Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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The Value of RPB Roadshows: Forewarned is Forearmed

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Having just returned from a fantastic trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, I have yet to catch up on domestic news, so I thought I’d plug the silence gap with some tips that I picked up from the RPBs’ autumn roadshows.

Ethical issues featured heavily at the ICAEW roadshow, whilst the IPA roadshow raised some controversial Administration points, and both RPBs had much to say about handling complaints in the wake of the Insolvency Service’s Complaints Gateway.

Ethical Issues (ICAEW Roadshow, Birmingham, 9 October 2014)

Allison Broad of the ICAEW described the following ethical dos and don’ts:

• In order to identify any prior relationships before deciding whether to take an appointment, do not rely solely on the company director signing off confirmation that s/he is not aware of any conflicts/relationships; internal checks are still required.

• Ensure that relationships are evaluated, not merely identified. Allison gave the example of an IP who had noted on his ethics checklist that the director of the prospective appointment had been a director of eight other companies that had gone insolvent with the IP acting, but the checklist evidenced no evaluation of the threat to the ethical principles that these prior relationships presented. Personally, I have also seen cases – although not quite as striking as this – where a prior relationship existed but it was not noted on the ethics checklist. Even though an IP may have concluded that a relationship is not sufficiently significant to require the introduction of safeguards or to raise concerns about the appropriateness of taking the appointment, files should disclose the relationship and evidence the IP’s consideration of its significance. In my view, failure to do so, not only could constitute a breach of the Ethics Code (paragraphs 74 and 75), but is also bound to raise suspicions that checklists are completed on auto-pilot and insufficient thought is given to ethics matters.

• Ensure that the IP signs off the ethics checklist, if not before the appointment, then as close to it as possible in order to demonstrate that consideration of ethical matters had been considered before appointment.

• Keep ethical threats under review throughout the life of the case, e.g. by including on case reviews a question – not a simple tick-box – as regards how any safeguards employed to manage a threat have been working.

• Review regular introducers’ websites prior to taking the first appointment from those sources and regularly thereafter, as website contents are frequently refreshed. Allison acknowledged that pre-packs and phoenix services may be covered on websites, but she urged caution when dealing with introducers who position these items at the top of their lists or prominently.

• If an IP feels that the quality of an introducer’s advice to directors/debtors is below par, it is not sufficient to allow the relationship to continue on the basis that at least the IP can ensure that s/he provides good advice. The ICAEW expects IPs to write to the introducer with any concerns and ask that changes be made to their websites and practices. They would then expect IPs to check whether these had been actioned and, if the introducer does not do so, the IPs should terminate the introduction relationship.

Administration Technicalities (IPA Roadshow, London, 22 October 2014)

Caroline Sumner of the IPA highlighted several issues identified on monitoring visits.  However, I think I must have been in a particularly argumentative mood on the day, as my notes are fairly scant on Caroline’s comments about SIP16, SIP13, and the new SIPs 3 – from memory, I think that none of this was rocket science; Caroline just highlighted the need to get them right – but I went to town on some other points she made:

  • Caroline described the Insolvency Service’s view that Administrators’ Proposals should describe only one of the Para 3 administration objectives that the Administrators propose to achieve.

I have a problem with this: firstly, in what respect is this reflected by the statutory requirements?  R2.33(2)(m) requires Proposals to include “a statement of how it is envisaged the purpose of administration will be achieved”.  An old Dear IP (chapter 1, article 5) referred to this and also to Para 111(1) of Schedule B1, which states “’the purpose of administration’ means an objective specified in paragraph 3”, leading to the Service’s conclusion that “administrators should not simply include all three objectives with no attempt to identify which is the relevant objective”.  That’s all well and good – and I think that IPs have moved away from many early-style Proposals, which did reproduce Para 3 verbatim – but I do not see how these statutory provisions require an IP to pin to the mast only one Para 3 objective to endeavour to achieve.

Here’s an example: what would be wrong with an Administrator’s Proposals stating that the company in administration is continuing to trade with a view to completing a sale of the business as a going concern, which should generate a better result for creditors as a whole – and thus achieve administration objective (b) – but if a business sale is not possible, a break-up sale is likely to result only in a distribution to secured/preferential creditors – and thus achieve administration objective (c)?  In my mind, this is the most transparent, comprehensive, and helpful explanation to creditors and certainly is far better than that which the Insolvency Service seems to expect IPs to deliver: for Proposals simply to state that a going concern sale is being pursued to achieve objective (b) is to provide only half the story and, I would argue, would not comply with R2.33(2)(m), as the Proposals would not be explaining “how it is envisaged the purpose of administration will be achieved” in the event that a business sale is not completed.  Para 111(1) simply leads me to an interpretation that an Administration’s eventual outcome – not necessarily the Administrator’s prospective aim – is the achieving of a single objective, which is supported by the Act’s presentation of the objectives as an hierarchy notwithstanding that in practice it is easy to see how more than one objective might be achieved (e.g. rescue of the company and a better result for creditors as a whole).

