practically the new provisions will operate, not least because they refer in many places to processes set out in the rules, which themselves are a revision work in progress.
The consultation, which included a proposal to prohibit the use of time costs in certain cases, closed in March 2014 and there hasn’t exactly been a government response. All that has been published is a ministerial statement in June that referred to “discussing further with interested parties before finalising the way forward” (http://goo.gl/IbQsLd). The recent events I have attended indicate that the Service’s current focus is more on exploring the value of providing up-front fee estimates together with creditors’ consent (or non-objection) to an exceeding of these estimates, rather than restricting the use of the time costs basis. I understand that the government is expected to make a decision on how the IP fees structure might be changed by the end of the year.
Revision of SIPs etc.
I have Alison Curry of the IPA to thank for sharing with members at the recent roadshows current plans on these items:
- A JIC review of the Insolvency Code of Ethics has commenced. Initial findings have queried whether the Code needs to incorporate more prescription, as it has been suggested that the prevalence of “may”s, rather than “shall”s, can make it difficult for regulators to enforce. The old chestnuts of commissions, marketing and referrals, also may be areas where the Code needs to be developed.
- Although RPB rules include requirements for their members to report any knowledge of misconduct of another member, it has been noted that, of course, this is not effective where the misconduct involves a member of a different RPB. Therefore, the JIC is looking to amend SIP1 with a view to incorporating a profession-wide duty to report misconduct to the relevant RPB or perhaps via the complaints gateway.
- As expected, SIP16 is being reviewed in line with Teresa Graham’s recommendations. This is working alongside the efforts to create the Pre-pack Pool, which will consider connected purchasers’ intentions and viability reviews. A consultation on a draft revised SIP16 is expected around Christmas-time. I had heard that the target is that a revised SIP16 will be issued by 1 February 2015 and the Pool will be operational by 1 March 2015, but that seems a little optimistic, given the need for a consultation.
- SIP13 is ripe for review (in my opinion, it needed to be reviewed after the Enterprise Act 2002!) and it is recognised that it needs to be revised in short order after SIP16.
- A new IGP on RoT has been drafted and is close to being issued. We received a preview of it at the IPA roadshow. To be honest, it isn’t rocket science, but then IGPs aren’t meant to be.