Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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50 Things I Hate about the Rules – Part 3: Closures… and a bit more Fees

In this post, I add to my previous list of fees-related gripes and cover some issues with the new closure processes… and, as the end of the list is nearing, if anyone has any other gripes they want me to add to the list, please do drop me a line (because, between you and me, I’m struggling to come up with 50!)

On the topic of fees, I think that my last list and these additions demonstrate how madly intricate the statutory requirements are, especially for fees in Administrations and for fees based on time costs.  Is it any wonder that so many fee non-compliances arise?  And more than a few are treated by the RPBs as “unauthorised fees” issues, thus attracting the risks of fines and other sanctions.  This seems unfair as many trip-ups only occur because the Rules are such a jungle.  There must be a simpler way, mustn’t there?

 

A Few More Fees-Related Gripes

  1. Capturing Past Work

I appreciate that the fees Rules were drafted in the expectation that office holders would seek approval for the fee basis up-front (although how the drafters believed that IPs would be able to put together a realistic, case-specific, fees estimate on Day 1, I don’t know).  However, I think the Rules should have been designed to accommodate the possibility that fee-approval would be sought after an IP has been on the case for some time.  After all, the fact that Administrators’ Proposals must address how the company’s affairs have been managed since appointment and the proposed fee basis indicates that even the drafters envisaged some occasions when work will have been done before approval is sought, not to mention all the tasks demanded of every office holder swiftly on appointment.

My problem is that the Rules’ language is all prospective: the fees estimate/proposal must provide “details of the work the IP and the IP’s staff propose to undertake” (Rs1.2 and 18.16(7)) and the IP must provide “details of the expenses the office-holder considers will be, or are likely to be incurred” (Rs18.16(4) and (7)).  I think that we’ve all interpreted this to mean that, if time or expenses have already been incurred, these need to be explained also – and indeed SIP9 has plugged this statutory gap – but it is a shame that the Service did not see the 2016 Rules as an opportunity to fix the flaws in the 2015 fees Rules, which had been so hastily pushed out.

 

  1. Capping a Fees Estimate

The Rules don’t seem to have been written with any expectation that creditors will want to agree fees on a time costs basis subject to a cap different from that set by the fees estimate.

Firstly, although the Oct-15 Rules changed the fee basis to “by reference to the time… as set out in the fees estimate” (e.g. old R4.127(2)(b)), those final words were omitted from new R18.16(2)(b), so now creditors are asked simply to approve a decision that fees be based on time costs.

Thus, if creditors want to cap those fees at anything other than the fees estimate, they have to modify the proposed decision unilaterally… which isn’t really catered for in decisions by correspondence. In effect, the creditor is proposing their own decision, which the Rules strictly provide for as a “requisitioned decision” (R15.18), but of course office holders cut to the chase by accepting the creditor’s cap if their vote is conclusive.  The alternative is to count their vote as a rejection of the office holder’s proposed decision and start again with a new decision procedure.

But then how do you frame a request to creditors to increase this kind of cap?  The process for “exceeding the fees estimate” is set down in R18.30.  Let’s say that your original fees estimate was £50,000 and the creditors agreed a cap of £30,000.  If you want to ask them to reconsider whether you can take up to £40,000, R18.30 doesn’t work.  You’re not asking to exceed the fees estimate, you’re still looking to be within your original fees estimate.

R18.29 also doesn’t work here: the fee basis has been agreed as time costs, so you’re not asking creditors to change the basis (and there may be no “material and substantial change in circumstances” from that which you’d originally estimated when you’d quoted £50,000).  It seems to me that you’re asking creditors a whole different kind of question – to lift their arbitrary cap – which is not provided for at all in the Rules.

 

  1. Trying Again for Fee Approval

Commonly, IPs will propose a fees decision to creditors and receive no response at all.  Invariably, they will try again, often emphasising to creditors that, if no one votes, they may take it to court, thus increasing the costs demanded of the insolvent estate quite substantially.

But what if your original fees estimate was for £30,000 and then, when you go back for a second attempt some time later, you think that £50,000 is more realistic?  Or maybe your first fees estimate was proposed on a milestone basis, say £30,000 for year 1, and then you go to creditors at the start of year 2 with a fees estimate for £50,000 for two years?

