Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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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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Digging deeper into the new Acts & Rules

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I am delighted to say that I’ve had some productive exchanges with people at the Insolvency Service on the practical applications of parts of the SBEE Act, the Deregulation Act and the new fees Rules.  I have found them generally very reasonable and pragmatic.  That’s not to say, however, that it’s all good news!

Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act 2015

I’ve not covered the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 since it was just a draft in autumn 2014.  Even now, considering that several provisions take effect from 26 May 2015, I don’t see the need to repeat the detail here.  Most of you will have received R3’s Technical Alert by email on 17 April 2015, which I think did a pretty good job of telling us all what we need to know right now.  However, there is one item that I think deserves more explanation.

CVLs – Progress Reports

As you know, the words “continuing/continues for more than one year” will be removed from S92A and S104A.  This means that, where a liquidator ceases to act at any time during a liquidation, he/she will need to issue a progress report in compliance of R2.47(3A) (for E&W only; I can see no equivalent in the Scottish Rules).

Although this may seem fairly innocuous, it now encompasses one circumstance that occurs quite frequently: the replacement of the members’ liquidator with the creditors’ choice at the S98 meeting.  The Insolvency Service has confirmed to me that this change does indeed mean that any members’ liquidator who leaves office at the S98 meeting will need to issue a progress report on his/her term in office.  There is no reason why this will not apply where the company general meeting immediately precedes the S98 meeting, although it is very difficult to see what the members’ liquidator will have to report other than an hour or so of time costs!

If the company general meeting is held on a different day to the S98 meeting, the creditors’ liquidator will also need to remember that R2.47(3A) resets the progress reporting clock and so, rather than issue a progress report for the first 12 months of the liquidation (i.e. from the date of the members’ meeting), the creditors’ liquidator will need to report every 12 months from the date of his/her appointment.

Although this seems a bit of a nonsense, I am optimistic that the progress reporting rules will become much simpler when the new Insolvency Rules come into force, which is the plan for April 2016.  Although there is still much work to be done on the draft Rules, the ones that are currently on the .gov.uk website (https://goo.gl/kr1CSR) hint that progress reports on office-holder switches will be far more flexible.  See, for example, draft Rule 18.8(4).

Deregulation Act 2015

This is an odd Act: it began life far earlier than the SBEE Act, but its progress seemed to stall when all eyes turned to the SBEE Act.  Thus, it is not surprising that it contains some items that, I think, are far more pressing for IPs than the 26 May provisions of the SBEE Act.

Correcting Minmar

Oh dear!  How long will we have to put up with the Minmar state of affairs where Notices of Intention to Appoint an Administrator (NoIA) have to be issued even on some cases where there is no floating charge holder?!

The answer is: not much longer.

The answer is in the Deregulation Act: its paragraph 6 of schedule 6 will amend Para 26 of Schedule B1 so that the need to issue an NoIA is restricted to cases only where there is a floating charge holder.  This will then flow through nicely to the existing Insolvency Rules.  The problem is that unfortunately it doesn’t yet have a commencement date.

I have been told that it is the Insolvency Service’s current intention to commence this provision in October 2015 (although, of course, that was under the previous Business Secretary).

New Fees Rules (The Insolvency (Amendment) Rules 2015)

A month ago, I blogged on this subject – see http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-a3 – and now I’m able to update some of my queries.

When is a liquidator not a liquidator?

As mentioned previously, R4.127 will be amended to state that “where the liquidator proposes to take [remuneration on a time costs basis], the liquidator must prior to the determination… give to each creditor… the fees estimate”, but does this mean that the IP needs to be in office as liquidator when he/she issues the fees estimate?

The Insolvency Service does not believe this is limited to the liquidator once he/she is in office.  In other words, the prospective liquidator may provide the fees estimate before the members’ meeting.  This means that, provided the IP can produce an early estimate, these new rules should not impact on the current practice of holding members’ meetings and S98 meetings on the same day.

It is worth noting that the new rules do not stipulate how long before the creditors’ meeting (or postal decision) the fees estimate should be sent: thus, it could be sent along with the S98 notice or at any time before the meeting is held.  As the fees estimate needs to be provided to all creditors, however, it will not be sufficient to hand out the fees estimate only at the S98 meeting.

Exceptional treatment needed for SoS-appointed liquidators

As noted in my previous blog, the transitional provisions operate so that, generally, if an IP takes office (as administrator, liquidator, or trustee) after 1 October 2015, he/she will need to follow the new rules in fixing the basis of his/her fees.  However, whilst the rules cover compulsory liquidations where the liquidator is appointed by: creditors’ meeting (S139(4)); contributories’ meeting (139(3)); and the court following an administration or CVA (S140), they do not refer to appointments by the Secretary of State (S137).

The consequence of this is that the new rules will apply to all SoS-appointment liquidations, irrespective of when the liquidator was appointed.  However, the Insolvency Service has stated that, if the basis of the liquidator’s fees has already been approved before 1 October 2015, then the new rules will have no effect on that case (unless the liquidator seeks to change the basis of his/her fees).

Thus, you may want to look to get your fees fixed on all existing SoS appointment compulsory liquidations before 1 October 2015; otherwise you will need to have some system in place to ensure that you follow the new rules, despite your appointment commencing before 1 October.

Block transfers

As the transitional provisions define that the new rules apply generally wherever there is an administrator/liquidator/trustee appointed after 1 October 2015, I wondered how this would impact, say, cases involving block transfer orders after 1 October 2015: does this mean that the new office-holder would need to go through the fees estimate etc. process?

The answer I received was: not where the new office-holder is continuing to draw remuneration under any prior approval.  Only where a new office-holder seeks to change the basis of his/her fees will the new rules kick in.

I look forward to meeting some of you, and hearing more on these and other developments, at R3’s SPG Technical Review series, the first one being held on Tuesday 12 May 2015 in Manchester.  There’s a lot going on!