Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler

The revised SIP6: was it worth the wait?

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With the benefit of 6 months of working under the clunky new rules, I’d expected (ok, I’d hoped) that the revised SIP6 would address some of the practical issues arising from the new rules and that we’d see clarity on some of the vague language of v1. The limited changes in v2 have done little to clear the fog. Did we miss the opportunity presented by the consultation to inform the regulators of our difficulties?

You can access a tracked-changes comparison of the revised with the original SIP6 at: SIP6 comparisons to 01-01-18

In brief, the changes introduced by the revised SIP6 were:

  • Clarification that the S100 information should ordinarily be made available “on request” and can be made available via a website;
  • Movement of information about the IP’s (or firm’s or associates’) prior involvement from the S100 information pack to the circular providing notice of the proposed S100 decision and an expansion of the explanation to include the ethical consequences of any prior involvement; and
  • Removal of the requirement to send notices convening a decision process to everyone on the same day.

My personal response to the SIP6 consultation is here: SIP_6_questionnaire_MB

 

Should the S100 information be sent to creditors?

The most material change is the method of disseminating the “key information likely to be of interest to prospective participants” in the S100 decision process. It was hinted at when the original SIP6 was released: the RPBs’ covering emails announcing the release on 10 March 2017 had indicated that the S100 information “should be available to creditors… where they request it”. However, this non-binding note sat uncomfortably next to the SIP itself, which simply stated that the information “should ordinarily be available”. The revised SIP6 now clarifies that the information “should ordinarily be available, on request”, adding that it may be made available via a website.

I find this approach odd. Does this mean that IPs no longer need to compile the information as a matter of routine? Or would an IP be criticised for not having the information ready notwithstanding the absence of any requests? Granted, it would be a very brave IP that gambled on the chances that no one would ask for the information in view of the time it takes to compile it… but if the only creditors are HMRC and a couple of connected parties..?

The flip-side is: if no one asks for the information, is it still a “reasonable and necessary” cost to compile it? As it seems that IPs are no longer strictly required to produce a report for every S100 – but only where a creditor requests it – I think it could be only a matter of time before part of an IP’s S100 fee is challenged as not reasonable and necessary and therefore not strictly an allowable expense of the liquidation (R6.7(2)). Thanks, RPBs, for putting IPs between a rock and a hard place.

Personally, I disliked the original SIP6’s hark-back to the S98 report. The Insolvency Service has given us a low-cost deemed consent route into liquidation. It seemed logical to me for SIP6 to follow through on this model. As we have broken away from physical S98 meetings, isn’t the time over for deficiency accounts and lame reasons for the company’s demise? Instead of putting the effort into providing creditors with information whilst operating under the company’s instruction pre-liquidation, wouldn’t it be more valuable to require the liquidator to provide such information once they’ve had an opportunity to investigate matters, as in Administrations? Wouldn’t this sit better with the image of the IP as office holder and help dispel the perception that they’re cosy with the director?

Of course, some S100s will attract attention and it is only right that, where a meeting has been convened, those attending the meeting receive some answers to their questions (and the S100 pack may go some way to explaining the quantum/basis of a prospective liquidator’s proposed fee). However, to produce the copious amount of information required to meet SIP6 on the off-chance that someone will ask for it seems insensible. The SIP doesn’t even require IPs to inform creditors that such information is available on request.

 

Elevating ethics

SIP6 (both original and revised) stipulates that the required information “facilitates the making of an informed decision” on the appointment of a liquidator. It had seemed to me that the only item in the original list of information that was truly relevant to this question was “details of any prior involvement with the company or its directors that could reasonably be perceived as presenting a threat to that insolvency practitioner’s objectivity”: if the advising IP had become too embroiled in material events just prior to the liquidation, then creditors may decide to look for an independent liquidator.

In view of the fact that the SIP6 report is only provided on request, I think it is only right that this requirement is shifted out of the SIP6 report and into documents that are issued to creditors. New paragraph 11 of SIP6 addresses this:

“An insolvency practitioner should disclose the extent of their (and that of their firm and/or associates) prior involvement with the company or its directors or shareholders, any threats identified to compliance with the fundamental principles of the Insolvency Code of Ethics, and the safeguards applied to mitigate those threats. This disclosure should be made with the notices convening the deemed consent or decision procedure.”

This is a positive change, I think, and I do like the wider scope of this disclosure, which requires IPs to examine and explain the ethical threats presented by any prior involvement. But unfortunately it does mean that there is a new lack of transparency over the IPs’/firms’/associates’ involvement after the notices have been sent.

 

Is that all?

The only other change (other than semantics) was to drop the requirement for the notices to be sent on the same business day to all known prospective participants in the decision process (old SIP6 paragraph 8).

The SIP6 consultation closed on 13 October 2017. Granted, two months is a short time in the world of committees. It takes time to draft, redraft, achieve in-principle agreement, and then drive documents through RPBs’ approval processes. I wonder if the emergent few changes have left those who worked on the project asking themselves if it was all worth the effort. Then again, perhaps the consultation responses gave them the feeling that we were all pretty-much happy with the SIP as it was.

 

A missed opportunity?

The SIP consultation had included some valuable questions exploring the difficulties encountered in applying the SIP and the new decision processes and asking where “the SIP fails to provide adequate direction”. We were also asked whether creditors had fed back anything about the value of the SIP6 S100 information. Surely, the RPBs have accumulated some valuable responses, haven’t they?

I accept that a SIP is not the place for guidance. It is there to address mischiefs and potential abuses. But, having asked the questions, I would hope that the RPBs received useful feedback, which could be used to help us make the new rules work for all.

My own thoughts on where the SIP was unclear on exactly what was expected of IPs were:

  • What measures are expected in order for IPs to “facilitate participation” (paragraph 3) in a decision process? As this is a fundamental SIP6 principle, presumably it relates to more than just the S100 information? Does it relate to the choice of decision process? For example, could IPs be clobbered for using an internet-based platform in an area with poor connectivity? Could it have application in cases with overseas creditors? What did the drafter have in mind?
  • What do “sufficient and proportionate safeguards against participation by persons who are not properly entitled to participate” (paragraph 8) look like? Is this referring to the level of diligence expected in reviewing proofs? Or is this about checking IDs before being allowed into a meeting? As this requirement was never in SIP8, perhaps the RPBs felt it was needed specifically to deal with virtual meetings, so does this indicate where the RPBs stand on the question of providing the full dial/login details for a virtual meeting upfront?
  • Personally, I’d appreciate a clear steer on what constitutes “an explanation of any material transactions conducted in the preceding 12 months” (paragraph 12 (iv)) that needs to be disclosed (on request) for S100s, as some IPs have expressed surprise at my view that this would cover the sale of the company’s remaining assets just before liquidation.

Unfortunately, I think that those ambiguities remain in SIP6 v2.

Some other new areas that might have usefully been covered in the SIP are:

  • What are creditors’ views of the absence of a statutory Gazette notice for deemed consent processes? Is there any expectation on IPs to Gazette except perhaps where they are very confident about the creditor list provided by the company? Seemingly not, but is this not open to abuse?
  • How do you allow creditors to inspect proofs at a virtual meeting?
  • When does healthy competition stray into actions bringing the profession into disrepute? Is it acceptable for an IP (or their staff or associates) to cast aspersions on the conduct of the members’ nominated liquidator?

But the opportunities for such clarity and guidance have passed. As with so many other aspects of the new rules and other legislation, we have to get up to speed damned fast, faster than it seems the SIPs can move. I have no doubt that the face of S100s will continue to change, but whether we can expect any SIP6 v3 is doubtful.

 

 

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