Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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Revised R3 IVA Standard Terms: Improving with Age..?

Finally, 10 months after the 2016 Rules came into force, R3 issued 2016 Rules-adapted revised Standard Terms for IVAs. In this blog, I summarise the key changes.

Having worked on the R3 group (an inevitable consequence of saying: the work must get done!), it is difficult for me to be critical of the result. But drafting-by-committee always involves some compromises (and soooo much time!), so don’t be surprised if I slip in the odd gripe below.

The revised IVA Terms are available from the R3 website but only to logged-in R3 members, which seems odd considering the drive to go paperless for insolvency proceedings. R3’s conditions of use state that R3 members may “use” the terms, so presumably as the 2016 Rules and the Terms themselves allow delivery by website, non-members should be able to access them from R3 members’ websites over time.

While I’m on the subject of websites…

 

Website Use

The new Terms provide that Rs1.49 to 1.51 shall apply. Did the Terms need to include this? Can’t Supervisors (and Nominees) already use the 2016 Rules to deliver documents by website?

Yes, these 2016 Rules do already work for IVAs… but only for documents required under the Act or the Rules (R1.36(1)). Therefore, whilst we’ve been able to send relevant notices to wrap in website-delivery for statutory documents including the Nominee’s notice of the decision procedure to approve the IVA, progress reports and implementation/termination notices, technically the 2016 Rules do not enable website-delivery of items arising only by reason of the IVA Proposal and Terms. In other words, the methods of delivery of proposed variation decisions and outcomes are determined by the IVA Terms, not by the 2016 Rules.

The previous R3 IVA terms allowed the 2009 Rules’ process for website-delivery, i.e. by posting out a one-pager each time that something new was uploaded. The revised Terms now also allow the R1.50 process so that the despatching of one notice will enable all future documents to be uploaded onto the website with no further notice. It is doubtful that this will help when seeking a variation, but it may help with the next – new – requirement…

 

Reporting Outcomes

Where a meeting was held during the period of an IVA, the old terms required a list of creditors voting to be sent with “the chairman’s report to Creditors, the Debtor and the Court”. This was a bit odd, because firstly of course there was no requirement to send any report on meetings during an IVA to the Court. But secondly, what was “the chairman’s report”? The rules defined a chairman’s report arising from the meeting to vote on the IVA Proposal, but there were no rules or terms to define such a report for meetings after approval. Another oddity of the old terms was that there was no requirement to report to creditors on the outcome of a postal resolution.

The revised Terms plug these gaps… although not in a low-cost way. Term 69 follows the 2016 Rules’ model of “records of decisions”, which for meetings are in the form of minutes and which show how creditors voted on the decisions. Separately, Term 69 requires a list of creditors who participated and the amounts of their claims. The revised Terms require the “record of decision” to be sent to the creditors and the debtor.

This seems a little onerous and a departure from the 2016 Rules as regards decisions taken during the course of an insolvency process, where rarely is a post-decision circulation required. Couldn’t the decision outcome be delivered by a simple one-liner? Is a copy of the full record of decision/minutes really necessary? Well, it would appear so if creditors are able to exercise their rights under the Terms to appeal a decision (Term 65) or to “complain” about being excluded from a virtual meeting, which is a new right transferred in from the 2016 Rules (Term 62(7)).

As mentioned above, though, at least Supervisors may now use websites to deliver such documents easily… and it has since been pointed out to me that there is no timescale on this delivery.

 

Decision Procedures

I joined the working group thinking that we had an opportunity to take the good bits from the 2016 Rules and leave the bad. This didn’t mean that I was keen on making life easy for IPs while running rough-shod over measures designed to improve matters for the debtors and creditors. It’s just that I think we all know what works in the 2016 Rules, what balances well the objectives of reducing costs and engaging stakeholders, so why could we not learn from our early experiences of the 2016 Rules and design new Terms to improve on them?

For example, if an IP feels that a physical meeting would be the best forum in a particular case, why can’t s/he decide to summon one? Even the Insolvency Service has suggested that for other insolvency proceedings IPs might ring around creditors before notices are sent and encourage them to ask for a physical meeting. So why not design the Terms so that we can avoid this charade?

Regrettably, I was outvoted on this point as well as some other 2016 Rules that found their way into the revised Terms.

The revised Terms incorporate the following now-familiar Rules:

  • A physical meeting may only be convened if 10/10/10 creditors ask for one (Term 61(2) and (3))
  • The 2016 Rules on the creditors’ power to requisition a decision (i.e. out of the blue) generally have been replicated (Term 61(4) and 63).
  • A notice of decision procedure compliant as far as applicable with R15.8 must be issued (Term 62(2)) – note: this must be sent even if it is a vote-by-correspondence (I have seen a number of IPs omit this notice in other insolvency proceedings)
  • Other 2016 Rules on the decision procedures should be followed, e.g. the timescale for convening a physical meeting after receiving requests (Term 62(2))
  • Once a vote has been cast in a non-meeting procedure, it cannot be changed (Term 64(4))
  • As mentioned above, the 2016 Rules on excluded persons apply (Term 62(7))

But on the other hand, some departures from the 2016 Rules have been made:

  • The deemed consent process has not been transported into the Terms – it was felt that, as an IVA is effectively an agreement between the debtor and their creditors, silence-means-approval was an inappropriate way to make changes to it
  • Meetings must still be held between 10am and 4pm on a business day (Term 62(4)) (personally, I thought that IPs could be trusted to convene meetings at a sensible time such that this prescription was unnecessary – oh well)

But I guess we should be grateful for small mercies: at least we don’t need to invite creditors to form a committee every time!

 

The Debtor’s Involvement

Some changes in the Terms regarding the level of involvement of the debtor in the process may come as a surprise:

  • Notice of a meeting is no longer required to be sent to the debtor (unlike in bankruptcy – R15.14(2)/(3))
  • Debtors may request a decision (Term 61(6)), but the Supervisor need only convene a decision procedure if s/he considers it is a reasonable request
  • The Terms no longer allow the debtor to inspect proofs (Term 36)

Despite these changes, of course it must be remembered that the debtor’s participation in the IVA process, which is intended to achieve a fair outcome for all, is fundamental and crucial.

 

The Trust Clause

We all know about the Green v Wright fun-and-games, which decided that, notwithstanding that a debtor had met all their obligations under the IVA that had concluded successfully, when an asset emerged later that would have been caught by the IVA had it been known about at the time, such an asset was caught by the enduring trust.

Is this practical for cases generally? For example, how do you revive cases long-ago completed? What if you’ve destroyed the file? What if the former Supervisor has left the firm? What if they are no longer licensed?