At the roadshow, I asked Caroline whether she felt that, if the singly-selected objective turned out to be not achievable, the Administrator would need to go to the expense of issuing revised Proposals.  She accepted that, of course, the IP would need to consider that requirement (although I wonder how the decision in Re Brilliant Independent Media Specialists (https://insolvencyoracle.com/2014/10/07/how-risky-is-it-to-act-contrary-to-a-creditors-committees-wishes-and-other-questions/) impacts on this).  Is this really what the government intended?  What happened to the drive to eliminate unnecessary costs?

Finally, I think that this view puts a new colour on the statutory requirement to issue Administrators’ Proposals as soon as reasonably practicable.  Could it be argued that asarp is only reached once the Administrator is reasonably confident of the single objective that he/she envisages achieving?  The RPBs have tried hard to promote the asarp requirement, rather than the 8-week back-stop, but insisting on a single objective in Proposals could encourage a turn in the tide.

I have asked Caroline to clarify the Insolvency Service’s view.  However, if the Service does expect IPs to adopt this approach, I think they should set it down in a Dear IP – of course, assuming that my arguments hold no water – so that all IPs are forced to accept the same burdens.

  • Caroline repeated the Dear IP article that extensions should be sought at the outset only in exceptional cases where it is clear that more than 12 months will be required to complete the Administration.

Although Caroline didn’t go into the technicalities of how an extension might be agreed at an early stage, it gave me cause to revisit the Dear IP article (chapter 1 article 12).  It describes the “questionable” practice of seeking consent for an extension “with the administrator’s proposals including a conditional resolution regarding the extension of the administration, along the lines that if the administrator should think it desirable, then the administration would be extended by an additional six months”.  Over the years I have seen this done, but I have not seen it done properly, i.e. compliant with the Rules.

R2.112(2) requires requests to be accompanied by a progress report, but Proposals are not a progress report.  I guess that a Proposals circular could be fudged to fit the prescription for a progress report as set out in R2.47, but this would have consequences, such as the need to file the Proposals/report with a form 2.24B (as well as filing the Proposals individually) and the clock would be re-set so that the next progress report would be due 6 months afterwards.  Also, how does an Administrator meet the statutory requirement to issue a notice of extension as soon as reasonably practicable after consent has been granted, if s/he has obtained such a “conditional” resolution?

My recommendation would be to avoid seeking extensions in the Proposals altogether, but instead leave them until the first progress report is due.  Of course, if an Administrator has to convene a general meeting (or deal with business by correspondence) at a time other than the Para 51 meeting, this will attract some additional costs, but if the request is made at the time of the statutorily-required 6-month progress report, those additional costs are relatively small, aren’t they?

Complaints-Handling

Complaints-handling was covered at both the ICAEW and the IPA roadshow, which I suspect has as much, if not more, to do with the likely pressure from the Insolvency Service on RPBs as it has with any perceived extent of failings on the part of IPs.

Both Allison and Caroline covered the need to explain how complaints can be made to the Complaints Gateway, although I do feel that generally RPBs have not done much to publicise their “requirements”.  The only guidance I’ve seen is on the ICAEW’s blog – http://www.ion.icaew.com/insolvencyblog/post/Launch-of-the-insolvency-complaints-gateway – that refers to the need to disclose the Gateway to anyone who wants to complain and in engagement terms, if they refer to the firm’s complaints procedure.  This blog also stated that there was no need to inform creditors of existing cases, which leaves me wondering what the expectation is to communicate with creditors generally on post-Gateway cases.  Given the Insolvency Service’s emphasis on the Gateway, I am a little surprised that the RPBs seem to be relying on some kind of process of osmosis to get the message of their expectations out to IPs.

From the two roadshows that I attended, I sense that there is a general expectation that IPs’ websites will display details of the Gateway (although I hope that the RPBs will take a proportionate approach, given that some smaller practices’ websites are little more than a homepage).  I do not get the sense that the RPBs expect the Gateway’s details to be added to circulars to creditors generally, but only that they should be included in any correspondence with (potential) complainants.

Allison also highlighted that, whilst the ICAEW’s bye-laws (paragraph 1.2 at http://goo.gl/1frWQo) include a requirement that all new clients be informed of their right to complain to the ICAEW and be provided with the name of the firm’s principal to whom they should complain, when writing as an insolvency office-holder the need to refer parties to the Complaints Gateway takes precedence over this requirement.

Caroline commented that IPA monitoring visits will include a review of the practice’s internal complaints process to see how these are handled before the complainant resorts to the Gateway.  If complaints are not handled by the IP, the monitors will also be exploring how the IP is confident that complaints are dealt with appropriately.

