Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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What’s new in the revised IVA Protocol?

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A revised IVA Protocol and Standard Terms – including for the first time standard report templates – were published on 20 June with no fanfare, no comment from regulators or trade bodies. In the absence of an official tracked-changes or commentary, I have created my own.  Perhaps all will be made clear by a Dear IP before the start date of 1 September… or should that be 1 October..?

[UPDATE 06/07/2016: Just today, a Dear IP has been issued!  See https://goo.gl/gSigmg.  The Dear IP sets out the expectation that IPs “should be using the new version by 1 October 2016”.]

The documents can be found at: https://goo.gl/7CZuly.

My tracked-changes version is here: IVA Protocol 2016 comparison with 2014

The key points to note are:

  • Start date: the Protocol purports to be effective from 1 October 2016, although the attached Standard Terms are “for use in proposals issued on or after 1 September 2016”.
  • There are some material changes to allowable extensions to collect in missed or additional payments.
  • The standard report templates are a new feature, although “usage is not mandatory”.

I have elaborated on these and some other changes below.

 

Making the switch

As I mentioned above, there seems to be some confusion as to the start date. I trust that the IVA Standing Committee will resolve this inconsistency before 1 September: it is difficult to see how the revised Standard Terms can be used for IVAs proposed after 1 September 2016 when the revised Protocol does not apply until 1 October 2016.

Notwithstanding this confusion, because the date for using the revised Terms relates to proposed IVAs, a clear cut-off date is not possible. For example, an IP could issue a proposal incorporating old terms on 30 August (IVA(i)) and a proposal incorporating the new Terms on 1 September (IVA(ii)).  IVA(i) could be approved on 26 September, but IVA(ii) could be approved on 16 September, i.e. an IVA using the new Terms could be older than an IVA using the old terms.

Still, we have been in this position before and I am sure that IPs are able to annotate cases simply so that, at a glance, staff can discern which terms apply. I believe that it will be particularly important to get this right this time, as the revised Protocol reflects some quite different timescales, e.g. as regards payment holidays.

Is a Straightforward Consumer IVA suitable for self-employed people?

The current Protocol states that people “in receipt of a regular income either from employment or from a regular pension” are likely to be suitable for a Straightforward Consumer IVA. The revised Protocol’s definition of “consumer” – as “a person in debt or the debtor” (para 2.6) – suggests a wider application.  This is confirmed by para 3.1, which now states that a suitable person will be “in receipt of a regular sustainable income for example, but not limited to, from employment or from a regular pension”.

Therefore, the revised Protocol seems to acknowledge that self-employed people in receipt of a “regular sustainable income” may be appropriate for a Straightforward Consumer IVA.

Who regulates IPs for debt advice?

In the current Protocol, Annex 2 includes an explanation of the involvement of the OFT and the Financial Ombudsman Service in certain elements of IPs’ work. Clearly, updating this section has been long overdue.  However, the new Protocol removes entirely this explanation from the Annex.

The revised Protocol includes a new statement-of-the-obvious para (2.2) that, if an IP is subject to FCA authorisation, they must comply with the FCA’s Consumer Credit Sourcebook, but the Committee has now side-stepped the dangerous territory of where IPs sit as regards some RPBs’ Designated Professional Body status for governing certain regulated activities; the IP exclusion for advising in reasonable contemplation of an insolvency appointment; and the FCA’s regulatory zone.

In my view, IPs have been piggy-in-the-middle of this territory war for too long: I would dearly love to see some unequivocal guidance.

Vulnerable debtors

Paras 2.8 to 2.10 are new. They highlight the need to be alert to, and deal appropriately with, vulnerable debtors, which is fair enough. However, they also state that, subject to obtaining the debtor’s explicit consent to disclosure, “full transparency is recommended as creditors should take these vulnerabilities into account when considering an IVA proposal”.

“Consumer vulnerability” disclosure is explicitly prompted on the revised proposed IVA summary sheet and on all report templates.

General beefing-up

Personally, I do wonder why many paras have been added. Are there particular mischiefs that need to be dealt with?  If so, then I do not see that slipping more words into the Protocol helps.  Rather, I think the approach should be to highlight the issues to IPs, help us all to understand better what measurable standards are expected, provide examples of behaviour seen to be falling short, and/or take actions under the existing Code of Ethics to deal with anyone working in the extremes.

Anyhow, here are some of the additions. They are generally not controversial, especially when read in context or alongside other standards such as the Code, but what really do they add..?

  • “IVA providers should consider the suitability of an IVA with caution for an individual whose income is mainly made up of benefits.” (para 3.2)
  • “The IP has a responsibility to ensure that any lead generators that they use follow the rules and codes.” (para 5.3)
  • “Every individual who proposes an IVA should be given this advice or information” (i.e. appropriate advice or information in light of the debtor’s particular circumstances, leading to a proposed course of action) (para 6.1) [Update 06/07/2016: Dear IP explains that this is to ensure that both parties in interlocking IVAs are given full advice. Ahh…]
  •  “There are a range of options that may be appropriate in individual circumstances and all advice and information given and action taken should have regards to the best interests of the consumer. Sufficient information must be provided about the available options identified as suitable for the consumer’s needs.” (para 6.2)
  • “In addition to other regulatory requirements the IVA provider should take the following into consideration:
    • a. Fair treatment of consumers is central to the firm’s culture.
    • b. IVAs are offered accordingly.
    • c. IVA and its service functions as the consumer is led to expect (likely to successfully complete). [Is this even English?!]
    • d. Advice is suitable and appropriate for the individual.
    • e. There is clear information before, during and after appointment.
    • f. There are no barriers created to make a complaint.” (para 6.3)
  • “The expenditure should be at a level that is likely to be sustainable and not cause undue hardship to consumers.” (para 7.5)
  • “Where the net worth [in the home] is released by way of a secured loan, consideration should be given to the term and interest rate applied to the loan and the principles of treating the consumer fairly.” (para 9.3) (I don’t think this gets close to dealing with Debt Camel’s concerns about the 2014 Protocol’s migration from remortgages to secured loans – see http://goo.gl/5DCccu and http://goo.gl/x6BK54.)

There is even one of these statements-of-the-obvious-perhaps-for-emphasis for creditors:

  • “Creditors should not put forward modifications which are already included in the proposal” (para 13.5).

I wonder if creditors will observe this instruction…

Snuck in, however, is also a new prescriptive requirement:

  • “Consumers should be provided with a copy of the IVA protocol. This can be either through provision of a physical copy or providing an electronic link.” (para 3.7)

Altered extensions

Perhaps most significant are the changes to the Standard Terms, which affect the processes and timescales of allowable extensions.

As far as I can see, the following have changed significantly:

  • Para 9.2 of the revised Protocol states that the term of the IVA is automatically extended for 12 months, if the consumer’s obligation to pay 85% of their interest in the home is to be discharged via 12 more monthly contributions. Standard Term 5(7) reflects this 12-month extension without variation.
  • Para 10.5 states that the IVA may be extended by up to a maximum of 6 months without a variation to deal with any overtime etc. due but not paid over (this is new).
  • Para 10.8 allows payment “holidays” or reduced payments of 9 months maximum (the current Protocol allows one payment “break” of up to 6 months) with an IVA extension of 12 months max. to pay the missed contributions (the current Protocol allows a 6 month extension).
  • Consumers must provide “full details of the inability to pay… to the Supervisor’s discretion” in order to “qualify” for a payment holiday (para 10.8). Payment holidays will no longer need to be reported to creditors within 3 months of agreement, but only within the next progress report.

Because of Standard Term 5(7), I assume that all these additional months can only run concurrently and, if more than 12 months is required, this must be approved by variation.

After-acquired assets

Currently, after-acquired assets need to be realised to the extent of discharging costs and debts in full plus interest (Term 14(3)). Under the new Terms, after-acquired assets will not need to settle interest on claims.

Unclaimed and returned dividends

The Standard Terms include a whole new section (at 17(7) to 17(10)).

If an interim dividend is unclaimed or returned, “the Supervisor shall take reasonable steps to allocate that payment” – the Terms set out what those steps are (although I am not persuaded that “allocate” is the correct word).

“Where it is not possible to allocate the unclaimed or returned dividend then the Supervisor may discount the proof of debt received and distribute the funds to those creditors whose dividends have been claimed.” Whilst it is useful for the revised Protocol to set out what happens with these, personally I don’t like reference to “discounting proofs”: not only does “discount” conjure up different thoughts to that intended by the term (i.e. the ignoring of a claim for dividend purposes), but also nowhere else in the Standard Terms is a “proof of debt” mentioned.

New Term 17(7) accepts that a Supervisor need not redistribute unclaimed final dividends if it is “cost prohibitive (for example the cost of making payment is in excess of the funds in hand)”… although given that Supervisors are usually paid as a %, I am not certain when this “for example” will arise.

After any attempts to “allocate” (although it does not seem that these attempts need to be made in respect of final dividends) and redistribute, uncashed/ unclaimed/ returned dividends are paid over to the consumer and “the creditors have no further claim to these funds” – which is very different to R3’s IVA Standard Terms.

Dealing with a surplus

If there are residual funds (I assume not including unclaimed or returned dividends) up to £200, the Supervisor “may” choose to return these to the consumer as a surplus (Term 17(10)). If this is unclaimed or returned, the Supervisor can use it to locate the consumer and make payment to them or donate it to a registered charity of the Supervisor’s choice.

Application of the Act and Rules

Revised Term 4(3) borrows from the R3 IVA Standard Terms. It requires the Supervisor to use the bankruptcy provisions of the Act and Rules with necessary modifications “in the event that the Arrangement does not provide guidance to the Supervisor as to what action he/she should take in any given situation”.