Is this fair for cases generally? It seems fair in a bankruptcy scenario, which was how the judge came to the decision, but in an IVA where an agreement is reached with creditors (provided of course that the debtor has been entirely open and honest in formulating the Proposal), the debtor meets their side of the bargain and the creditors get what they were expecting, shouldn’t that be the end of it?

As R3’s covering note explained, on consulting with major creditor groups, it seemed that they generally were comfortable with such finality. On the whole, avoiding Green v Wright trusts capturing unknown unknowns seemed like a popular idea.

The new Terms introduce the Trust Realisation Period. This period continues after the expiry, full implementation or termination of the IVA, if there remain (known) assets included in the IVA Proposal that remain to be realised and distributed. Therefore, in theory if unknown assets emerge before the Trust Realisation Period ends, they could be caught by the trust. However, the Terms are designed so that, once the Trust Realisation Period ends, the trusts end, so any unknown assets emerging after this point should not be caught by a trust.

The new Terms also change the position on the debtor’s bankruptcy. In this case, any assets already got in or realised by the Supervisor remain for distribution to the IVA creditors, but any other assets that were caught by the IVA are freed from the trust, so as not to disturb the vesting of the bankruptcy estate in the Trustee in Bankruptcy.

 

Other Good Bits

The new Terms improve on some other areas that previously didn’t quite work:

  • Previously, a meeting could be adjourned again and again (as long as there were no more than 21 days between adjournments). Now, adjournments have a long-stop date of 14 days from the original meeting date (Term 68(3))
  • The process for a Joint Supervisor to resign has been simplified: no longer does there need to be a meeting to seek creditors’ approval of the resignation, but now all that is needed is for the Joint Supervisor’s resignation to be notified to creditors in the next progress report (Term 18(3))
  • Debts of £1,000 or less may be admitted for a dividend without the delivery of a proof (Term 39(4)). The new Terms do not prescribe how Supervisors should deliver this message to such creditors, but it would seem sensible to me for the Supervisor to follow something akin to the 2016 Rules’ process of notifying such creditors when issuing the Notice of Intended Dividend so that these creditors know how much their claim is going to be admitted for absent a proof and the timescale for submitting a proof for a different amount, if they so wish. As in the 2016 Rules, this Term does not mean that Supervisors must admit small debts – they remain in full control of whether to exercise this power.

 

On the whole, I think the new Terms are an improvement, especially now that the 2016 Rules’ Decision Procedures have bedded in generally. Of course, the odd flaw or ambiguity will always take us by surprise. But hopefully Version 4 will serve us well for a few years yet.

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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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“Ransom” Payments – seeing things from the other side

4609 Sydney

 

I’m sure that your hackles were raised when you last heard IPs described as seeing a distressed debtor only as an opportunity to make money.  Many of the suppliers’ responses to last year’s consultation on proposed Essential Supplies legislation struck a similar chord.

In this post, I take a look at some of the more persuasive consultation responses as well as the emerging Insolvency (Protection of Essential Supplies) Order 2015, set to come into force on 1 October 2015.

The consultation responses and the draft Order can be found at: http://goo.gl/N4Tg3c

The government press release is at: http://goo.gl/Ta0KOw

 

Energy Suppliers

The key issue for most suppliers is that supplying to an unpredictable business, such as one administered by an office holder in an insolvency situation, could end up as seriously loss-making for them.  Not knowing for how long or how much energy an insolvent business is going to need carries huge consequences for suppliers, as they have to purchase (or sell excess) power on short term markets that trade at very different prices.  If the supplier cannot pass at least some of this cost to the customer, they will be trading at a significant loss.

Some suppliers referred to the “deemed contract rates”, which apply to supplies where a contract is not in existence and thus applies in some cases where an IP does not agree to a post-appointment contract.  These rates inevitably are higher than contract rates as the consumer can switch to another supplier at any moment, and thus some suppliers took exception to the suggestion that these, as well as other post-insolvency changes to manage risks, such as requiring more frequent payments or upfront deposits, in effect are “ransom” payments.

Many respondents predicted that, if they were prohibited from taking action on formal insolvency, suppliers might take precipitative action when a business shows signs of financial distress.  Others felt that the increased risks would be shared by customers with poor credit ratings and new start-ups, with some suggesting that it might even be difficult for these businesses to procure a contract.

Personal guarantees

The topic of personal guarantees threw up a variety of comments.  Some suppliers seemed to confuse these with undertakings that the supply would be paid for as an expense.  Several asked the Insolvency Service to provide a standard form of words for PGs, as they can take a lot of time and effort to agree.  Some suggested that it would save time if the IP simply gave the PG – or undertaking – within a specified timescale, rather than build into the process the need for the supplier to ask for one.

Some suppliers were sceptical that an IP could support a call on the PG, leading to requests that IPs provide proof of their assets or credit insurance and, if the supplier is not satisfied, then the supply could be terminated.  Some also asked that PGs be supported by the IPs’ firms, which led one to suggest that IPs from smaller firms may have difficulty persuading suppliers that the PG was adequate.  Some were nervous about the without-notice withdrawal of a PG or undertaking with one respondent stating that the PGs should have effect for the whole duration of the administration.

Timescales to termination

Many said that the proposed timescales to terminate the supply were too long: respondents are well aware of IPs’ reluctance to agree PGs and therefore felt that the 14-28 day period for suppliers to learn of the appointment and to give the office holder time to sign a PG could end up being effectively a free supply to the insolvent business, with several suggesting that the IP could design things this way whilst having no intention to seek to secure a longer supply.  Many also said that they would need to get a warrant to be able to terminate the supply, which would require leave of court (in administrations), thus lengthening the process considerably.

The suppliers argued that they might not learn of the appointment until at least 14 days after commencement, which under the old draft Order would have left them already out of time to request a PG.  I was surprised that several suppliers seemed to believe that office holders were under no clear obligation to tell them about the appointment, which no doubt is behind Jo Swinson’s reference to the need for guidance (see below).  Some suppliers did accept that office holders might have difficulty identifying energy suppliers, especially when dealing with a large number of properties.  Personally, I have also seen IPs encounter difficulties getting past the front door of some suppliers, with day one correspondence getting thrown back because an account cannot be located.

Some noted that the Impact Assessment pointed the finger more at key trade suppliers and IT suppliers (so, suggested one, why not simply wrap these suppliers into the existing statutory provisions?) and thus they questioned whether affecting how energy providers deal with insolvent businesses will deliver the projected fewer liquidations.  “The proposal to change the right of only certain, specified companies to freely contract with one another, appears to be both disproportionate and an unjustified distortion of contractual law” (RWE npower).