Why Attend the Roadshows?

I hope that the above illustrates the value of attending an RPB roadshow.  However, I think it also illustrates the risk that we learn about previously unknown and not altogether satisfying views on regulatory matters.  I realise that I am not blameless in this regard: when I worked at the IPA, I also used the roadshows as a medium to convey my thoughts on issues identified in visits and self certifications, so I should not be surprised that this practice is continuing (or indeed that others hold views different to my own!).  I and many of my colleagues were ever conscious that there was no other medium for Regulation Teams to deliver such messages and forewarn IPs of hot topics and evolving regulatory expectations.  Dear IP was the only other method that came close, but as this is controlled by the Insolvency Service, I could only hope that the RPB perspective would not become lost in translation.

The Advantage of Written Guidance?

I hope that, if I’ve got the wrong end of any stick waved at either of the two roadshows, someone will shout – please?  Given the limited audience at roadshows and the risk of Chinese Whispers, it must be better for the RPBs to convey their messages in written form, mustn’t it?

“The 18 month Rule”

A recent example, however, illustrates that even written communications can be unsettling.  At http://www.ion.icaew.com/insolvencyblog/post/The-18-month-rule—it-s-for-real, a QAD reviewer’s blog starts by stating that “there is a suggestion from some compliance providers and trainers that the 18 month rule for fixing fees may not be definitive, and that you still have the option of applying to creditors after the expiry of the 18 month period”.  I shall start by confessing that it’s not me, honest: I’ve never had cause to scrutinise these provisions.  However, now that I do, I have to say that I am struggling to see how the Rules can be interpreted in the way that the Service and the ICAEW are promulgating.

The blog states: “Our interpretation is that if fees haven’t been fixed within 18 months it will be scale rate in bankruptcies or compulsories or a court application. We recently raised the issue with the Insolvency Service and their view is: ‘. . . after 18 months the liquidator is only entitled to fix fees in accordance with rule 4.127(6) unless the stated exceptions apply’.  Clearly this relates to liquidators in compulsory liquidations, but the principal extends.”

I have long thought that this indeed was what the Service had intended by the Rules amendments, but on closer inspection I’m afraid I really can’t see that this is what the Rules state.  R4.127(6) states: “Where the liquidator is not the official receiver and the basis of his remuneration is not fixed as above within 18 months… the liquidator shall be entitled to remuneration fixed in accordance with the provisions of Rule 4.127A.”

“Shall be entitled…”  When I reach state-pensioner age, I shall be entitled to travel on buses free of charge, but that does not mean that the only way I will be able to get to town is by taking a bus.  Similarly, after 18 months, the liquidator shall be entitled to remuneration on the scale rate, but does this mean that the liquidator is only entitled to fees on this basis?  What statutory provision actually prohibits the liquidator from seeking creditors’ approval of fees on another R4.127(2) basis after 18 months?

And how do the Rules “extend” this compulsory liquidation principle to CVLs?  R4.127(7-CVL) states: “If not fixed as above, the basis of the liquidator’s remuneration shall… be fixed by the court… but such an application may not be made by the liquidator unless the liquidator has first sought fixing of the basis in accordance with paragraph (3C) or (5) and in any event may not be made more than 18 months after the date of the liquidator’s appointment.”  Given that the construction of this rule is so different from R4.127(6), it is difficult to see how both rules can be considered as reflecting the same principle.  And in any event, this simply states that a court application may not be made after 18 months (which seems to be precisely the opposite of the ICAEW’s blog post!).  How can this rule be interpreted to the effect that the liquidator cannot seek creditors’ approval for fees after 18 months?  The Rule starts: “If not fixed as above…”, so the rest of the Rule is irrelevant if the fees are fixed as above, e.g. as specified in R4.127(5) by a resolution of a meeting of creditors; I see no provision “above” prohibiting the seeking of a creditors’ resolution after 18 months.

I shall be interested to see how this matter gets handled in a future Dear IP.  In the meantime, what should IPs do?  I reckon that the only certain approach is: seek approval for fees before the 18 months are ended!

(UPDATE 12/01/2015: for another view of the 18-month rule, take a look at Bill Burch’s blog, which to be fair pre-dated mine by some months: http://goo.gl/4ucKaF.  Bill posted another article today at http://goo.gl/jL3WNu, reminding IPs that the wisest course is to seek early fee approval whether or not we agree with the regulators’ interpretation.)