Do you look to R18.30 on the basis that this is an excess fee request?  After all, you are looking to exceed your original estimate, so the scenario seems to fit R18.30(1).  However, read on to R18.30(2) and a different picture emerges: R18.30(2) instructs office holders to seek approval from the party that “fixed the basis”, so if no basis has been fixed, then R18.30 cannot be the solution.

So is your original fees estimate completely irrelevant then?  Do you simply start again with a new fees estimate?  Well, if you’re issuing a progress report before the creditors agree the basis, the original fees estimate is not completely irrelevant: R18.4(1)(e)(i) states that you must report whether you are “likely to exceed the fees estimate under R18.16(4)”.  That Rule refers simply to providing the information to creditors.  It does not say that that fees estimate must have been approved.  So at the very least, you would explain in your progress report why your original £30,000 was inadequate, even though you might also be providing a new fees estimate for £50,000.

 

  1. When Administration Outcomes Change (1): Disappearing Para 52(1)(b) Statements

This question proved contentious long before the 2016 Rules: if an Administrator has achieved fee approval under R18.18(4) (as it is now), where they have issued Proposals with a Para 52(1)(b) statement, is this approval still sufficient if the circumstances of the case change and it transpires that the Para 52(1)(b) statement is no longer appropriate? And conversely, if an Administrator issued Proposals with no Para 52(1)(b) statement, is the unsecured creditors’ approval of fees still sufficient in the event that it now appears that there will not be a dividend to unsecureds (except by means of the prescribed part)?

Personally, I believe that technically the approvals are still valid.  R18.18(4) refers specifically to making a Para 52(1)(b) statement: if that statement has been made, it’s been made; the fact that the statement may no longer be appropriate does not change the fact that it was made (although issuing revised Proposals may overcome this… but how many Administrators ever issue revised Proposals..?).  Also, R18.33 provides that, if the Administrator asks to change the fee basis, amount etc. or for approval to fees in excess of an estimate, the Administrator must go to the unsecureds if the Para 52(1)(b) statement is no longer relevant.  Surely, if it were the case that Administrators needed to go to unsecureds (or indeed issue revised Proposals) every time a Para 52(1)(b) statement were no longer relevant, i.e. to ratify a fees decision previously made by secureds/prefs, the Rules would similarly demand this.

However, while I think that this is the technical position, I have sympathy with IPs who decide to go to other creditors for fee approval even though strictly-speaking it does not seem as though this is required by the Rules.  Although clearly it costs money to seek decisions from creditors, I don’t think anyone will challenge an IP who has chosen to ensure that all relevant creditor classes are in agreement.  This would also help counteract any challenge that the Proposals had made a Para 52(1)(b) statement inappropriately, thus disenfranchising the unsecureds from having a say on the Administrators’ fees.

 

  1. When Administration Outcomes Change (2): Appearing Preferential Distributions

But what is the technical position for an Administrator who has made a Para 52(1)(b) statement, thought that they would not be making a distribution to prefs, but then the outcome changed so that a distribution became likely?

I think the technical position for this scenario does create a problem.  R18.18(4) states that the basis is fixed: (i) by the secured creditors and (ii) if the Administrator has made or intends to make a distribution to prefs, then also by the prefs (via a decision procedure).  It seems to me that overnight the question of whether the Administrator’s fees have been approved or not changes.  Originally, the Administrator thought that they only needed secured creditors’ approval, so they drew fees on that basis.  But then, as soon as they intend to make a distribution to prefs, they have no longer complied with R18.18(4).  Although it would seem mighty unfair for anyone to view the Administrator’s fees drawn up to that point as unauthorised, it certainly seems to me that the Administrator must take immediate steps to seek preferential creditors’ approval.

 

Closure Processes

  1. Inconsistent Closure Processes

There is a distinct difference between the MVL closure process and those for CVLs, BKYs and compulsory liquidations (“WUCs”).  In an MVL, the liquidator issues a “proposed final account” (R5.9) and then, often 8 weeks’ later, the “final account” is issued along with a notice that the company’s affairs are fully wound up (R5.10).  However, in a CVL, before the 8-week period begins the liquidator issues a final account with a notice that the company’s affairs are fully wound up (R6.28).  BKYs and WUCs follow this CVL model.

I have no idea why there should be these differences in the two main processes.  But what I do know is that it causes confusion on what a final account should look like… even for Companies House staff.