 

Merchant Services

The merchant service providers came out in force, their principal argument being that their “charges”, which is the focus of the Order, fade into insignificance when compared with their exposure to the risk of chargebacks, especially when payments have been made by customers for goods/services (to be) provided by an insolvent business.  Thus, the requirement that the merchant services continue to be provided on the existing terms for the 14-28 day window prior to obtaining a PG – and even after obtaining a PG, if that were even possible – was simply unbearable.

Worldpay’s response sets out the way that, at present, they believe the system works well.  They seek an indemnity to be paid as an administration expense for any chargebacks, including any arising from pre-administration transactions, and they also look to agree “an administration fee with the insolvency practitioner to reflect the significant time incurred in managing the administration”… but Worldpay “does not demand ransom payments”.

Carve-out

The responses indicated that the Insolvency Service was to meet with the merchant service providers shortly after the consultation had ended and clearly they succeeded in convincing the Service of their concerns, as the scope of the Order has now been changed so that it does not extend to “any service enabling the making of payments”.

 

The Insolvency Profession

IPs and others involved in insolvency made – and repeated – some valuable observations about the draft Order, which regrettably have not been taken up.  In some cases, this is because the issues are really with the long-passed Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Act 2013, but it also gives the impression that, once legislation has been drafted, it is extremely tough to get it amended.

R3 and KPMG asked that the scope of the new legislation be widened to encompass other supplies, such as software licences and information systems, and they struggled to see why only administrations and VAs are within the scope: omitting receiverships and liquidations unhelpfully restricts the ability of these insolvency tools to achieve better outcomes for all.

The City of London Law Society Insolvency Law Committee (“the Committee”) noted that the draft Order deviated unhelpfully from provisions covering the same territory in the Investment Bank Special Administration Regulations 2011 and the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 (“the SIs”).  Why the difference in rules?

Personal guarantees again

The Committee cast doubts over the “practical and logistical issues” surrounding the PG provisions, highlighting that IPs could encounter demands for PGs from a number of suppliers in the crucial initial days of an appointment.  It “strongly encourages” the government “to reconsider the approach and, if at all possible, to amend Section 93(3), so that the ability to request a personal guarantee is restricted to the utilities currently covered by Section 233 IA”.

The Committee’s quid pro quo suggestion was that the legislation should mirror the SIs mentioned above and provide explicitly for all post-administration supplies to rank as administration expenses, suggestions also made by R3.  Interestingly, the government press release stated that “suppliers will be guaranteed payment ahead of others owed money for services supplied during the rescue period”.  This doesn’t seem to relate to the effect of PGs, as this is covered separately in the press release, but I don’t see where this super-priority for suppliers appears in the statute.

As a last resort, the Committee suggested the production of a pro forma guarantee to save precious time, especially considering that a number of suppliers of varying degrees of sophistication may be seeking PGs.

Unsurprisingly, R3 had strong words for the PG regime: “The provisions allowing a supplier to require a personal guarantee by the office holder are also inappropriate.  This was and is an unwelcome feature of the existing 233 legislation, as it is disproportionate.  In principle, there is no reason why a supplier should enjoy a greater level of comfort from an insolvency officer holder than it would from the directors of a solvent trading company…  No supervisor is likely to give one.”

PwC referred to PGs as “an anathema to most IPs” and its preference seems to be that all possible options remain open for negotiation by the parties.  In its response, PwC stated that “circumstances will remain where the payment of a deposit and/or a higher ‘on price’ are commercially more appropriate, and the IP should retain the discretion to negotiate case by case, supplier by supplier”.

Other flaws

There seem to be several concerns about the detail of the draft Order, concerns that I think have survived even the post-consultation revision:

  • The Order prevents suppliers from terminating contracts simply because of administration/VA, but it does not prevent them from altering contract terms, such as increasing prices (and perhaps then terminating the contract if the revised terms are not complied with).
  • The PG may reach to termination charges incurring post-administration/VA.
  • Because the Order focuses on terms that are triggered by administration or a VA, it does not deal with terminations/changes resulting from the triggers of pre-administration/VA events, such as the Notice of Intention to Appoint Administrators or putting forward a VA Proposal (see also below).

 

The Order

The Order is scheduled to come into force on 1 October 2015.  The current draft differs from the earlier consultation draft in the following respects:

  • The 14-day timescale for suppliers to ask for a PG has been dropped. Therefore, suppliers will be able to ask for a PG at any time and then they acquire the power to terminate the supply if the PG is not given by the office holder within 14 days of the request.
  • The court may grant the supplier permission to terminate the contract, if satisfied that it would cause the supplier “hardship” – as opposed to the draft’s “undue hardship”.
  • The Order no longer applies to “any service enabling the making of payments”.
  • The Order turns a draft clause (the previous S233A(6), which is now S233A(2)) on its head. I think this is to deal with some suppliers’ issues that the previous draft Order would have prevented terminations “because of an event that occurred before” the administration/VA, even though the event was not connected to the formal insolvency. Now the Order states that an insolvency-related term does not cease to have effect if it entitles a supplier to terminate the contract or supply because of an event that occurs, or may occur after the administration/VA. The problem with this is that I think it eliminates the whole purpose of the previous S233A(6), which was to avoid actions resulting from pre-administration/VA events, such as the issuing of a Notice of Intention to Appoint Administrators or the proposing of a VA!
  • The government release points to an additional non-statutory measure: “guidance will be issued to insolvency practitioners that they should make contact with essential energy suppliers at the earliest possible time following their appointment to discuss what supply they expect to use”.

I know that Giles Frampton, R3 President, has said: “These proposals will make it easier for the insolvency profession to save businesses, save jobs, and get creditors as much of their money back as possible”.  I’m not sure that I can be as positive, but a surprising outcome of the consultation for me was a greater understanding of some of the hurdles faced by suppliers.  IPs are not the only ones who want to see businesses (/customers) survive.


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Keeping the lights on for insolvent businesses

IMGP3243

It is 13 days and counting until the Insolvency Service’s consultation on the extension of the IA86 provisions regarding essential supplies to insolvent businesses closes. R3 pretty much said it all in its autumn 2014 magazine (pages 8 and 9), so I shall be brief – honest!

The Insolvency Service’s consultation, impact assessment, and draft statutory instrument are at: http://goo.gl/N4Tg3c

Personal guarantees in IVAs and CVAs?

As I’m sure you know, the changes seek to wrap in to the existing S233 and S372 suppliers of a number of IT services and goods. Thus, these suppliers may not hold the IP to ransom in relation to their pre-appointment debts in order to agree to supply post-appointment… but they can seek a PG from the office holder, just as utility suppliers can do at present.