Whilst this could be useful, I am not sure how cut-and-dried its application will be in practice. I have rarely seen it used in IVAs incorporating R3’s Standard Terms, but then R3’s Terms are far more all-encompassing anyway.

I think its inclusion does mean, however, that the deletion of the current Standard Term 19(2) – regarding creditors’ power to requisition a meeting – has no practical effect, as the Act and Rules entitle creditor(s)>25% to force a meeting in a bankruptcy.

Standard Report Sheets

The .gov.uk website now provides separately Annex 5 to the Protocol, which comprises excel templates for the following:

  • Proposal summary sheet
  • Chairman’s report on the meeting to consider the Proposal
  • Annual progress report
  • Notice of variation meeting
  • Chairman’s report on the meeting to consider a variation
  • Report on completion
  • Report on failure The disclaimers on each sheet are noteworthy:

Only the Proposal summary sheet gets a mention in the IVA Protocol itself, but all other templates state “usage is not mandatory”, which is handy, given that personally I don’t think they cut the mustard.

The disclaimers on each sheet are noteworthy:

“Completion of this template does not necessarily ensure full compliance with Statute and SIP where circumstances dictate that additional information is warranted.”

“The Regulators accept no liability for deficiencies in the information supplied to creditors – this remains the Responsibility of the Insolvency Practitioner.”

I have not scrutinised the templates to identify what gaps in compliance with statute and SIPs might exist (but I couldn’t help noticing some typos: Protocol “complaint” and “persuant”). However, I do note that there are insufficient prompts as regards dividends paid to comply with SIP7 and so you will need to make sure that your attached R&P provides the breakdown.

Also, the new SIP9 does not feature at all. I appreciate that “proportionate” information on the fees/costs of a Protocol-compliant IVA is likely to be minimal, but the annual progress report template provides a few lines of free text for “information / comments / use of discretion / consumer vulnerability”. Personally, I would have thought that some reference to SIP9 information (i.e. the “key issues of concern”) would have been sensible.

Alternatively, does this indicate that the regulators believe that SIP9 can be complied with in a few lines of text in a case with, say, fees<£10K..?

I also note that the template refers creditors to “R3.org.uk” (or the IP’s website) for a suitable explanatory note (i.e. Creditors’ Guide to Fees), which will not satisfy the monitors, as most expect a link to the relevant Guide.

Finally, the “failure” report does not seem to envisage any transactions, e.g. final dividend payments and fees/costs, being made after termination from monies in trust.

 

Conclusion

The revised IVA Protocol and Standard Terms introduce plenty of changes, so it would be nice to have some commentary from the IVA Standing Committee at the very least.

Maybe the lack of publicity has something to do with the fact that IVAs are being managed by fewer providers these days (TDX reported that the top five are responsible for 70% of all new IVAs, compared with 55% two years’ ago – https://goo.gl/J3EmFy). If you are hanging on in there, I wish you all the best.

 

 

 

 


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The ICAEW Roadshows: A Helping Hand Through Hazards

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Last autumn, Jo Harris and I enjoyed travelling with the ICAEW on their Roadshows (although it has taken us several months to recover!). If you want to know what you missed (or you feel you need a reminder in view of all that has changed in the past six months), here is my personal summary of highlights from last year’s programme.

RPB Changes

Bob Pinder, ICAEW’s Director of Professional Standards, explained to us the impacts of the two 2015 Acts primarily on the RPB environment.

As we know, the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 introduced new powers for the Insolvency Service to sanction RPBs. However, it is worth remembering that the Secretary of State now also has the power to apply to court for a “direct sanctions order” against an IP “if it appears to the Secretary of State that it would be in the public interest for the order to be made” (S141 of the SBEE Act 2015).  Such an order could involve: loss, suspension or restriction of a licence; specific requirements to comply; and/or a contribution to creditors.

Although I am sure that this action will only be contemplated in extreme cases (not least as I’m sure the Service would prefer that the RPBs spend the time and money disciplining IPs), I found this development more than a little disconcerting given the cudgel a certain past Secretary of State swung about when some IPs appeared not to have complied with the employee consultation requirements. As commented on by R3 last November (https://goo.gl/QX6kHM), the 2015 government consultation on this particular issue offered no helpful solution and who knows what (in)action might light the next touch paper in Ministers’ minds.

Compliance Hazards

This was Jo’s and my presentation: an attempt to highlight the principal areas in which we’ve seen IPs trip up. Some of the areas we covered were:

  • Getting remuneration right: how to approach the new fees rules
  • File management: how to deal with the new Oct-15 IP Regulation on maintaining records to demonstrate administration and material decisions
  • Statutory deadlines: how misunderstanding certain rules can make all the difference
  • Anti-money laundering and bribery: how to make checklists more effective
  • SIP highlights: a quick trip through the SIP series identifying some key and some lesser-known slip-up risks
  • Ethics: how to avoid threatening compliance with the principle of professional competence and due care

If you would like to hear the full presentation, Jo has recorded it as a webinar available to all Compliance Alliance webinar subscribers (£250+VAT for firm-wide access to all our webinars for one year)*.

Legal Update

Steven Fennell, Exchange Chambers, explored with ease some key decisions, such as Jetivia SA v Bilta (UK) Limited and Re Corporate Jet Realisations Limited.

Reviewing Steven’s notes now emphasises to me how necessary it is for us to keep up to date with court decisions – so much can happen in six months! Cue plug for R3’s Technical Reviews (starting next month): https://goo.gl/jnnxUA.

Regulatory Hot Topics

Allison Broad, Senior Manager of ICAEW QAD, ran through some regulatory developments and issues seen by the monitoring team. The main points that stood out to me were:

  • ICR reminders: as we know, all appointment-taking ICAEW-licensed IPs need to have an ICR each year. Don’t forget that this includes retiring IPs even if they are merely running off their remaining few cases. IPs who move practices also need to make sure that this requirement is not overlooked, which is easily done if their new colleagues have already carried out an ICR earlier in the year.
  • Ethics reminders: make sure that ethics checks are carried out and signed off before appointment; initial ethics checks signed off months (or even years!) after appointment are not acceptable. Ethics checks should be signed off by the appointment-taking IP personally, not delegated. Make sure that the ethics check is noted appropriately, e.g. if your Form 2.2B (Statement of Proposed Administrator) discloses a prior relationship, is this noted on the ethics review?
  • Anti-Money Laundering reminders: ensure that the files demonstrate the risk-based approach; it is not sufficient simply to state that you consider a subject as “normal” risk, you should be setting out how you reached this conclusion. Also don’t forget to carry out a risk assessment even on court appointments and take appropriate steps consequent to that risk assessment.
  • Bonding reminders: make sure that forms calculate the bond correctly, taking into consideration charged assets and prescribed parts. Also, be consistent in calculating the bond level in VAs: you may have difficulty in justifying why you have bonded assets for less than their realisable values as set out in the VA Proposal’s EOS.
  • SIP8 reminders: Allison described a surprising flurry of SIP8 breaches as regards S98 reports, e.g. lack of detail in trading history and company accounts and inaccurate deficiency accounts. Therefore, perhaps it would be valuable to refresh your staff’s/template’s treatment of SIP8 disclosures in S98 reports.

The Pre Pack Pool

At a time when we were all awaiting the revised SIP16, Stuart Hopewell, a Director of Pre Pack Pool Limited, gave us a welcome insight into the Pool’s vision… and valiantly tackled a number of enthusiastically-delivered questions from the floor.

Back in December, Allison’s webinar http://goo.gl/ZCzzxR reported that the Pool had received two applications over its first month of operation.  I wonder if that number has reached double figures yet…

Valuable CPD

In conclusion, I would just like to say to those of you who have never attended an ICAEW Roadshow before: please do consider it this year. I found it a valuable overview of core developments – both past and prospective – affecting insolvency, together with several heads-up warnings on how some IPs are getting things wrong and carefully-worded insights into the RPB’s perspective on some serious challenges for IPs, balancing well the ICAEW’s roles as both a regulator and a membership body.

* For more information on the Compliance Alliance’s Compliance Hazards webinar, please email info@thecompliancealliance.co.uk


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SIP9 – the tricky bits

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Warning: this blog post may lead to disappointment.

I know that I am not alone in feeling that SIP9 poses as many questions as it answers. To be fair, much of our dissatisfaction originates from inadequate rules, but the fact that my earlier post, “SIP9 – the easy bits” (http://goo.gl/Xu7DM4), generated contrary feedback indicates to me just how much clarification is needed.

Regrettably, I don’t have the answers, certainly not here and now. I could offer my best guesses, but my opinions don’t count.  We need to know how the RPBs will measure compliance with the SIP and how they want SIP9 applied.  I’m currently waiting for answers to a number of questions I’ve put to some RPB monitors, but I do hope that the regulators – via monitors, committees or the Insolvency Service – issue guidance publicly, so that all IPs and insolvency professionals can benefit.  Allison Broad, ICAEW, has made a fantastic start with her webinar, but SIP9 raises far more questions.

What are the questions?

Here are what I think are some of the tricky bits of SIP9:

  • How does SIP9’s statement that “an IP is not precluded from providing information, including a fee estimate, within pre-appointment communications” fit with the rules’ requirement that the office-holder must give the information to creditors? (I know this is an old chestnut, but a serious one, which I note has not been adjusted in the published draft 2016 Rules.)
  • To what extent are we expected to continue to be “consistent” in using an old reporting style?
  • When and how should proposed S98 fees be disclosed? What about MVL fixed fees?
  • How far do we go in providing narrative? Does the bond premium really need to be explained? Are “a few lines of text” (per an RPB staff member’s online interview) really going to satisfy monitors (and be rules-compliant)?
  • How do you explain why a proposed fixed or % fee is “expected to produce a fair and reasonable reflection of the work” to be undertaken?
  • Are monitors expecting to see time costs breakdowns at all? What about charge-out rate sheets in progress reports?
  • If they are not expecting them right now, is it safe to ditch the ability to produce time costs breakdowns or might we need them for the next inevitable iteration of SIP9?
  • Do the Creditors’ Guides to Fees really work to “inform creditors and other interested parties of their rights under the insolvency legislation”?
  • What are the RPBs expecting as regards providing “an indication of the likely return to creditors where it is practical to do so”?