R6.28(1) states that the CVL final account delivered to creditors at the start of the 8-week process is the one required under S106(1) – not a draft or a proposed version of the final account – and it must be accompanied by the notice confirming that the affairs are fully wound up.  Therefore, it is clear to me that this final account is pretty-much set in stone at this point.  The final account date is fixed as at the date it is issued to creditors and it does not get changed when the time comes to deliver a copy of the final account to the Registrar of Companies at the end of the 8 weeks (S106(3)).

I don’t think that this is a misinterpretation… but I have doubted myself, not least as some IPs have complained to me over the last couple of years that Companies House has rejected their final accounts, requiring them to be re-dated to the “final meeting” or “closure” date.  I have asked Companies House twice to explain to me why they believe the final account should be re-dated… and both times Companies House conceded that there is no such requirement.  Thank you, Companies House, but would it be possible for you to avoid reverting to 1986 habits again so that, over time, we might all settle into a routine of complying with the Rules?!

 

  1. Closing Bankruptcies

I explained in Gripe no. 4 that R10.87(3)(f) seems to contain an anomaly.  It states that the final notice to creditors should state that the trustee will vacate office (and (g) be released, if no creditors have objected) when the trustee files the requisite notice with the court, but there seems to be no Section/Rule that actually requires a notice to be filed with the court.

I’m repeating this gripe here because others have been puzzled over the filing requirements when closing BKYs, especially in debtor-application cases where of course there is no court file.  Quite frankly, I don’t think any of us would care, if it were not for the fact that the trustee’s release is dependent on filing a final notice with “the prescribed person” (S298(8), S299(3)(d)).  As I mentioned previously, the person at the Insolvency Service with whom I’d been communicating seemed to express the view that “the prescribed person” is the court in creditor-petition (and old debtor-petition) cases and is the OR in debtor-application cases, but my attempts to get them to be more categoric in their response (and to explain with reference to the Rules how they reach this conclusion) have been unsuccessful to date.

It is unfair that the Act/Rules deal so unsatisfactorily with the trustee’s release and it makes me wonder if, to be certain, it would be beneficial to ask the Secretary of State to confirm one’s release in debtor-application cases where filing a notice at the court seems insensible.

 

  1. Closing Fees

When I explain to clients how I see the closure process for CVLs, BKYs and WUCs working, I sometimes hear the retort: so, you’re telling to me that I have to get everything finished before I issue my final account/report at the start of the 8 weeks, are you?  But how do I get paid for being in office over that period?

It is true that, under the old Rules, it was possible for IPs to factor the costs to close into their draft final report so that they could incur the time costs during that 8-week period and draw the fees (and deal with the final VAT reclaim) before vacating office and finalising their final report.  Under the new process, this looks impossible: in order to issue a notice confirming that the affairs have been fully wound up, it seems to me that at that point the affairs must have been fully wound up 😉

Most IPs are prepared to forgo the final costs to close a case.  Let’s face it, how many cases have enough funds to pay IPs anywhere near full recovery of their costs anyway?  But, I had to agree with my client who was disgruntled at the prospect of having to work for free from the point of issuing the final report: it does seem unfair.  But there is a simple solution: why not ask creditors to consider approving your fees to close a case as a set amount?  You could propose this at the same time as seeking approval for fees on a time costs basis for all other aspects of the case.  If your closing fees were approved as a set amount, you could invoice and draw those fees long before issuing your final account/report… and this way you could also get the VAT all wrapped up in good time as well.

 

  1. Stopping a Closure

Over the years, there have been occasions when an IP has wanted to stop a closure process.  It’s true that, under the old Rules, there were no provisions cancelling a final meeting.  But under the old Rules, it was possible to re-start the closure process for example if your draft final report turned out to be flawed; in fact, the old Rules required you to re-issue a draft final report and re-advertise for a new final meeting.

But as the 2016 Rules for CVLs, BKYs and WUCs only require you to issue a final account/report and then wait 8 weeks for creditors to take any action they see fit, there seems to be no way to stop this process once it has begun.  In fact, even if a creditor objects to the office holder’s release, this does not stop the IP vacating office at the 8 weeks; it simply means that, after vacating office, the IP needs to apply to the Secretary of State for release.  The only actions that stop (or rather postpone) a closure process are a creditor exercising their statutory rights to request information or challenge fees or expenses.