This blog illustrates to me that there must be a better way for the regulatory bodies to convey – considered and sound – explanations of certain Rules and their expectations to IPs.  As a compliance consultant, I suffer many a sleepless night worrying about whether my interpretation and understanding of current regulatory standards are aligned with my clients’ authorising bodies’ stance.  I do value my former colleagues’ openness and I do try to keep my ear to the ground with many of the authorising bodies – I’ll take this opportunity to make a quick plug for the R3 webinar on regulatory hot topics that I shall be presenting with Matthew Peat of ACCA in February 2015.  However, I believe there is a need and a desire in all quarters for the creation of a better kind of forum/medium for ensuring that we all – regulators, IPs, and compliance specialists – are singing from the same hymn sheet.

Have a lovely long break from work, everyone.  I’ll catch up again in the New Year.

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Administration Order Applications All At Sea

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I really do want to write about all the changes the Scottish Government is proposing to make to personal insolvency north of the border, but every time I think I’ve got a handle on it all, the AiB produces something more! So for now I’ll have to settle for some case summaries:

Data Power Systems v Safehosts London: another administration application ends in a winding up order
Information Governance v Popham: yet another failed administration application
UK Coal Operations: “reasonable excuse” for avoiding administration proposals and meeting
Times Newspapers v McNamara: access to bankruptcy file granted in the public interest

Another failed administration application results in a winding up order

Data Power Systems Limited & Ors v Safehosts (London) Limited (17 May 2013) ([2013] EWHC 2479 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/2479.html

The library of precedents for courts rejecting applications for administration orders is building: we’ve have Integeral Limited (http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-3C) and UK Steelfixers Limited (http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-t) and here is a third. What makes this particularly interesting is that no one was asking for a winding up order, but that’s what the judge decided to do.

So where did it all go wrong this time..?

• HHJ Simon Barker QC stated that there was no explained basis for one of the applicant’s expressed belief that the company could be rescued as a going concern. He stated that the forecasts, which were prepared (or perhaps only submitted) by “an experienced insolvency practitioner”, were “merely numbers on a piece of paper and of no greater evidential value than that” (paragraph 17).
• The judge stated that the strategy proposed by the second set of proposed administrators (nominated by the major creditor, as an interested party to the application) was “with all due respect, no more than an outline of the sort of tasks that administrators would be focusing upon in any administration, it does not appear to be tailored in any way to the particular position of the company” (paragraph 18).
• The judge also saw no evidence “that the creditors are at all likely to benefit either from a rescue or from any dividend in the event that the company is placed in administration” (paragraph 20), but the evidence did include a statement that the asset realisations likely would be swallowed up by the costs of the administration.
• As there were no secured creditors and no evidenced preferential creditors (and even if there were any, they would be highly unlikely to receive a distribution), there was not even a prospect that the third administration objective might be achieved.
• Consequently, although the judge accepted that the threshold set by Paragraph 11(b) of Schedule B1 of the Insolvency Act 1986 “is not a high one; it is simply not crossed. The circumstances of this case serve as a reminder that insolvency alone is not sufficient to engage the jurisdiction for an administration order to be made, and further that the requirement of paragraph 11(b) of Schedule B1 is not a mere formality capable of being satisfied by assertion unsupported by cogent credible evidence sufficient to enable the Court to be satisfied that, if an administration order is made, the purpose of administration is reasonably likely to be achieved” (paragraph 23).

What was the outcome in this case? The judge had contemplated adjourning the application to enable further evidence to support the suggestion that the company could be rescued to be presented, but he noted that “the essence of an administration is speed and that is made clear at paragraph 4 of Schedule B1 – ‘The administrator of a company must perform his functions as quickly and efficiently as is reasonably practicable’. Delay should be completely contrary to the purpose of an administration” (paragraph 25). Although no one had been bidding for a winding-up order, that is what the judge decided to do: Paragraph 13(1)(e) empowered him to treat the application as a winding-up petition. He also contemplated ordering that the OR be appointed provisional liquidator, but he ended up appointing the major creditor’s nominated IPs.

The postscript to this case: the provisional liquidators generated asset realisations far in excess of that previously estimated, presumably with the prospect of a dividend to creditors, after all. Although that’s a positive outcome of course, it is a shame that the funds could not be distributed to creditors without incurring Insolvency Service fees as an expense of the winding-up.

Yet another failed administration application

Information Governance Limited v Popham (7 June 2013) ([2013] EWHC 2611 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/2611.html

This case isn’t really in the same league as the other three rejected administration applications I’ve mentioned, but it highlights an interesting hiccup for the applicant.

The sole director issued an application for an administration order, but before it was heard, two shareholders made themselves directors, validly in the court’s opinion. These new directors opposed the application, taking the view that there was a possibility that the company could trade out of its difficulties. Although Mr Justice David Richards was satisfied that the court had jurisdiction to make the administration order on the basis that, on the face of it, the company could not pay its debts and that an administration purpose was achievable, he did “not think it right in all the circumstances to take that step” (paragraph 17) that day and dismissed the application.