Where are the answers?

The absence of “official” answers puts pressure on all of us to come up with our own. We’ve heard noises to the effect that some RPB monitors will go gentle on IPs as the SIP beds in.  However, I think that’s a cop-out.  An enormous amount of time and effort is expended in setting up systems and procedures and training staff in what is required.  It’s not good enough to learn only at a monitoring visit how we’re expected to apply the SIP, leading to the need to invest further time and effort in changing things.

I think that the fact that the SIP hasn’t been in force for 3 months yet and already it has been the subject of an R3 webinar, an ICAEW webinar, countless blog posts and insolvency queries demonstrates just how we’re all struggling to get to grips with the issues dealt with so unsatisfactorily by the fees rules and the SIP.

Nevertheless, we have to manage as best we can. If you’re keen to absorb yet more information about SIP9, for the Compliance Alliance I shall be recording a webinar providing my thoughts on the questions above (including some thoughts from RPB staff who have responded to my queries) as well as taking a practical look at how to apply the SIP’s principles and standards.  If you would like to sign up to the webinar (which will be available in a week’s time), please email info@thecompliancealliance.co.uk*.

SIP16: two for the price of one

In the same webinar, I’ll also be reviewing the practical application of the latest revision of SIP16 – a far less troublesome SIP, I think, but perhaps just as risky.

* Our webinars are available to all Compliance Alliance webinar subscribers (£250+VAT for firm-wide access to all our webinars for one year).  If you would like to sign up, please email info@thecompliancealliance.co.uk.


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SIP9 – the easy bits

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There’s no doubt that the October Rules and the revised SIP9 generated many questions. However, in this blog (first published on The Compliance Alliance), I summarise the known impacts of the new SIP9 for those who want to double-check that they have the basics right.

Scope

Have you remembered that the scope of the new SIP9 reaches wider than simply cases affected by the October Rules? It also affects:

  • Pre-October 2015 appointments;
  • Case types not affected by the October Rules, i.e. CVAs, IVAs, Receiverships and MVLs; and
  • Pre-appointment fees (where these are paid from the estate), e.g. SoA/S98 fees and VA drafting fees;
  • But it does not apply to Scottish or NI appointments, which continue to be subject to the “old” SIP9.

Key disclosure

I think that paragraph 9 of SIP9 is key. Whenever you are “providing information about payments, fees and expenses to those with a financial interest in the level of payments from an insolvent estate”, you should address the following:

Prospective disclosure:

  • What work will be done
  • Why it is necessary
  • How much it will cost (both fees and expenses)
  • “Whether it is anticipated that the work will provide a financial benefit to creditors and if so what anticipated benefit (or if the work provides no direct financial benefit, but is required by statute)”

Retrospective disclosure:

  • What work has been done
  • Why it was necessary
  • How much it has cost (both fees and expenses)
  • “Whether the work has provided a financial benefit to creditors and if so what benefit (or if the work provided no direct financial benefit, but is required by statute)”

The information given should be transparent, useful and proportionate to the circumstances of the case (which makes a rigid template approach difficult and dangerous), but also consistent throughout the life of the case. Therefore, whilst you might have made wholesale changes to requests/reports for new cases, you have probably designed a half-way house for older cases.  Although the new SIP9 avoids pretty-much all reference to numerical information, if you have already provided tables for a case on the lines of the old SIP9, it seems that you cannot drop them for future reports.  However, you should review the narrative elements of pre-December 2015 case reports to make sure that they meet the new disclosure requirements.

As mentioned above, these narrative requirements also apply to fees/costs that are new to the SIP9 scope and that are not affected by the October Rules. Therefore, have you checked off your documentation relating to MVL, SoA/S98, and VA drafting/Nominees’/Supervisors’ fees?

Fixed or percentage fees

Have you ensured that, whenever you are seeking approval for fees on a fixed or percentage basis, you have included some kind of prompt/explanation as to “why the basis requested is expected to produce a fair and reasonable reflection of the work that the office holder anticipates will be undertaken” (paragraph 10)?

Also with SIP9 paragraph 25 in mind, have you made sure that this explanation is covered when you are hoping to get approval for the following (which are often sought on a fixed/% basis) where they are to be drawn from the estate:

  • SoA/S98 fees;
  • Nominees’ fees;
  • Supervisors’ fees; and
  • MVL fees?

SoA/S98 fees

As you can see above, the new SIP9 seems to affect SoA/S98 fees quite substantially. I believe it has been rare to see pre-S98 circulars disclose much at all about these fees.  Personally, I find it difficult to see how the principles of SIP9 can be met without disclosing in the pre-S98 circular the quantum of the proposed SoA/S98 fee, if the IP is hoping to get this approved for payment from the estate at the S98 meeting.  However, I do not think that SIP9 is at all clear on this point, so I’ll put this one in the “known unknown” category.

Numerical information

As mentioned above, the new SIP9 has distanced itself from a formulaic numbers-say-it-all approach in favour of case-tailored narrative. However, the SIP does require some numerical information, not all of which I think flows naturally.

Are your systems set up so that, for cases where (October Rules) fees estimates have been provided, the progress reports disclose:

  • “the actual hours and average rate (or rates) of the costs charged for each part… for comparison purposes” (paragraph 13); and
  • “when reporting the amount of remuneration charged [i.e. time costs incurred] or expenses incurred… figures for both the period being reported upon and on a cumulative basis” (paragraph 17)?

Having now looked at some fee estimates, I have to say that I really do not think that the average rate for each work category adds anything at all – although I can see that an overall average rate has some value – so why the JIC felt that this was so vital that it had to be prescribed, I do not know! But I do know that it has added expense to some IPs in getting their time recording systems set up to produce these numbers.

The second requirement adds further complication. The 2010 Rules require progress reports to disclose expenses incurred (whether or not paid) in the period and SIP7 requires expenses paid in the period and cumulative, but now SIP9 requires also expenses incurred on a cumulative basis: that’s four different numbers.  So much for transparency!

Back to the beginning

The new SIP9 has introduced some subtle changes as regards disclosure of parties’ rights.

Information to creditors about how to access information on their rights has been moved to earlier in the process: no longer should this occur in the first communication following appointment, but simply “within the first communication with them” (and in each subsequent report).  Therefore, have you checked that this is covered in the pre-S98 circular?  But have you also kept it as standard in any post-S98 template, just in case you take an appointment without having been the IP advising member for the S98 meeting?

Personally, I’ve been struggling to work out how to meet the requirement above for MVLs: does there exist an “official” sensible explanation of creditors’ rights in an MVL?  The Creditors’ Guide to Liquidators’ Fees doesn’t really do the job, but I am not convinced that the RPBs expect IPs to draft something themselves, do they..?  Perhaps this is another “known unknown”.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Creditors’ Guides… I think that many IPs assumed that, as the new SIP9 applies to old and new cases, the new Guides also apply to both old and new cases.  However, if we remember that the purpose behind directing creditors to the Guide is to inform them of “their rights under insolvency legislation”, then it is evident that the pre-April 2010 Guides are still relevant to pre-April 2010 cases, as new rights were introduced in April 2010.  It is regrettable, however, that all the old Guides set out the requirements of the old SIP9 – and I would suggest that this might render them no longer “suitable information” – but as regards a creditor’s statutory rights, they’re generally reasonable.

Therefore, do your circulars/reports direct creditors to the Guide appropriate to the case type and appointment date? If you display the Guides on your own website, do you have Guides covering the full range of appointment dates?  The R3 website only goes back to 1 November 2011, but the ICAEW website, http://goo.gl/kjZlJC, (for example) has Guides going way back.

Heavy hints

The new SIP9 includes several items that fall short of being prescriptive, but the language indicates to me that monitors will still be looking out for them. These include:

  • Providing “an indication of the likely return to creditors” when seeking approval of the fee basis “where it is practical to do so”;
  • Dividing narrative explanations into the six categories listed in paragraph 12… whilst making sure that not every case follows exactly the same categories (we have to demonstrate that we’ve considered each case’s specific circumstances); and
  • Using “blended rates” for fees estimates.

And don’t forget…

Some old SIP9 requirements have survived the revision process. Items that sometimes get overlooked include:

  • Disclosure of “any business or personal relationships with parties responsible for approving his or her remuneration or who provide services to the office holder in respect of the insolvency appointment where the relationship could give rise to a conflict of interest”;
  • Explanation of why any sub-contractors are being used to do work that could otherwise be done by the IP/staff; and
  • An existing SIP7 requirement: disclosure of any pre-appointment costs paid, detailing the amount paid, name of the payor, their relationship to the estate and the nature of the payment.

Simple?

I get the feeling that the RPBs have been inundated with queries over the practical application of the October Rules and the revised SIP9, many originating from compliance consultants (including The Compliance Alliance). I haven’t raised these queries here; there is no real point, as there are few reliable answers at present.

In many respects, I doubt that we will get straight answers, at least not for some time to come. A recent response from one of my RPB contacts was heavily caveated with the observation that it was only her personal understanding and that the RPB’s stance would be formed by its committees over time.  Therefore, please bear with your compliance consultants.  You might hear us saying that we don’t know how your authorising body or its monitors view a certain matter and you may find that our recommendations change over time, as we try to remain alert to the shifting sands of interpretation around the Rules and SIP.  We will do our best to highlight the issues as we see them, whether they are clear breaches or whether they fall into the currently numerous known unknowns.


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SIP1: must you make a formal complaint?