 


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Emerging from the fog: some Amendment Rules

 

Long time, no see! Jo Harris has done a great job of keeping up with her monthly updates, whereas regrettably I have failed to blog throughout this crazy-busy time. But the release of new Amendment Rules is worthy of extra-special effort on my part.

The new statutory instruments, which (subject to Parliamentary scrutiny) will come into force on 8 December 2017, can be found at:

 

The Partnership Amendments

The bulk of the Partnership Amendments brings E&W LLPs and processes falling under the Insolvent Partnerships Order 1994 into line with the Insolvency (England & Wales) Rules 2016 (“2016 Rules”). Similarly, they also wrap the Administration of Insolvent Estates of Deceased Persons Order 1986 into the 2016 Rules regime.

They also add a positive duty on office holders of insolvent partnerships in Administration or Voluntary Liquidation to report on the conduct of officers of the partnership in the same manner as reports in corporate insolvencies, i.e. within 3 months of commencement. Officers of partnerships in liquidation can now also become subject to CDDA compensation orders.

The LLP changes are subject to transitional provisions similar to those that accompanied the 2016 Rules (e.g. where an old rules meeting has been convened before the relevant date, the meeting is concluded under the old rules) – of course with the relevant cut-off date being 8 December 2017.

  • Form 600 – Notice of the Liquidator’s Appointment

Unsurprisingly as it is governed by the Companies (Forms) (Amendment) Regulations 1987, changes to the Form 600 had not been wrapped in to the 2016 Rules changes. The Partnership Amendments replace the prescribed form with prescribed contents in the style of the 2016 Rules.

These changes to Form 600 have effect only in relation to liquidators appointed after 8 December 2017, so you should keep hold of the old Form 600 for a few more weeks. In any event, as far as I can see the new Form 600 has not been released yet on .gov.uk. Presumably, it will appear at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/companies-house-forms-for-insolvency-rules-2016 soon.

 

The Amendment Rules

For me, this set of amendments is far more interesting. It has been badged by the InsS as making “minor corrections and clarifications which have been brought to our attention since the new insolvency rules came into force in April 2017”. But don’t get your hopes up. The Amendment Rules tackle a peculiar small cluster of rules.

  • Closing bankruptcies and compulsory liquidations

We all knew that the 1994 Regs that required Trustees and Liquidators to send to the InsS an R&P (aka Form 1) within 14 days of “the holding of a final general meeting of creditors” needed changing. However, I had assumed that all the InsS would do would be to drop the meeting reference so that the Form 1 would be sent on the IP vacating office – I think this is how most IPs have been fudging their way through the closure processes since April.

However, the Amendment Rules make a surprising change: from 8 December, submission of the Form 1 must occur within 14 days of sending the final account/report to the creditors. This means that the new closure process appears to be:

  1. The Liquidator/Trustee sends a notice that the administration has been fully wound up and the final account/report to creditors.
  2. Within 14 days of (1), the Liquidator/Trustee sends Form 1 to the InsS. The amended 1994 Regs continue to refer to the Form 1 as covering “the whole period of his office”, although as the IP will still be in office for another 6 weeks or more, it is difficult to see how this truly can be achieved.
  3. At least 21 days before the end of the 8-week period, the Liquidator/Trustee delivers notice of the intention to vacate office to the OR.
  4. 8 weeks (plus delivery time) after (1), provided that there are no outstanding challenges to fees/expenses etc.:
    • The Liquidator sends a copy of the notice under S146(4) to the SoS.  The notice is Form WU15 plus a copy of the final account that was sent to creditors under (1) above. These are also sent to the Registrar of Companies and the Court.
    • The Trustee sends a copy of the notice under S298(8) (which states whether any creditors objected to the Trustee’s release) to the SoS. We have learnt that the InsS also expects this notice to refer to R10.87 – without this reference, it seems that the InsS is rejecting the notice. R10.87(5) states that the notice must be accompanied by a copy of the final report, i.e. the report produced at (1) above. The notice and the final report are also sent to the Court.

The key point arising from the Amendment Rules is that in future the submission of Form 1 will occur at least 6 weeks before the IP vacates office. This reinforces the 2016 Rules’ approach that the account must be drawn down to nil with no remaining VAT issues etc. when the final account/report is issued at the start of the 8-week countdown.