The draft statutory instrument also sets out restrictions on IT/utility suppliers’ powers to terminate pre-appointment contracts (or “do any other thing”, which the Service envisages would prevent actions such as increasing charges simply because of the administration or VA). A supplier would be entitled to terminate if, within 14 days of the commencement of the VA (or administration), the supplier has asked for a PG and one has not been provided within a further 14 days.

How likely is it that a Supervisor will agree to personally guarantee the payment of IT or utility supplies to a company or an individual in a VA?! Although I think that this is an entirely unrealistic prospect, VAs at present only work if the company/individual can reach agreements with their suppliers, so I don’t think the insolvent will be any worse off – and at least this might give them a 28 days breathing space in which to get things sorted.  It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the impact assessment takes a cautious approach and puts no monetary benefit on the impact of this provision on companies/individuals trading whilst in VAs.

Pre-Administration/VA events

The draft SI lists aspects of what is described as “an insolvency-related term”, which ceases to have effect if a company enters administration or CVA (or an individual in business enters an IVA). One of these ineffective features of an insolvency-related term is:

  • “the supplier would be entitled to terminate the contract or the supply because of an event that occurred before the company enters administration or the voluntary arrangement takes effect”

I guess that “insolvency”, i.e. being unable to pay one’s debts as and when they fall due, is an event that occurs before administration or VA, isn’t it? Given that this frequently appears in termination clauses, could this be a catch-all that avoids termination in all cases where an administration or VA results?  Well, surely the problem with this is that, when insolvency first rears its head, who knows what the final outcome will be?  What if a creditor, petitioning for a winding-up order, is tussling with a company hoping to be placed into administration?  It seems that suppliers might be entitled to terminate, but only if the company does not end up in an administration or VA.  A statutory provision that seeks to impact on a past event is no provision at all, is it?

So does the draft SI have anything else to say about the pre-Administration/VA periods, e.g. when a Notice of Intention to Appoint an Administrator has been issued or when a Nominee is acting? The Explanatory Note indicates that a termination clause would not have effect when a VA is proposed, but this is not what the draft SI says. It states that the insolvency-related term ceases to have effect if “a voluntary arrangement approved… takes effect”.

The impact assessment uses the expression, “the onset of insolvency”, which is something else again. It uses this expression to describe the starting point of the 14 days in which the supplier can ask for a PG.  However, the draft SI states that this period begins with “the day the company entered administration or the voluntary arrangement took effect”.

Therefore, it would seem to me that, in more ways than one, the period during which a Nominee is acting or when a company is preparing to go into administration falls between the cracks of the draft SI that can only work, if at all, in hindsight: are supplies assured during this period?

£54 million more to unsecured creditors

The impact assessment calculates the benefits on the basis of R3’s August 2013 survey, which suggested that 7% of liquidations could be avoided. The Service has extrapolated this to mean that these liquidations instead may be tomorrow’s administrations… and, as the OFT 2011 corporate insolvency study indicated that on average unsecured creditors recovered 4% more in administrations than in liquidations, they conclude that this could result in an additional £54 million being returned to unsecured creditors.

Personally, I would have thought that the key insolvency shift that is likely to occur from these measures – especially given the Government’s appetite to act on Teresa Graham’s recommendations – is that some pre-packs may be replaced by post-appointment business sales, as IPs’ hands are freed up (if only a little) to continue to trade the business. I think it odd, therefore, that the impact assessment does not assume there would be any change in the proportion of administrations that will involve trading-on: the Service works on an assumption – both before and after the proposed changes – that 10% of administrations involve post-appointment trading-on.

Then again, didn’t Teresa Graham’s review conclude that pre-pack sold businesses are more likely to survive than post-appointment sold businesses? If this is so, is it a good or a bad thing that there could be fewer pre-packs and more post-appointment sales?  That really does depend on one’s view of pre-packs.  Still, as it seems inevitable now that the hurdles to pre-packs are going to be raised, I guess that we should welcome any lowering of the high jump bar for post-appointment trading.

Over 2,000 businesses could be saved each year

That was R3’s “Holding Rescue to Ransom” tagline. Is it realistic?

Personally, I think not. However, I don’t think I’m alone: the R3 article does remind us that its original campaign highlighted the need for all suppliers of essential services to be brought into the net, not just IT services.  Therefore, it remains to be seen if these provisions will provide enough breathing space to enable insolvency office holders to help more businesses to survive.

(UPDATE 24/02/2015: for a summary of the outcome of this consultation, go to: http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-9w)


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Council Tax and IVAs: some more thoughts

044 fixed

The IPA has published an interesting article in its July 2014 magazine (accessible from http://www.ipa.uk.com Press & Publications>Insolvency Practitioner magazine) explaining how its Personal Insolvency Committee believes the judgment in Kaye v South Oxfordshire District Council impacts on past and future IVAs. I have some more thoughts…

The article points out that the judgment has no practical effect where the household income is shared between solvent and insolvent adult occupiers, because whatever “tax holiday” might be enjoyed by an insolvent occupier will be off-set by the fact that the council likely will re-bill the solvent occupier, with the effect that the household income and expenditure account is unchanged. The rest of this post assumes that the debtor is the sole adult occupier (although perhaps some points also might apply where all the adult occupiers are – or are intending to be shortly – in an insolvency process; I’ve not worked out whether a council’s “re-bill” of another occupier would be a pre- or post-insolvency liability…).

For new IVA Proposals, on the basis that the first (part) year’s council tax will be caught as an unsecured claim, the article states that “it may be advisable to consider… whether the proposal might make specific provision for an increased contribution during this period”. Fair enough. I hear that many IPs are doing this already.

For existing IVAs, however, the tone of the article makes it clear that there is no expectation for Supervisors to examine potentially overpaid council tax with a view to recovering any overpayment. The article goes so far as stating: “It is also believed that Counsel has expressed a view that this judgement would not be of retrospective effect”, which I find quite extraordinary. However, there is no doubting the commercial arguments against the Supervisor going to the effort of seeking to extract small refunds from a number of councils.

Of course, the IPA article is aimed at helping its members, so it is not surprising that it has not viewed the position from the debtor’s perspective. For example, could the debtor pursue a refund? I don’t see why not (although I’m not sure I rate their chances of easy success). Would it be a “windfall” caught by the IVA? I don’t see how, as it simply refunds the debtor for payments made post-IVA; it isn’t an asset that has been acquired after the IVA started.