Swift move to CVL equals “reasonable excuse” for avoiding administrators’ proposals and creditors’ meeting

Re. UK Coal Operations Limited & Ors (9 July 2013) ([2013] EWHC 2581 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/2581.html

Is there any point in issuing proposals to creditors on a case whose rationale has already been explained to the court (for it to make an administration order in the first place) and when the company is to be moved swiftly to CVL? HH Judge Purle thinks not.

I should qualify that: in this case, the restructuring of four companies was to take place via administrations followed, within a few days, by Para 83 moves to CVL so that some onerous liabilities could be disclaimed. In Purle J’s view, these circumstances gave rise to a reasonable excuse for not complying with the statutory requirements to issue proposals and convene creditors’ meetings, “to avoid the pointless expense” (paragraph 5).

Whilst I’m sure that, in the context of these cases, unsecured creditors are not feeling hard done by – maybe they’re content not to have any information regarding the events leading to insolvency or the financial condition of the companies, which would have been provided in administrators’ proposals or in a S98 report in a standard CVL – but the principle just doesn’t sit well with me. Something else I find surprising is that the court seemingly granted the administration orders purely on the basis that the speed with which the process could be carried out, when compared with that to hold a S98 meeting, meant that the administrations were likely to achieve the objective of a better result for creditors as a whole than on winding up. It also seems to me that Purle J was too focussed on the long-stop timescale of proposals being 8 weeks “by which time the company will be in liquidation” (paragraph 4), whereas, as we all know, Para 49(5) requires the proposals to be issued “as soon as reasonably practicable after the company enters administration”. Having said that, I note from Companies House that the CVL was registered three days after the administration, which, given that the Form 2.34B has to reach Companies House first, does seem extremely fast work, so perhaps I should be applauding this case as demonstrating a novel and successful use of the administration process.

Journalist allowed access to bankruptcy file to explore legitimate public interest in bankruptcy tourism

Times Newspapers Limited v McNamara (13 August 2013) ([2103] EWHC B12 (Comm))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Comm/2013/B12.html

The Times sought access to the court file on the bankruptcy of Mr McNamara, an Irish property developer, on the basis that the circumstances surrounding his and his companies’ amassing of debts of some €1.5 billion and his justification for his COMI being in England were matters of public interest.

Mr Registrar Baister noted that there have been no cases dealing with the permission of someone who was not party to the insolvency proceedings to have access to the court file, as provided in Rule 7.31A(6), introduced to the Insolvency Rules 1986 in 2010. However, he drew up some principles based on the leading authority on access to court documents (R. (on the application of Guardian News and Media Limited) v City of Westminster Magistrate’s Court, [2012] EWCA Civ 420), which he felt applied to proceedings of all kinds, including insolvency proceedings and which he hoped would assist courts consider requests for permission under R7.31A(6) in future:

“(a) that the administration of justice should be open, which includes openness to journalistic scrutiny;
(b) that such openness extends not only to documents read in court but also to documents put before the judge and thus forming part of the decision-making process in proceedings;
(c) that openness should be the default position of a court confronted with an application such as this;
(d) however, there may be countervailing reasons which may constitute grounds for refusing access;
(e) the court will thus in each case need to carry out a fact-specific exercise to balance the competing considerations” (paragraph 23).

In the circumstances of this case, Registrar Baister stated: “It is entirely appropriate for the press to seek to delve into the mind of the registrar (to the extent that it can) and to comment on what the court has done or appears to have done. The bankruptcy tourism question remains very much alive and is a legitimate matter of public interest in this country, in Ireland, in Germany and in Europe generally” (paragraph 36). Consequently, he granted the Times access to the court file of McNamara’s bankruptcy.


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Not the Nortel/Lehman Decision

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I am not going to comment on the Supreme Court’s decision in Nortel and Lehman, because, as with Eurosail, it has had plenty of coverage already. Instead, I’ll cover a few lesser-known cases, with a couple of Scotland ones taking the top-billing:

• Scotland: Re The Scottish Coal Company Ltd – Liquidator entitled to disclaim land and onerous licences (UPDATE: this was overturned on 12 December 2013 ([2013]CSIH 108). A summary of that reclaiming motion is at http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-5v.)
• Scotland: Re Station Properties Ltd – judge not convinced case made out for para 80 exit from administration and administrators directed to issue revised proposals to cover change of administration objective
Re GP Aviation Group International Ltd – appeals against tax assessments are not property capable of assignment by a liquidator
USDAW v WW Realisations 1 Ltd – reversal of Woolworths/Ethel Austin decisions on redundancy consultation legislation: number of redundancies at each location not as relevant as total number
Evans & Evans v Finance-U-Limited – creditor who proved in full in bankruptcy did not renounce security
• Scotland: Re William Rose – Trustee’s late application to extend 3-year period could not reverse property re-vesting
• Northern Ireland: Tipping v BDG Group Ltd – late application for protective award allowed, as ignorance of the law considered reasonable

However, if you do want to read a summary of Nortel/Lehman, I think that 11 Stone Buildings’ briefing note covers the subject well: http://www.11sb.com/news/24-july-2013—nortel—lehman-supreme-court-decision–guidance-on-insolvency-expenses-and-provable-claims.asp. I’m sure most IPs are breathing a sigh of relief and waiting, a little more comfortably now, for the Game appeal…

Finally, a Scottish precedent for a liquidator’s power to disclaim (UPDATE: … not so fast!)