In my autumn 2016 Rules’ presentations, I have been highlighting the issue of how to deal with any quarterly charge made on the IS account during the 8-week period. In the past, the InsS has expected IPs to leave £22 in the account in order to settle this, if the quarterly charge falls due in the 8-week period. It seems that, from 8 December 2017, the InsS may no longer charge to maintain the account after the Form 1 has been delivered to them. In effect, the Form 1 may be the trigger for the InsS to close the account.

In view of the significant changes to the required process made by this amendment that seemed at first glance quite insignificant, I am very pleased to have learnt that the InsS intends issuing guidance to IPs on what is required (and thank you, InsS, for dealing with my niggly queries).

  • Committees

This is something that was worth taking the trouble to fix: because of the 2016 Rules’ obsession with tagging everything to “delivery” (except of course when it involves the OR!), Liquidation/Creditors’ Committees never became established – and therefore could not act – until the notice had been “delivered” (R17.5(5)). Therefore, gone were the days when there could be a creditors’ meeting at which the newly-elected committee members were asked to stay behind after the meeting so that the office holder could hold the first committee meeting. Rather, the 2016 Rules required the newly-elected committee members to disperse for at least a few days until the office holder was certain that the notice of the committee’s establishment had been delivered and then the first committee meeting could be summoned.

The Amendment Rules return some sense to the process. Unfortunately, technically the notice still must be “sent” before the committee can act, but at least we no longer have to wait for “delivery”.

An odd wrinkle is that R17.29(3) remains untouched. Therefore, where an Administration is followed by a Compulsory Liquidation, the Liquidation Committee (i.e. the Creditors’ Committee that existed in the Administration) cannot act until the notice of continuance of the committee has been “delivered” to the Registrar. Never mind. I think we can live with this inconsistency.

  • Proxy forms

If you blinked, you will have missed it: the Amendment Rules swiftly return the 1986 Rules’ restriction on the content of proxy forms.

Personally, I thought that the 2016 Rules’ relaxation, which allowed proxy forms to display the name of the members’ nominated liquidator, was quite sensible – after all, don’t companies use such proxy forms all the time to appoint auditors? – provided of course that the form was also designed to enable a creditor easily to nominate a different IP.

However, the Amendment Rules again prohibit proxy forms from being sent out displaying the name of anyone as nominee for the office holder (as well as the name of anyone as proxy-holder, which has always been in the 2016 Rules).

  • S100 Reports

In my view, the 2016 Rules’ excessive use of “notices” with their copious prescriptive standard contents defeated the argument that an objective of the new rules was to reduce costs. Whereas under the 1986 Rules a simple one-page letter sufficed, in many cases the 2016 Rules require a long-winded notice. The circular produced after the S100 decision is one such example.

Whilst I accept that the grammar was questionable, I think that R6.15(1) could have been interpreted as requiring a “notice” providing a report on the S100 decision process to be issued. The Amendment Rules have changed this so that the “notice” is now “accompanied by a report”. Now that R6.15(1) presents us with only a list of accompaniments, I am left wondering what exactly our notice should state!

  • Other Corrections

To be fair, the Amendment Rules do fix some obvious errors, albeit that I think we have all managed to apply those particular 2016 Rules on the basis that we could see what they meant to say.

For example, paragraph 21 of Schedule 2 could have been interpreted as meaning exactly what it says: “the 1986 Rules apply” in certain pre-October 2015 cases – what, all of the 1986 Rules..? But I think we all realised that it meant that those pre-October cases did not need fee estimates etc. The Amendment Rules now specify which of the 2016 Rules do not apply.

I also couldn’t help but smile that the Amendment Rules finally correct the transitional provision on when the next progress report is required on an Administration that extended pre-April 2017… although of course all such Administrations are already 8 months older, so this argument has come and gone… but thanks, InsS, for listening 😉

Personally, I think there are other 2016 Rules that would benefit from further clarification (e.g. the inconsistent use of the word “between” and whether the Centrebind 14-day limit applies where a S100 decision date has been postponed because of requests for a physical meeting etc.), but every little helps.

It’s easy to forget the decades of debate and case law that went into refining our understanding of the 1986 Rules. Although in part the 2016 Rules are a product of our standing on the shoulders of giants, in many respects they venture into uncharted territory, which no doubt will generate decades more of furrowed brows.