Would the council be entitled to set off any refund due to the debtor (for council tax paid post-IVA) against the council’s unsecured claim? I don’t think so; set-off principles in insolvency apply only where the overpayment and the claim both occurred pre-insolvency, although I appreciate that this is not what the pre-January 2014 Protocol STC stated. Clause 17(6) used to say: “Where any creditor agrees, for whatever reason, to make a repayment to the debtor during the continuance of the arrangement, then that payment shall be used solely in reduction of that creditor’s claim in the first instance”. However, the January 2014 Protocol STC now state: “Where Section 323 of the Act applies and a creditor is obliged, for whatever reason, to make a payment to you during the continuance of the arrangement, then that payment shall be used first in reduction of that creditor’s claim”. S323 begins: “This section applies where before the commencement of the bankruptcy there have been mutual credits, mutual debts or other mutual dealings between the bankrupt and any creditor of the bankrupt proving or claiming to prove for a bankruptcy debt”… so as long as the debtor doesn’t become bankrupt, I don’t think S323 will ever apply in an IVA!

What about debtors who are in the first year of their IVAs (provided the IVA commenced after 1 April 2014)? Can they avoid paying the remaining council tax for the rest of the year on the basis that it now falls as an unsecured claim? Excepting the IPA’s comment that the Kaye judgment does not have retrospective effect, it seems that they can. Some words of caution, however: I can envisage that some councils may be a bit behind the times, so debtors may need to have a strong stomach to resist council pressure to pay up, remembering that a case precedent only exists to the point that another court sees things in a different light. The effect of pushing the year’s tax into the IVA might also be material: for example, the Protocol STC state that breach occurs when the debtor’s liabilities are more than 15% of that originally estimated and some IVAs may require a minimum dividend to be paid. If an increased council IVA claim could threaten the successful completion of an IVA containing terms such as these, one might like to think again…

Could a Supervisor demand increased contributions from a debtor who is not paying his council tax for the rest of the first year? Of course, it will depend on the IVA terms, but it seems to me that the Protocol STC don’t help a Supervisor seeking to do this. Clause 8(3) states that the debtor must tell his Supervisor asarp about any increase in income… but this is not an increase in income, it is a decrease in expenditure. Clause 10(11) states that, as a consequence of the Supervisor’s annual review of a debtor’s income and expenditure, the debtor will need to contribute 50% of any net surplus one month following the review. By the time the first annual review comes around, the “tax holiday” will have ended and the debtor again will be required to pay council tax, so the I&E will show no consequent surplus. Therefore, as far as I can see the Protocol STC do not provide for the Supervisor to recover any surplus arising from a decrease in expenditure in the first year of the IVA. Of course, this does not take into consideration the terms of the Proposal itself (or any variations in the standard, or any modified, terms) and the debtor can always offer the unexpected surplus to the Supervisor, which one would hope would go down well with the IVA creditors.

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For background on the judgment itself, you might like to take a look at my earlier post – http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-5U – or R3’s Technical Bulletin 107.1.

(UPDATE 25/08/14: for another perspective, I recommend Debt Camel’s blog: http://debtcamel.co.uk/council-tax-insolvency/.  Sara highlights the difference in DROs (I think the reason this decision has no effect on DROs is because the remainder of the year’s council tax is a contingent liability and as such is not a qualifying debt for DRO purposes) and the possibility of debtors putting in formal complaints if the council does not acknowledge the effect of this decision.)


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New SIPs 3 – are you ready?

5313 Sydney

As the new SIPs 3 come into effect in less than two weeks’ time, I’m guessing that few of you will be interested in reading my “yes, but what exactly does that mean?!” observations below. If VAs/Trust Deeds are your thing, you will have got going on bringing practices into line with the new SIPs (and you really won’t want to read any alternative interpretations). But it’s not all gripes; I have actually tried to include some points that may be of use!

SIP3.1 (IVAs) and SIP3.2 (CVAs)

Assuming that your practices already comply with (old) SIP3 and statute, what do you need to know to bring them in line with the new SIPs? I’m afraid I don’t think it’s about easy fixes. The new SIPs are so different from the 2007 SIP3 that I would recommend trying to take a fresh and objective look at the way VAs are conducted in the round in order to apply the new SIP principles and requirements.

The revised SIPs put great emphasis on there being “procedures in place to ensure…”, so it is not simply a case of getting standard templates compliant. In my view, the key seems to be more about making sure that tasks and considerations are prompted and carried out, not just marked “N/A” (or perhaps even “done”) on a checklist completed 6 months after the event. However, the vast majority of the steps required are not rocket-science and are probably being carried out already, so if any major changes are required, they will probably involve regularising processes and evidencing the steps taken.

Having said that, some obvious easy fixes may include:

• Ensure that letters to shareholders and creditors giving notice of the meetings explain the stages and roles associated with a VA (i.e. initial advice, assisting in preparing the proposal, acting as nominee, and acting as supervisor) – per the SIPs’ first principle.

• Ensure that initial advice includes explaining “the rights of challenge to the VA and the potential consequences of those challenges”.

• If you’re confident that there are systems in place to keep alert to signs that a meeting with an individual debtor is merited, SIP3.1 allows you to lighten up on SIP3’s requirement to meet with every “trading individual” (although a meeting needs to be offered in every case).

• Check that standard Proposals templates (and procedures/documents used in drafting Proposals) include all the items listed. Although the new SIPs are not as fulsome as the old SIP3, there are some curly additions, such as “the background and financial history of the directors, where relevant”.

• Ensure that post-approval circulars make clear the “final form of the accepted VA” where a proposal is modified, which to me suggests more than simply listing the approved modifications.

• Ensure that supervisors’ reports disclose fully the VA costs and “any other sources of income of the insolvency practitioner or the practice in relation to the case” (remembering that the Ethics Code prohibits referral fees or commissions benefitting the IP/firm as opposed to the estate) and any increases in costs, if these have increased beyond previously-reported estimates. Whilst the old SIP3 already requires disclosure of increases in the supervisor’s fees, “costs” of course are wider in scope and could include solicitors, agents etc.

Other fixes may not be so easy…

Huh? No. 1

For CVAs, “the initial meeting with the directors should always be face to face”.

But what is the initial meeting; is it the first meeting? What if progression towards a solution is an iterative process? And who are the directors? Does this mean that all the directors need to be present, even if someone is out of the country? And why face to face? Is this so that you can skype but a non-visible telephone conference won’t do; where’s the sense in that?

Yes, I know I’m being picky. Trying to look at this sensibly, presumably IPs are expected to ensure that the directors discuss face-to-face the information to enable them to decide on whether to propose a CVA and what that might look like. I could see that this discussion might occur after a period of information-gathering, so it may not actually be the very first meeting with the director/s. In addition, inevitably there will be occasions when it is difficult to meet physically with all the directors, so this might require some judgment on IPs’ parts as to whether the non-attendance “face-to-face” of a particular director falls foul of the need to meet with “the directors”.