Scotland: Re. The Scottish Coal Company Limited (11 July 2013) ([2013] CSOH 124)

http://www.bailii.org/scot/cases/ScotCS/2013/2013CSOH124.html

Liquidators sought directions on whether they could abandon or disclaim land and/or onerous water use licences, in order to avoid the substantial costs involved in maintaining and restoring the sites, which the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (“SEPA”) would require before it would accept a surrender of its licences. SEPA and other bodies made representations, conscious that, if the liquidators succeeded, significant costs might fall to the taxpayer.

Scottish readers will be aware that there is no express statutory provision available to liquidators of Scottish companies to disclaim onerous property, in contrast to the position of liquidators of English and Welsh companies who may disclaim under S178 of the Insolvency Act 1986. Counsel in this case were also unable to find any case law or textbook showing a liquidator of a Scottish company exercising such a power.

Lord Hodge drew a comparison with the position of a Trustee in a sequestration, which has power to abandon land, and contemplated its effect in relation to S169(2) of the Act, which provides that “in a winding up by the court in Scotland, the liquidator has (subject to the rules) the same powers as a trustee on a bankruptcy estate”. The judge felt that it was not an exact comparison, as the effect of a trustee’s abandonment was to reverse the vesting so that the bankrupt owns the property. However, there is no vesting of property in a liquidator, so if he were somehow to bring to an end the company’s ownership of the property, it would become ownerless. Although the judge saw the potential for abuse as a means of avoiding obligations, he saw no reason in principle why land could not be made ownerless, given that the Crown has a right to waive ownership of bona vacantia, which would render such property ownerless.

The judge then considered whether the liquidators could avoid the obligations imposed under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2005 (“CAR”) in seeking to surrender the licences. The judge described powerful considerations that might have persuaded him to hold that the liquidators could not disclaim the licences, one reason being that he thought “that there is a strong public interest in the maintenance of a healthy environment, the remediation of pollution and the protection of biodiversity. There is a conflict between the results sought by the directive and the insolvency regime. I do not think that the insolvency regime has any primacy which means that CAR can exclude a liquidator’s power to disclaim only if, like section 36 of the Coal Industry Act 1994, it says so expressly” (paragraph 51). However, the judge recognised that “if the relevant provisions of CAR have the effect of (a) removing a liquidator’s right to disclaim the property of a company and refuse to perform an obligation in relation to that property and (b) creating a new liquidation expense which would have to be met before the claims of preferential creditors, it seems to me that it would modify the law on reserved matters… It would also be altering the order of priority on liquidation expenses in rule 4.67 of the Insolvency (Scotland) Rules 1986 if… the remuneration of the liquidator were to rank equally with the obligation to spend money to comply with CAR” (paragraph 64).

Consequently, the judge concluded that the liquidators could disclaim the sites and abandon the water use licences along with the obligations under CAR. He also endorsed the liquidators’ proposed mechanism for effecting the abandonment, which involved giving notice to all interested parties, advertising the fact so that locals were made aware of the abandoned sites, and sending a notice to the Keeper of the Registers in Scotland.

(UPDATE 09/01/14: this decision was overturned in a reclaiming motion ([2013] CSIH 108) on 12/12/13 – see http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-5v.)

Scotland: More work required of administrators to exit via Para 80 and administrators directed to submit revised proposals to address change in objective

Re. Station Properties Limited (In Administration) (12 July 2013) ([2013] CSOH 120)

http://www.bailii.org/scot/cases/ScotCS/2013/2013CSOH120.html

The administrators’ proposals, which included that they thought that the objective set out in Paragraph 3(1)(c) of Schedule B1 would be achieved, were approved at a creditors’ meeting. Subsequently, it appeared to the administrators that all creditors should receive full repayment of their debts, as the directors had secured funding, and therefore they planned to exit the administration and hand control of the company back to the directors. The quantum of the claim of one creditor, Dunedin Building Company Limited (“DB”), was subject to a legal action. DB objected to the administrators’ plan arguing that they should adjudicate on its claim before ending the administration.

The administrators sought directions as to whether in the circumstances they could end the administration under Paragraph 80 of Schedule B1 on the basis that the purpose had been sufficiently achieved notwithstanding DB’s objection.