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Sorry for the long silence. SIP9/fees have ruled my life for the past few months and I’ll share my thoughts on those when the fog has cleared.  In the meantime, I thought I’d catch up on something far less controversial (you’d think!): SIP1’s requirement to “report” IPs to the Complaints Gateway or to the RPB.  Does this mean that reports will be handled as full-blown complaints or is there another way?

Why shouldn’t all reports be handled as formal complaints? 

Well, imagine you are a licensed IP working for other licensed IPs. Maybe you’re in that boat now.  Maybe you’re in a firm’s compliance department.  Maybe you’re a case manager.  Say you become uncomfortable about something you’ve seen, something that you think triggers the SIP1 reporting requirement.  Should you to report it via the Insolvency Service’s Complaints Gateway?

What would happen next? Would the RPB write to the IP providing a copy of the report?  The IPA’s complaints procedure, for example, states that this is done in all complaint cases.

Clearly, this is unhelpful. But does elevating the need to report concerns to a SIP requirement rule out any alternative to lodging a formal complaint?

Does SIP1 allow IPs to discharge their reporting duty by whistle-blowing to the RPB?

SIP1 states:

“An insolvency practitioner who becomes aware of any insolvency practitioner who they consider is not complying or who has not complied with the relevant laws and regulations and whose actions discredit the profession, should report that insolvency practitioner to the complaints gateway operated by the Insolvency Service or to that insolvency practitioner’s recognised professional body.”

This appears to give IPs a choice: either they may lodge a (formal) complaint via the Gateway or they can report to the IP’s RPB.

What is the destiny of a “report” to the RPB?

The MoU between the Insolvency Service and the RPBs (https://goo.gl/ICqHEo) suggests that there is no practical distinction.  It defines a complaint as “a communication about a person authorised as an insolvency practitioner expressing dissatisfaction with that person’s conduct as it relates to his or her professional work as an insolvency practitioner in Great Britain, or with the conduct of others carrying out such work on that person’s behalf.”  The MoU then states: “Each Recognised Professional Body will forward to the Authority any Complaint received by it within five Working Days of receipt” and then the Authority, the Insolvency Service, will process the Complaint in the usual manner.

So this would appear to complete the circle. It appears that however an IP seeks to report a matter, it is going to be handled as a complaint sooner or later.

Is there no way to whistle-blow to a regulatory body?

So it seems that all reports will end up in the Complaints Gateway. This seems wrong, doesn’t it?  After all, the Insolvency Service is a “prescribed person” for the purposes of whistle-blowing about misconduct in companies generally (https://goo.gl/cIkGL4).  It doesn’t make sense to leave those working within the insolvency profession with nowhere to turn.

Surely the Service appreciates that IPs (and others employed by IPs) might want to use a far more discreet method than a formal complaint to bring their concerns to the attention of the regulatory bodies. I certainly hope that the Service would not look to enforce this aspect of the MoU against the RPBs.  We must be able to trust our regulatory bodies to act sensibly when dealing with such sensitive situations.

To be honest, I haven’t asked anyone at the Service for comments. However, I have sought the views of some within the RPBs.

The IPA’s view

Alison Curry gave me this answer:

“If the practitioner is reporting regulatory intelligence, in discharge of their SIP 1 obligations (and their membership rules, as the case may be) then they may do so to the RPB of the practitioner reported upon.  In such an instance, presumably, they could maintain anonymity if they chose, but could not be expected to be appraised of an outcome (i.e. they would not be a complainant in the formal sense). Presumably then the RPB will have a process by which that intelligence is fed into their monitoring processes. We certainly do and expect the IS to be monitoring that others do also.”

Alison also pointed out that, as information may end up in the monitoring stream, it could result in a referral to the Investigation Committee (which deals with complaints). However, this would be a referral from the Membership & Authorisation Committee (which deals with monitoring), so I think the whistle-blower’s identity would be unlikely to feature in the “complaint” referral, as the chances are that the IPA’s monitoring team will have gathered their own evidence in order for the M&A Committee to consider the issue in the first place.

ICAS’ view

David Menzies gave me this answer:

“You will be aware that the normal complaint procedures as agreed by the IS and the RPBs are that complaints should be made through the Complaints Gateway. RPBs also receive regulatory intelligence and it is possible that information relating to an IP’s misconduct could also be received by the RPB in that manner. In reality whether information is submitted through the complaints gateway or via an RPB is not critical, the important aspect being that the information is transmitted in the first place…

“The issue of the reporter’s identity being disclosed is of course something that no guarantees can ever be given on. If matters eventually proceeded to a disciplinary tribunal then certain documents would have to be put before the tribunal and that would most likely include correspondence with the complainer. There is also the possibility that if the IP who was being complained against submitted a subject access request under Data Protection legislation then it may be difficult to justify not disclosing the correspondence containing the complaint. There may well be circumstances where we can withhold a complainant’s identity but I think that this would need to be looked at on a case by case basis.”

The Other RPBs

I won’t quote my ACCA contact here, as it wasn’t an “official” response. Nevertheless, I did learn that ACCA’s monitoring team receives intelligence – from IPs as well as the other RPBs – and this is similarly absorbed into its monitoring processes, rather than put through the formal complaints process where the discloser doesn’t wish to lodge a formal complaint.

I suspect also that this is the case with the ICAEW and, to be fair to them, they were hoping to revert to me with a consensus view once this matter had been discussed at the Regulators’ Forum a couple of months’ ago. I expect that the demands of other SIP revisions have overtaken the publication of any guidance on this matter.

So whistle-blowing to the IP’s RPB can count as SIP1 compliance?

From the comments I have received, it would seem so. It also seems to me that the RPBs would not treat it as a formal complaint and thus pass it to the Insolvency Service for processing via the Gateway.  Confidential intelligence-delivery worked within RPBs before the revised SIP1.  The revision certainly was not intended to close any doors that were previously open.

What about your duty under your RPB’s Membership Rules?

Within all the RPBs’ membership rules/regulations, there is an obligation to report the misconduct of another member. The purpose of the revised SIP1 was to expand this obligation so that, in effect, the same rules apply whether the offending IP is a member of your RPB or not.

However, this means that, technically, if you have lodged a complaint via the Insolvency Service’s Gateway, you may need to report the matter also to your RPB so that you comply with its membership rules. This does seem a bit of unnecessary duplication, however, and I would hope that an IP would not be beaten about the head for complaining only to the Gateway.

What acts should be reported?

As quoted above, SIP1 sets out two criteria:

  • non-compliance with “the relevant laws and regulations” AND
  • actions that discredit the profession.

I am pleased to see that, at least with the IPA, its rules have been amended in the past few months clearly to bring them in line with the revised SIP1. Previously, their rules had stated “misconduct” needed to be reported, which could have constituted simply a breach of a SIP, statutory provision or the Ethics Code.  Now, the IPA has also imported reference to discrediting the profession (although also, interestingly, discredit to either the member, the IPA, or any other member) as a must-have in order to trigger the reporting requirement.

What actions discredit the profession? Actions at the far end of the spectrum will be blindingly obvious, but I reckon there is a huge swathe of greyness where subjectivity reigns.  To be fair though, we have always lived with this issue.  The revised SIP1 wasn’t meant to make our lives more difficult – I don’t think so anyway – but rather to emphasise our personal responsibility to keep our profession clean.  With this objective in mind, I have no complaints about the revised SIP1.


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SIP16: it’s more than just a Pool

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The Pre Pack Pool launched to sounds of applause from the likes of Anna Soubry MP and Teresa Graham, whilst most IPs have been keeping their own counsel at best.  For IPs and their agents, the new SIP16 contains changes of more practical consequence than the Pool.

On the Compliance Alliance blog, I have set out some pointers on how to implement the changes into internal processes and documentation (http://thecompliancealliance.co.uk/blog/sips/sip16/).  I’d also like to make a plug for my Fees Rules article for the ICAEW’s Insolvency & Restructuring Group’s newsletter, which I have reproduced on the CompAll blog (http://thecompliancealliance.co.uk/blog/practical/octfees/).  I plan to present a webinar on the combined subjects of SIP9 and SIP16 in a few weeks’ time.

Here, I thought I’d explore the outlook from over the SIP16 parapet.

How many applications will the Pre Pack Pool see?

Shall we open a book on that question?

Here are the Administration and pre-pack stats:

ADMs

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve drawn from the Insolvency Service’s insolvency appointments tables, extrapolating for a full year’s figures, and their annual regulatory and SIP16 monitoring reports.

If the pre-pack proportions are consistent, there would be 340 pre-packs over 2015 of which 228 would be to connected parties.  In one respect, it’s a shame that the Insolvency Service has handed over SIP16-monitoring to the RPBs, as I guess we may lose this insight into the numbers in future.

The Pool has 19 members (I’m not sure why 20 is often-quoted, unless there is an anonymous member!) – the names are at https://www.prepackpool.co.uk/about-the-pool – so each one could be expecting up to one review each month.  Of course, as many have noted, the reality could be far fewer given that applications are not mandatory.  Although the government’s threat of statutory measures to control pre-packs has been breathed hotly, why should this prospect persuade the pre-pack purchasers of today to apply to the Pool?

Also, as the graph illustrates, Administrations have been on the decline for a number of years and I suspect that the additional hurdles raised via the revised SIP16 and the fear in some IPs’ minds of their regulator picking up on an unintentional SIP16 clanger will force the numbers lower still, as instead more deals may be done either before or after Liquidation (which I think is already a far more frequent occurrence).

How will the regulators view absent Pool opinions?