Huh? No. 2

When preparing for a VA, the IP should have procedures in place to ensure that the directors/debtor have had, or receive, appropriate advice. “This should be confirmed in writing, if the insolvency practitioner or their firm has not done so before.” (This is repeated later in SIP3.1 where an IP first gets involved at the nominee stage, i.e. where someone else has helped to prepare the IVA Proposal.)

But what is “this” that should be confirmed in writing? Is it the appropriate advice itself or is it the fact that appropriate advice has been given? I assume this means that, if someone else has been involved in getting the directors/debtor to the point of deciding on a VA before introducing them to the IP, the IP needs to be satisfied that they have been properly advised previously and confirm in writing the advice behind the decision – not merely “I understand that you have received appropriate advice from X and consequently have decided to propose a VA” – but I could be wrong…

Huh? No. 3

In assessing the VA as a solution, the SIPs require IPs to obtain a variety of information, including: “the measures taken by the directors (debtor) or others to avoid recurrence of the company’s (their) financial difficulties, if any”.

Does the “if any” refer to financial difficulties or measures taken? Would there be any occasion to propose a VA where there are no financial difficulties (even if any current difficulties to pay debts had arisen from historic, now settled, events)? Consequently, I would have thought the SIPs refer to learning of any measures taken to avoid recurrence, rather than any financial difficulties, but that does not seem to be the case, as the SIPs state later that Proposals should contain information on “any other attempts that have been made to solve their financial difficulties, if there are any such difficulties”.

Huh? No. 4

The SIPs require procedures to ensure that the proposer’s consent is sought to any modifications put forward by creditors. The SIPs state that, where a modification is adopted, in the absence of consent (from the proposer and, if appropriate, the creditors), the VA “cannot proceed”. The proposer’s consent must be recorded.

Why seek the proposer’s consent to any modification, including those that will be voted out by the majority, especially if they run contrary to the wishes of the majority? I guess that this is only fair to the creditors, but it could be confusing especially to debtors faced with a whole host of potentially conflicting and futile modifications. And what would happen if a minority creditor, say, wanted the supervisor’s fees to be reduced below that required by the majority, and the proposer consented to the reduction? Where does that leave things?

And why state that a CVA cannot proceed in the absence of the proposer’s consent? As far as I am aware, the directors’ consent to modifications is not a statutory requirement (but obviously in certain circumstances this may be essential for the successful implementation of the CVA). I also wonder if, technically, an administrator or liquidator needs to consent to modifications to their Proposals…

How should a director’s/debtor’s consent be “recorded”? Will a telephone conversation note, or even merely minutes signed by the Chairman, suffice? Where ever possible, I would recommend continuing with the now-commonplace procedure of getting the proposer to sign contemporaneously a copy of the adopted modifications, but I do wonder whether the new SIPs are suggesting that a less robust record may suffice.

SIP3.3 (Trust Deeds)

I am in no position to pass comment on the technicalities of this new SIP – I did voice some “huh?”s whilst reading it, but I will resist the urge to put my foot in it!

Overall, I am heartened to see the lightening-up on much of the prescription and consequent rigidity of SIP3A. Personally, I do think the RPBs could have gone further, however, as there still seems to me to be a fair amount of unnecessary statutory, SIP9 and Ethics Code references. There also seems to be some particularly fruitless statements: my personal favourite is “Where the decision is to grant a Trust Deed and seek its protection, the insolvency practitioner will take the necessary steps” – duh!


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Exercise of court’s discretion to allow creditor’s action to continue despite Interim Order and Other Judgments

1116 Sunset

Some recent court decisions:

Dewji v Banwaitt – under what circumstances will the court allow a creditor’s action to continue despite an IVA Interim Order?
Masters & Beighton v Furber – can a debtor be forced to hand over assets caught by IVA?
Ward Brothers (Malton) Limited v Middleton & Ors – does an IP acting in an informal capacity avoid TUPE?
O’Kane & O’Kane v Rooney – fixed charge receivers’ agents’ “worrying conduct” scuppers sale
Re Hotel Company 42 The Calls Limited – will the court terminate an Administration and hand back the company to the directors despite the Administrators’ wishes for it to continue?
Re ARM Asset Backed Securities SA – does the EC Regulation on Insolvency Proceedings apply when the winding-up petition is based on the just and equitable ground?
Westshield Limited v Mr & Mrs Whitehouse – which takes precedence: a CVA term requiring a Supervisor to decide on set-offs or the enforcement of an Adjudicator’s decision?

Creditor’s interim charging orders made final despite IVA Interim Order

Dewji v Banwaitt (29 November 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3746 (QB))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2013/3746.html

Mr Banwaitt had obtained judgment in proceedings against Dr Dewji for fraudulent misrepresentation in relation to an agreement under which Mr Banwaitt had paid to Dr Dewji sums for the purchase of land in Cambodia. Mr Banwaitt then obtained interim charging orders over three properties, but before the charging orders were made final, Dr Dewji was granted an Interim Order. However, at the hearing on the charging orders, the Master granted leave under S252(2)(b) of the Insolvency Act 1986 for Mr Banwaitt’s action to continue and exercised his discretion in making the charging orders final.

Dr Dewji’s request for permission to appeal the charging orders was refused. Mrs Justice Andrews accepted that usually the overriding principle would be that all creditors of a single class should rank equally once a statutory scheme had got underway. However, she noted that “there may be situations in which, despite the Interim Order, the ‘first past the post’ approach is justifiable” (paragraph 45). She suggested some scenarios: where a judgment creditor were seeking to recover monies paid under a contract that had been rescinded for fraud, “the Court might take the view when exercising its discretion that it would not be in the interests of justice to allow the debtor’s other creditors to participate in that share of his estate that was increased at the expense of the party he deceived” (paragraph 29) or where “the asset against which the judgment creditor is seeking to execute judgment falls entirely outside the IVA, so that there is no question of it being shared between the general body of creditors. Another, quite independent, example would be where the IVA was bound to fail, either because the judgment creditor had sufficient voting power to block it by himself, or because the creditors as a whole or a majority of them were bound to regard it as unattractive” (paragraph 39).

What Dr Dewji had proposed for his IVA led the judge to conclude that the Master had been justified in exercising his discretion in favour of the creditor. “The question that the Master had to determine is not whether it would be unfair to let Mr Banwaitt have an advantage over the general body of creditors. It is whether it would be unfair to let Mr Banwaitt, (who, on the evidence before the Master, was the only Investor induced to part with his money for this project by deceit, and who alone has chosen to expend costs in pursuing its recovery from Dr Dewji) obtain final charging orders over property that was not going to be distributed between Dr Dewji’s creditors, but (in the case of one property only, Dale Street) utilised to raise money to pay foreign lawyers to try and recover a substantial sum of money that would then be shared equally between Dr Dewji himself and some of those creditors, including the judgment creditor” (paragraph 47).