Lord Hodge felt that an administrator could not come to this conclusion “without obtaining a clear understanding of the directors’ business plan and cash flow forecasts and forming an independent view, in the light of the best evidence reasonably available, whether that plan and those forecasts are realistic” (paragraph 20). He also felt that “It would be consistent with current accountancy practice to require the directors to produce a business plan and forecasts for at least 12 months and to attempt to look into the future beyond that time to identify whether there was anything which was likely to undermine the company’s viability” (paragraph 22). The ultimate value of DB’s claim was a factor in assessing the company’s future cash flow solvency, so the judge felt either that the administrators should await the outcome of the legal action or they “should take steps to enable themselves to reach an informed and up to date view on the likely value of that claim” (paragraph 23) before they could decide whether the company had been rescued as a going concern.

Lord Hodge also felt that the administrators had to deal with the change in administration objective – from Para 3(1)(c), as set out in their proposals, to Para 3(1)(a) – by issuing revised proposals under Para 54. “I am not persuaded that the obligation on an administrator under para 4 of Schedule B1 to ‘perform his functions as quickly and efficiently as is reasonably practicable’ provides any justification for bypassing para 54 even if an administrator were of the view that a dissenting creditor would be outvoted at the creditors’ meeting” (paragraph 30).

Although personally, I see this as a significant conclusion, particularly as I don’t think I’ve seen any administrator issue revised proposals, it should be remembered that the judge felt that, in the circumstances of this case, the change in administration objective was a substantial change, particularly because DB had been in dispute with the directors regarding its claim and the change in objective could see the company reverting to the directors’ control before the claim was determined.

Right to appeal a tax assessment is not property capable of being assigned

Re. GP Aviation Group International Limited (In Liquidation): Williams v Glover & Pearson (4 June 2013) ([2013] EWHC 1447 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/1447.html

Former directors asked the liquidator to appeal against HMRC’s corporation tax assessments, but the liquidator did not have the finance to fund the appeals, so the former directors asked the liquidator to assign the appeals to them. The liquidator sought directions on whether he had the power to assign the appeals.

HH Judge Pelling QC concluded that the right of appeal was not property within the meaning of the Insolvency Act and so was no capable of being assigned. He noted that the liability, to which the right of appeal related, could not be assigned and the right of appeal could not be assigned separately. He stated that, even if it had been capable of assignment, he would not have sanctioned it, as: “the assignment of the right to appeal without being able to assign or novate the liability would place the office holder in a potentially invidious position – an unreasonable and intransigent position might be adopted in relation to the appeal that might expose the Company to penalties, interest and costs that could otherwise have been avoided. This risk is not one that the court should sanction given the potential implications for creditors as a whole” (paragraph 32). The judge made it clear that his judgment applied strictly to the bare right to appeal in this case. “Different considerations may apply where the liability can be novated or where the appeal right is one that is incidental to a property right that can be assigned (for example a right to appeal a planning decision in relation to land that is sold by an office holder)” (paragraph 33).

Less than 20 redundancies at any one site did not avoid consultation requirements where more than 20 were made redundant over all sites

USDAW & Anor v WW Realisation 1 Limited & Ors (30 May 2013) ([2013] UKEAT 0547 and 0548/12)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2013/0547_12_3005.html

I appreciate I’m behind the times on this one, which has been widely publicised in the past couple of months.

Earlier Tribunals had decided that there was no duty to consult under TULRCA with staff who worked at different sites where less than 20 redundancies were planned at those sites even though the total number of dismissals across the company was over 20. The Tribunals dealt with two separate cases involving such redundancies of staff who had worked in Ethel Austin and Woolworths stores. The consequence had been that 4,400 workers had been excluded from awards for the companies’ failures to consult, which had been granted to c.24,000 of their former colleagues who had worked at larger stores and head offices.

These decisions were overturned on appeals, although the judge expressed some disappointment that the respondents did not attend or comment, feeling that it put the Tribunal at a disadvantage. In particular, the judge noted that, as a consequence of the appeals, the Secretary of State for BIS would be faced with the prospect of paying out 60 or 90 days’ pay for 4,400 people.

The key issue was discerning the purpose behind S188(1) of TULRCA, which refers to “20 or more employees at one establishment”, which the Appeal Tribunal decided was more restrictive than the EC Directive, which was intended to be implemented into domestic legislation by means of S188. The judge concluded that “the clear Parliamentary intention was to implement the Directive correctly” (paragraph 50). Therefore, “the only way to deliver the core objective of protection of the dismissed workers in the two cases on appeal is to construe ‘establishment’ as meaning the retail business of each employer. This is a fact-sensitive approach which may not be the same in every case but it is consistent with the core objective as applied to the facts in these two cases” (paragraph 52). However, the Tribunal preferred a solution that made “the point more clearly and simply so that it can be applied without detailed consideration of the added fact sensitive dimension. We hold that the words ‘at one establishment’ should be deleted from section 188 as a matter of construction pursuant to our obligations to apply the Directive’s purpose” (paragraph 53), although they acknowledged that this might be a step too far.