There seems to be some anxiety that the regulatory bodies will be critical of IPs who complete connected party (“CP”) sales that lack a Pool review.  However, the new SIP16 puts little responsibility on the IP to press for a Pool application.  It merely states:

“the insolvency practitioner should ensure that any connected party considering a pre-packaged purchase is aware of their ability to approach the pre-pack pool and the potential for enhanced stakeholder confidence from the connected party approaching the pre-pack pool and preparing a viability statement for the purchasing entity” (paragraph 9).

‘The IP should ensure that [the party] is aware of their ability…’ – that is pretty light touch.

The IP also needs to ask the CP for a copy of any Pool opinion, but of course there is no obligation on the CP to concede to that request.  I understand that the CP can tick a box during the application to tell the Pool to provide a copy of the opinion to the IP, which at least might cut out the potential for some delay.

How should an IP react to a Pool application?

What would you do if you knew that the CP had applied to the Pool, would you wait for the opinion before concluding the sale?  I asked this question of an IP the other day and I confess that I was surprised when he said that he would wait.

Admittedly, 48 hours might not be long to wait in the great scheme of things, although this presupposes that the CP gets their application in pretty sharpish.  In view of the Pool’s wish-list (albeit not prerequisites), some of which carry not insignificant cost, the fact that the CP is probably being bombarded with issues from all directions and feeling ragged given their involvement in a limping company, and of course the inevitable reaction of “so you’re telling me I don’t have to make an application?”, the odds do seem stacked against a swift and comprehensive application to the Pool.

What would you do if the Pool’s answer was negative?  The Pool’s Q&As are factually correct but tight-lipped on the consequence for a potential sale of a negative Pool opinion (remembering of course that a negative opinion means “there is insufficient evidence that the grounds for the pre-packaged sale is reasonable”):

“It is for the IP to decide whether to proceed with such a sale or not.

“IPs are subject to regulation and authorised to act as IPs by recognised professional bodies. The insolvency regulators look at practitioners’ conduct through complaints received and proactive monitoring. Where systemic problems are identified, the regulators have the ability to take appropriate action.

“A complaint would not be well founded solely on the basis that a pre-packaged sale transaction was entered into when an opinion had been issued that the evidence was insufficient to support the grounds for a pre-packaged sale.”

I think that everyone reasonable now appreciates that the IP has got to do what the IP has got to do.  What would an IP do with a negative Pool opinion?  Would it make him think again about the sale, even though he would not know what had been behind the Pool member’s decision?  If it would not – on the basis that the IP knows what needs doing and can fully justify his actions – then why wait for the opinion?

Fortunately, I think negative Pool opinions will be very rare in any event.  After all, why would a CP go to the time and expense of voluntarily applying to the Pool, if he thought that he would struggle to persuade the Pool that the pre-pack was reasonable?  If the Pool does not a record a near-100% “pass” rate, I will be very surprised.

But would a 100% pass rate mean that the Pool has failed?  I do hope it won’t be seen that way!  After all, I suspect that applications will only be made to the Pool if the IP is moving towards concluding a sale; if the IP thinks the sale should happen, then let’s hope that the Pool rarely, if ever, disagrees.  Also, I think there’s an argument that, if applications to the Pool become the norm (although I am not convinced they will be), then the absence of an approach to the Pool might lead onlookers to presume that the CP was uncertain it would pass muster.  Therefore, even if the Pool notches up a 100% pass rate, creditors should feel confident that the wheat is distinguished from the chaff… so job done as regards improving confidence!

Quality agents step forward

For all its publicity, practically the Pool does not present the biggest SIP16 sea change for IPs.  Of far more practical effect to IPs are the additions as regards marketing.  This doesn’t mean that IPs’ past work has necessarily been at odds with the new standards, but inevitably practices and disclosures need to be adjusted to fit the now-codified standards.

Some agents have questioned the emphasis placed on having adequate PII as now required by the SIP, as they feel that qualifications – and especially RICS registration – are far better indicators of high quality and ethical services.  I can see their point, however I think that the quality agent could ease the IP’s SIP16 compliance burden in a new way.

I’d summarise the SIP16 marketing essentials this way:

  • The marketing strategy should be designed to achieve the best available outcome for creditors as a whole in all the circumstances.
  • The business should be marketed as widely as possible proportionate to the nature and size of the business.
  • Consideration should be given to the type of media used to reach the widest group of potential purchasers in the time available. Online communication should be included alongside other media by default.
  • Marketing should be undertaken for an appropriate length of time to ensure that the best available outcome for creditors as a whole in all the circumstances has been achieved.
  • Any previous marketing of the business by the Company is not justification in itself for avoiding further marketing. The adequacy and independence of the marketing should be considered in order to achieve the best available outcome.

Although much of the strategising is likely to be conducted in conversations in view of the urgency of the situation, SIP16 compliance requires good record-keeping.  Could agents help IPs on this?  Could they perhaps set out the “reasons underpinning the marketing and media strategy used” in a form that the IP could transfer readily to the SIP16 Statement?  After all, an agent worth his salt will be familiar with the new SIP16 and will understand well the pre-pack tensions that need to be managed in order to get the best sale away.  IPs look to their agents to propose and execute effective marketing strategies, so wouldn’t it follow that the agents fully justify their recommendations and actions in writing?  Such a helpful service might also attract a premium rate or repeat instructions, mightn’t it?

Before I move away from the marketing topic, I’ve been asking myself: how can we decide if a valuation agent’s PII is “adequate”?

For starters, I suggest that IPs who do more than the occasional pre-pack set up central registers of the PII details of the agents that they use, rather than deal with this on a case-by-case basis.  In this way, you need only ask your agents for PII information once and you can update your central register when the PII renewal dates come along.

Secondly, you might find RICS’ PII guidance useful: http://goo.gl/IAd7TX.  This describes minimum terms for PII required by RICS in a style that will be familiar to all IPs.

Curly additions to SIP16

In the process of updating the CompAll SIP16 Statement template, I discovered that there were several sneaky additions to the new SIP16.  I’ve attached at SIP16 comparison a tracked-changes comparison of the 2013 version and the current SIP16.

Some – but by no means all – of the lesser-publicised changes, which will affect standard documents and processes, are (in italics):

  • IPs should make it clear that their role is not to advise either the directors or any parties connected with the purchaser.
  • IPs should keep a detailed record of both the decision to do a pre-pack and all alternatives considered.
  • If the Administrator has been unable to send his Proposals with the SIP16 Statement, the Proposals should include an explanation for the delay.
  • Confirmation in the SIP16 Statement “that the sale price achieved was the best reasonably obtainable in all the circumstances” has been replaced by confirmation that the outcome achieved was the best available outcome for creditors as a whole in all the circumstances.
  • Disclosure of the extent of the Administrator’s involvement pre-appointment has been extended to involvement of the Administrator’s firm and/or any associates.
  • Disclosure of the alternative courses of action considered has been widened to the alternative options considered, both prior to and within formal insolvency by the IP and the company, and on appointment [of] the Administrator.
  • Disclosure should include explanations of why no consultation took place with major – or representative – creditors; why no requests were made to potential funders; and why no security was taken for deferred security (including the basis for the decision that none was required), if any of these were the case.
  • Disclosure of the names of directors/former directors involved in the management or ownership of the purchaser has been extended to include their associates and to any involvement in financing the purchasing entity.
  • Disclosure of fixed/floating charge allocations of consideration needs to include the method by which the allocation was applied.

 

Although these SIP16 changes will make compliance staff’s (and consultants’) lives a little more unpleasant as we try hard to avoid SIP16 Statement slip-ups, I would welcome that extra bit of misery if the pay-off were the Holy Grail of “improved confidence”. I am yet to be convinced that this will be the outcome.


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SIP9 – Reading Between the Lines

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How are we coping in this (new) SIP9 vacuum? Well, nature abhors a vacuum and it seems to me that we’re all plugging the gap in our own ways.

One IP told me that he had incurred time costs of c.£4,000 producing his first fees estimate and I heard another IP say that he was not going to seek fees approval on any case until the new SIP9 is in force. Having raised some questions about the RPBs’ recent announcement on SIP9, I was told that I was reading too much into it, but what do they expect given the dearth of guidance?

We have learnt that the new SIP9 will not contain a suggested format. IPs seem almost unanimous in their belief that this is counter-productive (not to mention costly!).  We are led to believe that it’s what the major creditors want, but the comments I have heard and seen from creditors are far from clear: they seem to want simultaneously more information but shorter reports, more prescription (even more legislation?  Give me strength!) but also a bespoke approach!  It will be interesting to read R3’s promised guidance.

I am sympathetic to the IP who is not even going to propose fees resolutions until he sees the new SIP9. Alternatively, we could gamble on what the final SIP9 will look like or we could just concentrate on making fees estimates rules-compliant for now and live with the prospect of having to revisit systems in November.  Both approaches are unattractive and make a mockery of the Insolvency Service’s Impact Assessment that estimated it would take each IP only 1 hour to become rules-ready!

So what are we expected to do now in applying the new rules?

The Consultation Draft SIP9

The draft rules were laid before Parliament on 3 March 2015. The draft SIP9 consultation was issued 5 months later.  It is perhaps not surprising therefore that, 2 ½ months further on, we’re still waiting for a SIP9.

Why does it take so long to finalise SIPs?  Having sat around the JIC table, I think I know why.  But it’s just not acceptable, is it?  This is especially so in view of the fact that the consultation draft SIP9 threatened to introduce new standards that would involve fundamental changes to time-recording systems and reporting formats.

I will save further breath on saying any more about the consultation draft, but if you are curious about what I had to say about it, you can see my consultation response here: SIP9 consult response and my mark-up of the draft SIP here: SIP9 markup.

Whilst I don’t have any idea how the final SIP9 will compare with the consultation draft, I do wonder how we are to read the R3’s recently-released Creditors’ Guides to Fees.