IVA debtor was not free to resist realisation of assets

Masters & Beighton v Furber (30 August 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3023 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3023.html

The Joint Supervisors of Mr Furber’s IVA sought an order requiring Mr Furber to allow the collection of some of his vehicles that, in accordance with the terms of the IVA, had been sold. The Joint Supervisors had also been granted a power of attorney to enable them to deal with Mr Furber’s assets. Mr Furber refused to allow the vehicles to be collected, claiming that he entered the IVA under pressure and that the vehicles had been sold at an undervalue.

Purle HHJ acknowledged that, in one sense, Mr Furber could choose to default on the IVA, with a potential consequence of being made bankrupt. However, as counsel for the applicant put it, “unless the process of disposal of the vehicles is concluded, there is a risk that the successful bidders will withdraw their bids and thereafter demand return of all monies paid, as well as possibly seeking damages. Ironically, if, as Mr Furber says, the value of the vehicles was higher than the sum that has been achieved by the online auction process then there will be a claim for loss of bargain by the successful bidders” (paragraph 9). With the risk of increasing creditors’ claims in mind, the judge agreed to order the release of the vehicles: “In my judgment, requiring Mr Furber to comply with his obligations under the IVA and the power of attorney will be in the best interests of his creditors generally and maintain the authority of the supervisors who are effectively, if not in law, officers of the court” (paragraph 11).

IPs acting in an advisory capacity not sufficient to avoid TUPE

Ward Brothers (Malton) Limited v Middleton & Ors (16 October 2013) ([2013] UKEAT 0249)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2013/0249_13_1610.html

Bulmers Transport Limited ceased to trade on a Friday and on the following Monday Ward Brothers (Malton) Limited started to perform Bulmers’ major contracts using some of its former employees. Before Bulmers had ceased to trade, it had been presented with a winding up petition and had sought the advice of IPs. It seems that, although Administration had been contemplated, this was abandoned around the time that trading ceased. Some ten days later, different IPs were appointed Administrators by the QFCH.

The key question for the Appeal Tribunal was: did the involvement of IPs fit the TUPE exception, “where the transferor is the subject of bankruptcy proceedings or any analogous insolvency proceedings which have been instituted with a view to the liquidation of the assets of the transferor and are under the supervision of an insolvency practitioner” (Regulation 8(7) of TUPE)?

The Appeal Tribunal supported the original Tribunal’s conclusion that the first set of IPs had been acting only in an advisory capacity and that Bulmers had not been under the supervision of an IP at the time of the transfer.

The Appeal Tribunal also appreciated that “it is regrettable that so much uncertainty exists” (paragraph 20) as regards the application of TUPE and acknowledged “the importance of establishing, if possible, a red line”. They felt that the principles in Slater v Secretary of State for Industry, whilst not formally binding, “command considerable respect; and we respectfully agree that what is there set out is an appropriate and sensible red line and is the correct principle to apply. It is consistent with section 388, which, as we have said, provides that a person acts as an insolvency practitioner in relation to a company by acting as its liquidator, provisional liquidator, administrator or administrative receiver; if not appointed as such, then a person is not acting as an insolvency practitioner” (paragraph 23).

In the summary to the decision, it states that “an appointment (formal or informal) was necessary before there could be said to be supervision by an insolvency practitioner”. Personally, I struggle to see how an IP can be informally appointed and acting in a S388 capacity. The body of the decision states: “Clearly, that red line is not an entirely straight line. There may be disputes, for example, as to whether an insolvency practitioner was on the facts, appointed before a formal letter of appointment was provided or even drafted” (paragraph 24), so perhaps that is what is meant by an “informal” appointment.

The consequence of this decision in this case was that the appeal was dismissed: there had been a transfer that was not subject to the TUPE exclusion as regards the transfer of employee claims to the transferor.

Fixed charge receivers’ sale process tainted by agents’ “worrying conduct”

O’Kane & O’Kane v Rooney (12 November 2013) ([2013] NIQB 114)

http://www.bailii.org/nie/cases/NIHC/QB/2013/114.html

The O’Kanes sought an injunction restraining the joint fixed charge receivers from selling a property.

The judge was presented with evidence, albeit most of it hearsay but nonetheless “very strong”, which the judge described as showing “worrying conduct”, “very curious behaviour indeed”, and even “bad faith” (paragraphs 8, 9, and 10). The criticisms were levelled at the joint receivers’ agents who seemed to have discouraged some parties from bidding, provided inaccurate information, and allegedly advised the highest bidder not to increase its bid during the open bidding process, stating that the bidder would win out at the lower figure.

Although the O’Kanes’ proposal was complex and it was argued to be unrealistic, the judge viewed the previous sealed bid process to be tainted. He granted an injunction restraining the sale and directed that the property should be remarketed and sold by way of private treaty, with a bidding book being maintained and exhibited to the court for its approval of the sale. He directed that there should be no involvement of the individuals named, although he did not go so far as to require a new firm of agents to be instructed.

Administration terminated and company handed back to directors despite outstanding fees and expenses

Re Hotel Company 42 The Calls Limited (18 September 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3925 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3925.html

Joint Administrators were appointed on the application of a creditor. All creditors’ claims were paid or waived, although no monies passed through the Joint Administrators’ hands, as they were dealt with by third parties.

The shareholder and director wanted the company returned to them and the administration terminated, given that its purpose had been achieved, but the Joint Administrators were reluctant to rely simply on their statutory charge as regards their unpaid remuneration and expenses as provided by Paragraph 99 of Schedule B1 of the Insolvency Act 1986, given that the appointing creditor had been “given the run around” by an associated company for many years. There was also a separate application ongoing by the shareholder and director under Paragraphs 74 and 75 under a claim that there had been unfair harm and misfeasance by, amongst other things, the charging of excessive remuneration.

Purle HHJ did not consider that the Joint Administrators’ fears were “sufficient to justify their continuing in office when, as they themselves recognise, there is no practical reason for them to do so, and, most importantly, the administration purpose has been achieved” (paragraph 21). It was also his view that the statutory charge, which could be supported by a restriction registered against the company’s property by means of filing an agreed notice with the Land Registry, was ample to protect them.

The judge refused the relief sought by the Joint Administrators to authorise them to grant a charge to themselves and he ordered the termination of the administration. He did not order that the Joint Administrators be discharged, as the misfeasance proceedings remained unresolved.