(UPDATE 08/03/15: the European Advocate General’s opinion suggests that ‘at one establishment’ does have a purpose and is compatible with EU law.  Although it is likely, it remains to be seen whether the ECJ will follow the Advocate General’s opinion.  For a summary of the position as it stands at present, take a look at http://goo.gl/HhjHPN or http://goo.gl/MsfGFZ.)

Creditor who proved in full in a bankruptcy did not renounce its security

Evans & Evans v Finance-U-Limited (18 July 2013) ([2013] EWCA Civ 869)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/869.html

In 2007, Mr and Mrs Evans purchased a car financed by a loan from Finance-U-Limited (“FUL”) and a bill of sale granting FUL security over the car. Mr Evans went bankrupt later in 2007 and Mrs Evans went bankrupt in 2008. FUL proved in Mr Evans’ bankruptcy for the full sum due under the loan agreement; the existence of security was disclosed on the proof, but no value was put on it. The claim was admitted in full and FUL later received a small dividend. After Mrs Evans’ discharge from bankruptcy, she continued to pay monthly instalments to FUL until mid-2010. In 2012, the Evans were successful in seeking a declaration that the car was their property free from any claim by FUL on the basis that, because FUL had proved in full in Mr Evans’ bankruptcy, it no longer had a right to enforce its security over the car. FUL appealed the declaration.

Lord Justice Patten referred to the case of Whitehead v Household Mortgage Corporation Plc in which it was decided that the acceptance of a dividend from an IVA “did not amount to an agreement or election by the creditor to treat as unsecured that part of the debt in respect of which the dividend had been paid” (paragraph 20). He felt that “FUL was not therefore required to renounce its security as the price of being able to prove for the balance of the debt nor was that the effect of it proving for the entire amount due. It therefore retained its right to enforce the security following Mr Evans’ bankruptcy but did not exercise that right whilst Mrs Evans continued to meet the instalments” (paragraph 21). He therefore reversed the decision at first instance and, as the term of the loan had expired, he decided that FUL was entitled to possess the car free from any statutory requirement to give notice.

Scotland: impossible to undo the reinvesting of a family home in the debtor

Re. Sequestrated Estate of William Rose (4 June 2013) ([2013] ScotSC 42)

http://www.bailii.org/scot/cases/ScotSC/2013/42.html

The Trustee sought a warrant to serve an application under S39A(7) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 on the debtor and his spouse. The debtor was sequestrated on 20 May 2008, so the Trustee sought to extend the 3-year time period after which the family home is reinvested in the debtor, albeit that the 3 years had expired before the Trustee made his application. The Trustee explained that he had failed to act sooner as a consequence of an “administrative error” (paragraph 4.3).

Sheriff Philip Mann was “unmoved” by the submissions on behalf of the Trustee: “The plain fact of the matter is that, on the Trustee’s averments, the property has already reverted to the ownership of the debtor and it is now too late to prevent that from happening. The Trustee is not trying to prevent that from happening. He is, in effect, trying to reverse that which has already happened in consequence of section 39A(2). Section 39A(7) says nothing about reversing the effect of section 39A(2)” (paragraph 5.4). The Sheriff therefore concluded that the Trustee’s application was incompetent and he refused to grant the warrant.

Northern Ireland: ignorance of remedy for company’s failure to consult was “reasonable”, thus five months’ late claim allowed

Tipping v BDG Group Limited (In Liquidation) ([2013] NIIT 2351/12) (19 April 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/nie/cases/NIIT/2013/2351_12IT.html

Whilst it is a Northern Ireland case, so of limited application, I thought it was worth mentioning briefly that the former employee succeeded in claiming compensation for the company’s failure to consult, despite his claim being lodged five months after the “primary limitation period” for lodging a complaint with the Tribunal.

The reason for the delay was that the claimant had not been aware of the protective award. “Courts and tribunals have consistently held that ignorance as to one’s entitlement to make a complaint of unfair dismissal is not reasonable ignorance. (This is on the basis that the general public now are well aware of entitlements to make unfair dismissal complaints). However, the situation is different in respect of protective award complaints. The availability of remedies in respect of collective redundancy consultation failures, the threshold (of 20 redundancies), and the circumstances in which an individual, as distinct from a trade union or employee forum representative, can seek such remedies, are all matters which are not generally well known” (paragraphs 16 and 17) and therefore the Tribunal held that it could allow the complaint, albeit that, in the judge’s view, the further period of five months was “close to the boundaries of what I consider to be ‘reasonable’” (paragraph 21).