New Creditors’ Guides to Fees

R3’s new Creditors’ Guides to Fees were released on its website on 1 October without fanfare. At first glance, it is easy to assume that nothing has changed (I made that mistake and, as a result, asked R3 to return the old Guides to their page and date the Guides clearly, which R3 very swiftly did – thank you).

However, a closer look at the new Guides reveals that, not only do they incorporate the new rules of course, but they include much of the draft SIP9.  I am sure that the Guides will attract few (if any!) readers, but isn’t it a nonsense that the Guides are intended to explain to creditors what IPs do, but at present they describe standards that are not even enshrined in the statute or SIPs?!

The Guides include a number of new “should”s that appeared in the draft SIP9 but that IPs are probably not following completely at present. For example, the Guides repeat the draft SIP9’s list of “key issues of concern”, about which office holders should explain “in a way which facilitates clarity of understanding”:

  • the work the office holder anticipates will be done, and why that work is necessary;
  • the anticipated cost of that work, including any expenses expected to be incurred in connection with it;
  • whether it is anticipated that the work will provide a financial benefit to creditors, and if so what benefit (or if the work provided no direct financial benefit, but was required by statute);
  • the work actually done and why that work was necessary;
  • the actual costs of the work, including any expenses incurred in connection with it, as against any estimate provided; and
  • whether the work has provided a financial benefit to creditors, and if so what benefit (or if the work provided no direct financial benefit, but was required by statute).

Other “should”s appearing in the Guides include:

  • Where it is practical to do so, the office holder should provide an indication of the likely return to creditors when seeking approval for the basis of his remuneration.
  • When approval for a fixed amount or a percentage basis is sought, the office holder should explain why the basis requested is expected to produce a fair and reasonable reflection of the work that the office holder anticipates will be undertaken.

Fortunately, the Guides do not repeat the draft SIP9 in all aspects.  For example, they do not repeat para 10 of the draft SIP9, which recommended new divisions of work: Statutory Compliance; Asset Realisation; Distribution and Investigation.  They also omit draft SIP9 para 11’s references to the use of blended rates.  I suspect these paras have been omitted precisely because they were not “should”s in the draft SIP9 (although the language used in the draft suggests a stick is waving in the shadows).

Thus, the Guides give the creditors the impression that IPs are working in compliance with the draft SIP9’s standards, but what message have we received from the RPBs?

The RPBs’ Announcement

On 30 September, the IPA emailed its members on “SIP9 Transitional Arrangements” and the ICAEW made the same announcement publicly on 9 October (http://goo.gl/MrExtE).  I assume that the other RPBs/IS conveyed the same message to their members/IPs.

The key message was that, until the new SIP9 is issued (est. on or before 1 November) and/or it becomes effective (est. 1 December), the “principles” of the current SIP9 should be applied “as these remain ostensibly unchanged in the new SIP”.

However, I have some questions on the announcement:

  • “Insolvency Practitioners should apply the principles of the current SIP” – does this mean that IPs will not be taken to task if they do not apply the Key Compliance Standards of the current SIP? Some might argue: if IPs were complying with the letter of SIP9 prior to 1 October, why would they take the time to deviate from the SIP9 detail now? My answer would be: because fixing systems to comply with the new rules is disruptive enough, so much has needed to change. Therefore, if we could remove some of the detail of the old SIP9 – a lot of which doesn’t sit well in our apparent new world of narratives good, numbers bad – life could be so much easier.
  • “The existing SIP9 will be withdrawn” – does this mean that the new SIP9 will apply to new and old cases? If so, this is even more reason to try to avoid right now maintaining (and for some IPs, changing) systems to ensure that the letter of the current SIP9 is met.
  • “IPs should refer to the new Rules and also to Dear IPs 65 and 68… should they need to issue an estimate of their fees in advance of the implementation of the new SIP” – who needs to issue a fees estimate? Does this mean that IPs are doing the right thing, if they refrain from seeking fee approval at all in this hiatus period? Are the RPBs telling IPs for example to hold S98s, get the jobs in, but wait until December before proposing postal resolutions? This would seem to run contrary to the draft “Explanatory Note” that accompanied the consultation draft SIP9, which stated that fees requests should be considered “at the earliest opportunity”… but then of course that was only draft.

Dear IPs

To be fair, I think the Insolvency Service has done a reasonable job with Dear IPs 65 and 68.

Yes, of course, we all knew they would seek to “clarify” the rules’ reference to the “liquidator” providing fees-related information and have stated: “The use of the word ‘liquidator’ is not intended to preclude an insolvency practitioner from providing this information ahead of a s98 meeting at which s/he is subsequently appointed”… but from what I have heard, it seems that this is convincing very few IPs.

Also, whilst I can see what the Service is getting at, I do feel a little nervous about using the ‘unused’ part of an Administrator’s fees estimate to enable the subsequently-appointed Para 83 CVL Liquidator to draw fees. I think it is wonderfully pragmatic of the Insolvency Service and the rules seem to allow it, but I just wonder what the regulators would say if they saw it.  I don’t fancy being the first one to debate the subject with a monitor.

I also wish the Service would take greater care when referring to “fees”, because sometimes I think they mean “time costs” (or “remuneration charged”, as the rules put it, although this phrase is behind some of the confusion, I think). For example, Dear IP 68 states “as work cannot stop on a case, there may be instances where an office-holder exceeds the fees estimate before approval is sought/obtained”.  Err… I don’t think the Service exactly means this, but rather that the office holder may incur time costs in excess of the fees estimate, don’t you think?

But the Dear IPs have stuck pretty-much to the rules – which is to be expected and for which I am thankful – so, if IPs are hoping to read more about how to put the rules into practice, the Dear IPs probably will leave them wanting.

A Pig’s Ear

In summary, we are currently navigating our way through:

  • The Insolvency Rules 2015, which are not without flaws (see my previous posts, http://goo.gl/9mrWl4 and http://goo.gl/inIYEd);
  • Dear IPs 65 and 68;
  • The existing SIP9, which was drafted a world ago when the focus was on explaining what work you had done, not what work you anticipate doing;
  • The RPBs’ announcement, which seems to advise a business-as-usual approach despite the new rules being so different;
  • New Creditors’ Guides to Fees that include some requirements of the draft SIP9, which have not yet made their way into a publicly-available final SIP; and
  • If you feel like gambling, the consultation draft SIP9 and Explanatory Note.

I understand that some delegates to last week’s R3 SPG Forum were hoping for much more guidance on the new rules, but I am struggling to see what could possibly have been said. R3 has promised additional guidance, but understandably they want to wait to check that this is compatible with the final SIP9.

Personally, I have tried to help spread some knowledge by presenting a free-access webinar for the ICAEW on the detail of the new rules (http://goo.gl/93nDb0) and presenting at other ICAEW and R3 events in an attempt to highlight some practical steps.  I have also recorded a webinar for the Compliance Alliance on the practicalities and written much of this down for my clients.  I’m sure that other compliance consultants have been doing much the same, but we all have been working with the suspicion that, once we see the final SIP9, we may have to have a rethink.  I would also not be surprised if monitors’ “recommendations” evolve over time and we see a further revised SIP9 a year or so down the line.

So much for greater transparency!


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Regulatory Hot Topics: (2) Administration Technicalities

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I’m itching to blog about the new legislation, but that’s all a bit taxing so close to the Easter weekend.  Therefore, I’ll continue with my summary of points made in the R3 webinar.  This week: Administration Technicalities.

For my clients, this post may sound all very familiar, as I’ve pulled most of this from my last newsletter.  However, I’ve added some new points about the SBEE Act at the end of this post.

Matthew Peat and I agreed that failing to meet the statutory provisions for administrations is one of the most common issues identified on review visits.  I’m not at all surprised, as the legislation is extraordinarily (and in many respects, I think, unnecessarily) complicated… and it’s only going to get even more complicated with the Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Act and the Insolvency (Amendment) Rules 2015 (the IP fees rules) – but that’s for another day.

Areas that seem to cause difficulties include:

Pre-administration costs

It should be remembered that the requirement to disclose in the Proposals (and seek approval of any unpaid) pre-administration costs relates, not only to the charges of the IP, but to other costs incurred pre-appointment such as the solicitors’ or agents’ fees.

It is also evident that the RPBs do not believe that estimates of pre-administration costs comply with the Rules and they expect you to contact third parties and establish the quantum of their pre-administration costs in order to disclose them properly in the Proposals.  Also, if any payments from the estate to third parties exceed the (estimated) pre-administration costs as they appeared in the Proposals, do not be surprised if an RPB monitor suggests that the excess is unauthorised.

Most IPs have cottoned on by now that the Rules specifically state that approval of pre-administration costs does not form part of the Administrator’s Proposals (even though R2.33 requires that the Proposals include details of pre-administration costs).  However, there seem to be still the odd flawed template or two in circulation that do not present a separate specific resolution for the approval of pre-administration costs.

Statement of affairs

There have occasions when a statement of affairs (“SoA”) has not been submitted by the director(s), but the Proposals haven’t included the alternative required by R2.33(2)(g) of details of the financial position of the company (which usually takes the form of the Administrator’s own estimated SoA).

It is perhaps worth adding that this rule also requires a list of creditors (names, addresses, debts and any security) – whether or not the directors have submitted an SoA – and “an explanation as to why there is no statement of affairs” (although personally I cannot see that any explanation is going to be likely, other than “it has been requested but the director has not yet provided one”, particularly where Proposals have been issued swiftly after appointment).

How the purpose of the administration is to be achieved

If the Proposals explain that the Administrator thinks that the second administration objective is achievable, then the Proposals should explain why you believe that the result for creditors as a whole is going to be better than if the company were wound up (without first having been in administration).

Statement of expenses

Progress reports – not only in administrations, but in all other cases (apart from VAs and Receiverships) – all need to include a statement of the expenses incurred by the office holder during the period of the report, whether or not payment has been made in respect of them during the period.

It is important to remember that this includes more than simply the office holder’s time costs and disbursements, so this again means that solicitors, agents etc. need to be contacted to establish what is on their clocks.  Also, do not forget items such as insurance premiums and statutory advertising.  In addition, the Rules do not set a de minimis: all and any expenses incurred must be disclosed.  There have been some suggestions that the regulators might take a proportionate view of the disclosure of expenses, but personally I wouldn’t risk it.

Extensions

If seeking an extension via creditors’ consent, make sure that you approach the right creditors.

In every case, you will need to obtain the consent of all the secured creditors.

Whether you approach also the preferential or unsecured creditors as a whole will depend on what you wrote in the Proposals: per Para 78(2), if you have made a Para 52(1)(b) statement, you need to approach preferential creditors, if you think that a distribution to them will be made.  This is different from seeking approval to fees: in that case, under R2.106(5A) you need to seek preferential creditors’ approval to fees, not only if you intend paying a distribution, but also if you have paid a distribution.

However, events could have moved on since you issued the Proposals: by the time you contemplate an extension, the anticipated outcome might have changed.  What if your Proposals did not include a Para 52(1)(b) statement, but now you don’t think that a dividend will be paid to non-prefs?  Who do you approach for approval of an extension?

Assuming that your Proposals have accommodated alternative outcomes (such that you don’t believe you need to issue revised Proposals), Para 78 still indicates that whether you go to prefs or unsecureds in general depends on what you stated the anticipated outcome was in your Proposals.  However, to show consideration for the apparent spirit behind the provisions, it would seem prudent to consider also which creditors are in the frame at the time that you seek an extension, to ensure that you achieve the requisite majority from them too.

Extension Progress Reports

Whichever way you seek consent to an extension, you will need to issue a progress report (which is one reason why I am nervous about including in Proposals the power for the Administrator to extend without further recourse – because Proposals are not a progress report).  The usual one month deadline applies to these extension progress reports, so if you have only asked secureds/prefs to consent to the extension, make sure that you circulate the progress report to all other creditors – as well as send a copy to the Registrar for filing – within the month.

The same goes for court extensions: you will have produced a progress report to accompany your court application and, in the event that the court does not grant your extension before the month-end, you will need to send a copy of the report to all creditors and for filing and then send another circular (for the Notice of Extension) once you have received the order for the extension.

Finally, remember that the 6 month cycle for progress reports is counted from the period-end of the last report.  Therefore, where a progress report to accompany an extension request has been issued – which can be at any time – diaries will need changing so that the next progress report is 6 months after that report (i.e. no longer 6-monthly from the date of appointment).  This can prove a nightmare for automated diary systems… and, as you need to provide sufficient lead-time before any extension period ends in order to consider whether to apply for a further extension, make sure that you don’t leave diary prompts for progress reports too tight on the 6-month deadlines.

Exits

RPBs appear to be expecting decisions over exit routes to be clearly and contemporaneously evidenced.  This is also valuable in the event that things do not turn out the way you had hoped, e.g. where you moved to CVL because you had thought that there would be sufficient realisations to pay a dividend to unsecured creditors, but something happened later to scupper that outcome.

I also understand that it is generally accepted that Para 83’s reference to an Administrator thinking that a distribution will be made to unsecured creditors is a reference to non-preferential unsecured creditors only.  Thus, if you are nearing the end of the administration and you think that only a preferential distribution will be paid, you will need to seek an extension and pay it through the administration.  Alternatively – and if HMRC (or, of course, any other creditor) has modified the Proposals so that the exit must be by liquidation – you will need to seek a compulsory winding-up order.

Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Act 2015

I couldn’t resist one point on this new Act.  Although some items come into force on 26 May 2015, there are no transitional provisions (yet).  In other words, unless a new Order changes things, the provisions will apply to all existing insolvency appointments, not only future ones.

The Act amends Para 65 to the effect that, from 26 May 2015, administrators may pay a prescribed part dividend without the court’s permission.  However, the Act also amends Para 83 so that it will read that an administration may move to CVL only where the administrator thinks (“that the total amount which each secured creditor of the company is likely to receive has been paid to him or set aside for him” – no change there – and) “that a distribution will be made to unsecured creditors of the company (if there are any) which is not a distribution by virtue of section 176A(2)(a)”, i.e. a prescribed part distribution.  In other words, from 26 May 2015, the Para 83 move to CVL cannot be used to pay a prescribed part dividend (unless you also think there is going to be a non-prescribed part dividend as well).

Thus I would strongly recommend that you revisit your standard Proposals template to make sure that they do not run contrary to the post-May position: you do not want to be stuck with approved Proposals requiring you to exit by CVL to pay a prescribed part dividend, when the Act won’t allow you to do it.  Having looked at some standard Proposals, I reckon many will have sufficient wriggle-room to avoid you having your hands tied, but it would be worth checking the Proposals of any cases where you anticipate a prescribed part dividend: you still have a month or so during which you can do a Para 83 move to CVL before the Act takes effect.

My thanks to Deborah Manzoori and Jo Harris for pointing out this issue to me.

My thoughts on more wrinkles in the new legislation will follow soon.  In the meantime, have a lovely long weekend.


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Regulatory Hot Topics: (1) the SIPs

4017 Uluru

Last month, I conducted a webinar for R3 with Matthew Peat, senior compliance officer with ACCA, entitled Regulatory Hot Topics.  The aim was to highlight some areas that we both had seen some IPs stumble over.  I thought there might be value in summarising some of the issues we covered.  In this post, I cover just the SIPs.

SIP2 – Investigations by Office Holders in Administrations and Insolvent Liquidations

Some firms are using checklists that are not well-designed for the task of carrying out a SIP2 investigation.  In particular:

  • Checklists should reflect the fundamental difference between a SIP2 investigation and considering matters of relevance for a D-report/return. SIP2 requires the administrator/liquidator to consider whether there may be any prospect of recovery in relation to antecedent transactions.
  • Checklists should guide you through the SIP2 requirement of conducting an initial assessment on all cases and then moving on to making a decision on what further work, if any, is merited.
  • Checklists should help you meet the SIP2 requirement to document findings, considerations and conclusions reached.

Other recommendations include:

  • Make collection of books and records a priority in the early days of an appointment.
  • SIP2 also requires the outcome of the initial assessment to be reported to creditors in the next progress report.  Although there is an obvious tension between full disclosure and keeping one’s powder dry for progressing any claims, it is not sufficient to report in every case that all investigations are confidential, remembering that SIP2 is not referring to D-reporting matters. If nothing has been revealed that might lead to a potential recovery, this should be reported; if something has been identified, then some thought will need to be given as to what can be disclosed.

SIP3.1 & SIP3.2 – IVAs & CVAs

The “new” SIPs have been in force now for eight months, so all work should now have been done to adapt processes to the new requirements.  In particular, the SIPs require “procedures in place to ensure”, which is achieved more often by clear and evidenced internal processes.  It is also arguable that, even if particular problems have not appeared on the cases reviewed on a monitoring visit, you could still come in for criticism if the procedures themselves would not ensure that an issue were dealt with properly if it arose.

The SIPs require assessments to be made “at each stage of the process”, i.e. when acting as adviser, preparing the proposal, acting as Nominee, and acting as Supervisor.  At each stage, files need to evidence consideration of questions such as:

  • Is the VA still appropriate and viable?
  • Can I believe what I am being told and is the debtor/director going to go through with this?
  • Are necessary creditors going to support it?
  • Do the business and assets need more protection up to the approval of the VA?

The SIPs elevate the need to keep generous notes on all discussions and, in addition to the old SIP3’s meeting notes, require that all discussions with creditors/ representatives be documented.

I would recommend taking a fresh look at advice letters to ensure that every detail of SIP3.1/3.2 is addressed.  The following suggested ways of dealing with some of the SIP requirements are only indicators and do not represent a complete answer:

  • “The advantages and disadvantages of each available option”

Personally, I think the Insolvency Service’s “In Debt – Dealing with your Creditors” makes a better job at covering this item than R3’s “Is a Voluntary Arrangement right for me?” booklet, although neither will be sufficient on its own: in your advice letter, you should make application to the debtor’s personal circumstances so that they clearly understand their options.

Similarly, you can create a generic summary of a company’s options, which would be a good accompaniment to your more specific advice letter for companies contemplating a CVA.

  • “Any potential delays and complications”

This suggests to me that you should cover the possibilities of having to adjourn the meeting of creditors, if crucial modifications need to be considered.

  • “The likely duration of the IVA (or CVA)”

Mention of the IVA indicates that a vague reference to 5 years as typical for IVAs will not work; the advice letter needs to reflect the debtor’s personal circumstances.

  • “The rights of challenge to the VA and the potential consequences”

This appears to be referring to the rights under S6 and S262 regarding unfair prejudice and material irregularity.  I cannot be certain, but it would seem unlikely that the regulators expect to see these provisions in detail, but rather a plain English reference to help impress on the debtor the seriousness of being honest in the Proposal.

  • “The likely costs of each [option available] so that the solution best suited to the debtor’s circumstances can be identified”

This is a requirement only in relation to IVAs, not CVAs, and includes the provision of the likely costs of non-statutory solutions (depending, of course, on the debtor’s circumstances).

An Addendum: SIP3.3 – Trust Deeds

After the webinar, I received a question on whether similar points could be gleaned from SIP3.3, which made me feel somewhat ashamed that we’d not covered it at all.  To be fair, neither Matthew nor I has had much experience reviewing Trust Deeds, so personally I don’t feel that I can contribute much to the understanding of people working in this field, but I thought I ought to do a bit of compare-and-contrast.

An obvious difference between SIP3.3 and the VA SIPs is that the former includes far more detail and prescription regarding consideration of the debtor’s assets (especially heritable property), fees, and ending the Trust Deed.  However, setting those unique items aside, I was interested in the following comparisons:

  • The stages and roles in the process

SIP3.3 identifies only two stages/roles: advice-provision and acting as Trustee.  I appreciate that the statutory regime does involve the IP acting only in one capacity (as opposed to the two in VAs), but I am still a little surprised that there is no “right you’ve decided to enter into a Trust Deed, so now I will prepare one for you” stage.

SIP3.3 also omits reference to having procedures in place to ensure that, “at each stage of the process”, an assessment is made (SIP3.1 para 10).  Rather, SIP3.3 requires only that an assessment is made “at an appropriate stage” (SIP3.3 para 18).  Personally I prefer SIP3.3 in this regard, as I fear that SIP3.1/3.2’s stage-by-stage approach is too cumbersome and risks the assessment being rushed through by a bunch of tick-boxes, instead of considering the circumstances of each case more intelligently and purposefully.

  • The options available

There are some differences as regards the provision of information and advice on the options available, but I am not sure if this is intended to be anything more than just stylistic differences.

For example, SIP3.1 prompts for the provision of information on the advantages and disadvantages of each available option at paras 8(a) (advice), 11(a) (documentation), and 12(e) (initial advice), but SIP3.3 refers to this information only at para 20(a) (documentation).  Does this mean that IPs are not required to discuss advantages and disadvantages, but just hand over details to the debtor?

In addition, SIP3.3 does not specifically require “the likely costs of each [option]” (SIP3.1 para 12(e)).  The assessment section also does not include “the solutions available and their viability” (SIP3.1 para 10(a)); I wonder if this is because there is less opportunity in a Trust Deed to revisit the decision to go ahead with it, whereas in VAs the Proposal-preparation/Nominee stage can be lengthy giving rise to a need to revisit the decision depending on how events unfold.

Having said that, I do like SIP3.3’s addition that the IP “should be satisfied that a debtor has had adequate time to think about the consequences and alternatives before signing a Trust Deed” (para 34).

  • Additional requirements

Other items listed in SIP3.3 that an IP needs to deal with pre-Trust Deed (for which there appears to be no direct comparison with SIP3.1/3.2) include:

  1. Advise in the initial circular to creditors, the procedure for objections (para 9);
  2. Assess whether the debtor is being honest and open (para 18(a));
  3. Assess the attitude (as opposed to the likely attitude in SIP3.1/3.2) of any key creditors and of the general body of creditors (para 18(c));
  4. Maintain records of the way in which any issues raised have been resolved (para 20(d));
  5. Summaries of material discussions/information should be sent to the debtor (para 20) (in IVAs, this need be done only if the IP considers it appropriate); and
  6. Advise the debtor that it is an offence to make false representations or to conceal assets or to commit any other fraud for the purpose of obtaining creditor approval to the Trust Deed (para 24).

 

SIP9 – Payments to Insolvency Office Holders and their Associates

The SIP9 requirement to “provide an explanation of what has been achieved in the period under review and how it was achieved, sufficient to enable the progress of the case to be assessed” fits in well with the statutory requirements governing most progress reports as regards reporting on progress in the review period.  Thus, although it often will be appropriate to provide context by explaining some events that occurred before the review period, try to avoid regurgitating lots of historic information and make it clear what actually occurred in the review period.

In addition, in order to meet the SIP9 principle, it would be valuable to reflect on the time costs incurred and the narrative of any progress report.  For example:

  • If time costs totalling £30,000 have been incurred making book debt recoveries of £20,000, why is that?       Are there some difficult debts still being pursued? Or perhaps you are prepared to take the hit on time costs. If these are the case, explain the position in the report.
  • If the time costs for trading-on exceed any profit earned, explain the circumstances: perhaps the ongoing trading ensured that the business/asset realisations were far greater than would have been the case otherwise; or perhaps something unexpected scuppered ongoing trading, which had been projected to be more successful.
  • If a large proportion of time costs is categorised under Admin & Planning, provide more information of the significant matters dealt with in this category, for example statutory reporting.

Other SIP9 reminders include:

  • If you are directing creditors to Guides to Fees appearing online, make sure that the link has not become obsolete and that it relates directly to the Guide, rather than to a home or section page.
  • Make sure that the Guide to Fees referenced (or enclosed) in a creditors’ circular is the appropriate one for the case type and the appointment date.
  • Make sure that reference is made to the location of the Guide to Fees (or it is enclosed) in, not only the first communication with creditors, but also in all subsequent reports.

 

In future posts, I’ll cover some points on the Insolvency Code of Ethics, case progression, technical issues in Administrations, and some tips on how monitors might review time costs.


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Dear IP 64: is no news good news?

1705 Yosemite

Did you wonder what the RPS was going on about when it announced (Article 54, Dear IP 64) that the recent EAT judgment would not affect its claims-processing, but it has sought advice?  Bearing in mind that the RPS gets involved some way down the insolvency process, is there anything that IPs should be taking into account right now?

The Judgment: Bear Scotland Limited & Ors v Fulton & Ors

I briefly described the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in an earlier blog post: http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-8I.  In a nutshell, the EAT decided that the “normal remuneration”, to be used in calculating the employees’ claims for holiday pay, should include overtime that the employer was not bound to offer but that the employees were required to work (or could not unreasonably refuse to work), if requested (“non-guaranteed overtime”).

Permission to appeal was granted and it seemed widely-thought that an appeal was likely in relation to part of the EAT’s judgment, which limited claims for underpaid holiday pay to instances of underpayment not exceeded by a gap of more than three months.  However, the Unite union announced that it will not appeal (http://goo.gl/EqII77) and, as the Tribunal judge expressed the view that this issue alone was the arguable one, personally I’m not sure why the employers would pursue a further appeal.  Therefore, it seems unlikely that there will be an appeal (but I’m no lawyer).

The Government Task Force

I also mentioned in my earlier post that the government had set up a task force to assess the possible impact of the decision.

On 18 December 2014, the government announced its solution: http://goo.gl/kJ7sJu.  Unusually with no public consultation, it swiftly laid down regulations – the Deduction from Wages (Limitation) Regulations 2014 – to limit unlawful deductions claims to two years.  The regulations will come into force on 8 January 2015, although they will only take effect on claims made on or after 1 July 2015, so there is a 6-month window for claims to be lodged potentially going back to 1998 when the Working Time Directive was implemented in the UK.

It is undeniable that the Bear Scotland case precipitated these measures, although the Impact Assessment (“IA”) makes clear that the regulations will limit claims not only arising from this decision.  The IA mentions, for example, the ruling from the CJEU in the case of Lock v British Gas (see, e.g. my blog post: http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-82).  This case concluded that sales commission should be reflected in holiday pay calculations, although the UK application of this decision will not be known until the case is heard by the Leicester Tribunal, which I understand will not happen until February (http://goo.gl/ezx8Qj).

Although the regulations don’t actually affect the Bear Scotland decision, just the extent of businesses’ (and the RPS’) exposure to claims arising from the decision, the rhetoric doesn’t suggest that the government feels there is much risk that the decision might be overturned.  Then again, the regulations do simply plug a dangerous gap in the ERA96, so they are valuable whether or not Bear Scotland happened; the future is never left wanting for unexpected court decisions.

Dear IP 64

Given this background, I am somewhat surprised that the RPS has announced that it “will continue to process claims in the usual way until the expiry of the appeal period” of the EAT decision.  However, because I assume that the appeal period is largely a valuable pause in which the RPS can take advice and consider its next steps, what puzzles me a little more is: what action might the RPS take if there is no appeal?

The IA makes clear that “it is the worker’s responsibility to prove that they have a holiday pay claim in the employment tribunal”.  Thus, I would have thought that there is no obligation on the RPS – or by extension on insolvency office holders – to examine Company records to see whether past holiday pay claims have been calculated in line with the decision and, if not, look to adjust them.  However, I would also have thought that if any employees present a claim for unlawful deductions, whether to the RPS or to an IP, this could be dealt with without the need for the tribunal process, albeit quite rightly I think after the expiry of the appeal period.

But what about holiday pay claims that have not yet been processed?  Again, understandably the RPS will not want to pay out any enhanced holiday pay until the appeal period has expired.  Also, I assume, it will be for employees to make clear on their RP1s the “normal remuneration” that they expect to form the basis of their holiday pay calculation, although I don’t think that the RP1 form lends itself well to dealing with disclosure of non-guaranteed overtime – maybe another re-write is something that might appear after the appeal period has expired.

Thoughts for IPs

Finally, what about forms RP14A, which IPs complete to provide the RPS with basic information about employees made redundant from insolvent businesses?  The forms (I think) only ask for “basic pay”, so what should IPs be answering here?  I’m sure that IPs will not be criticised for acting on the Dear IP basis and continuing to complete RP14As “in the usual way until the expiry of the appeal period”, although personally this seems a little short-sighted to me.  If an IP were to know that employees’ holiday pay claims would be different if the Bear Scotland decision were applied, should he/she not take this into account when submitting an RP14A, at the very least alerting the RPS to the possible impact of the decision on the employees’ claims against the insolvent business in question?

Other questions arise by extension: should the IP make enquiries of insolvent business’ payroll departments to explore whether the effect of the decision has already been taken into account, or if it has not been considered, what effect it would have?

Of more concern to IPs dealing with a trading-on situation would be: how is the payroll department calculating holiday pay going forward?  IPs will not be want to be taken unawares by receiving claims for unlawful deductions long after the estate funds have been disbursed.

I also envisage this decision impacting on the TUPE obligation to provide to purchasers employee liability information, which would include any claims that the employer has reasonable grounds to believe that an employee may bring.

Of course, all this will already have been considered by ERA specialists and departments and IPs will not be short of solicitors who will be happy to advise.  Eventually also, we may receive an update from the RPS.