Does the EC Regulation on Insolvency Proceedings apply when the winding-up petition is based on the just and equitable ground?

Re ARM Asset Backed Securities SA (9 October 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3351 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3351.html

A Luxembourg-incorporated company applied for the appointment of provisional liquidators under a winding up petition presented on the grounds that it would be just and equitable to wind it up.

Mr Justice David Richards was satisfied that the evidence pointed to an England COMI: it was apparent that the decisions governing the Company’s administration and management were taken in London and that this was clear to third parties. However, as the petition was based on the just and equitable ground, rather than on the Company’s insolvency, the judge had to consider whether the EC Regulation on “Insolvency Proceedings” kicked in.

Rather than reach a conclusion on this question, the question of the Company’s solvency was addressed. The circumstances of this case were not cut and dried: although it was likely that there would be insufficient funds to service in full the Company’s issued bonds, the terms of the bonds provided that the holders were entitled to recover sums only to the extent that the Company had available to it certain sums. “As a matter of ordinary language, I would take the view that if a company has liabilities of a certain amount on bonds or other obligations which exceed the assets available to it to meet those obligations, the company is insolvent, even though the rights of the creditors to recover payment will be, as a matter of legal right as well as a practical reality, restricted to the available assets, and even though, as the bonds in this case provide, the obligations will be extinguished after the distribution of available funds. It seems to me it can properly be said in relation to this company that it is unable to pay its debts. A useful way of testing this is to consider the amounts for which bond holders would prove in a liquidation of the company. It seems to me clear that they would prove for the face value of their bonds and the interest payable on those bonds” (paragraphs 31 and 32).

Consequently, although David Richards J has left open the question of whether just-and-equitable petitions are caught by the EC Regulation, he was content that the Company could and should be wound up.

(UPDATE 16/03/14: I recommend a briefing by Tina Kyriakides of 11 Stone Buildings: http://www.11sb.com/pdf/insider-limited-recourse-agreement-march-2014.pdf?500%3bhttp%3a%2f%2fwww.11sb.com%3a80%2fhome%2fhome.asp. This briefing addresses the issue as regards the application of the EC Regulation, pointing out that the decision in Re Rodenstock GmbH held that the winding up of a solvent company is governed by the Judgments Regulation 44/2001 and not by the EC Regulation. More interestingly, this briefing deals with the issue about this case that had niggled me (but which I cowardly avoided): how can liabilities that are expressly restricted to the company’s funds topple the company into insolvency? Personally, I find the conclusions of this briefing far more satisfying.)

Supervisor required to consider effect of set-off despite Adjudicator’s decision

Westshield Limited v Mr & Mrs Whitehouse (18 November 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3576 (TCC))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/TCC/2013/3576.html

The Whitehouses had some work done on their house by Westshield prior to the company entering into a CVA in December 2010. After little exchange, Westshield served a Notice of Adjudication in relation to the work done. The Whitehouses raised the issue of a substantial counterclaim and referred to the terms of the CVA, which included that the Supervisor should address the extent of mutual dealings and consider set-off. The Adjudicator decided that the Whitehouses should pay Westshield c.£133,000, but did not consider the counterclaim. The Whitehouses submitted a claim to the Supervisor of c.£200,000, but the Supervisor was reluctant to deal with it given the Adjudicator’s involvement.

Westshield then issued proceedings seeking to enforce the Adjudicator’s decision, but the Whitehouses maintained that the Supervisor would need to deal with the counterclaim.

The judge believed that Westshield had been entitled to pursue the pre-CVA debt and that, had the cross-claim not intervened, the Adjudicator’s decision would have been enforceable. However, the Whitehouses had become bound by the CVA and therefore the CVA condition requiring an account to be taken of mutual dealings and set off to be applied could be carried out by the Supervisor. “Once that exercise is done, if it shows money due to Westshield, that can be paid subject to the right which the Whitehouses have to refer the matter to Court within a short time. The Court can then consider what effect (if any) the adjudication decision may have on its decision as to what should be done. If the accounting shows money due to the Whitehouses, they will get however many pennies in the pound as are available to creditors from the CVA” (paragraph 27).

Consequently, the judge dismissed the application for summary judgment, staying any further steps until the outcome of the Supervisor’s account was known.


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A Janus View of Developments in Insolvency Regulation

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I thought I would take a look at where we’ve got to on a few of the current developments in insolvency regulation:

• The Deregulation Bill: who says limited IP licences are a good idea?
• SIP3.2 (CVA): a preview of the final SIP3 (IVA) or an ethical minefield?
• The JIC Newsletter: grasping the nettle of the commissions issue
• Insolvency Service update to the BIS Committee: promises, promises!

It’s by no means a complete list, but it’s a start!

The Deregulation Bill: when is a consultation not a consultation?

The Joint Committee of the Houses of Lords and Commons published its report on the draft Deregulation Bill on 19 December 2013, available here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/draft-deregulation-bill/news/draft-deregulation-bill-report/.

Insolvency features relatively insignificantly in the wide-ranging draft Deregulation Bill, the so-called Henry VIII Power attracting far more attention, so in some respects it is quite surprising that insolvency got a mention in the Committee report at all. However, the background to this report included oral evidence sessions, one of which was attended by Andrew Tate representing R3’s Small Practices Group. A recording of the session can be accessed at: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14073&player=windowsmedia – insolvency pops up at c.50 minutes.

Andrew had a chance to express concerns about the draft Bill’s introduction of IP licences limited to personal or corporate insolvency processes. He raised the concern, which I understand is shared by many IPs, that IPs need knowledge of, and access to, all the tools in the insolvency kit, so that they can help anyone seeking a solution, be they a company director, a practice partner, or an individual, and some situations require a combination of personal, corporate and/or partnership insolvency solutions.

What seemed to attract the attention of the Committee most, however, was learning that there had been no public consultation on the question. It’s worth hearing the nuanced evidence session, rather than reading the dead-pan transcript. It fell to Nick Howard, who was not a formal witness but presumably was sitting in the wings, to explain that there had been an “informal consultation”, which had revealed general support, and I thought it was a little unfair that a Committee member seemed sceptical of this on the basis that they had not heard from anyone expressing support: after all, I don’t think that people tend to spend time shouting about draft Bills with which they agree.

Personally, I do not share the same objections to limited licences, or at least not to the same degree. I see the value of all IPs having knowledge of both personal and corporate insolvency, but even now not all fully-licensed IPs have had experience in all fields, so some already start their licensed life ill-equipped to deal with all insolvency situations. I believe that there are more than a few IPs who have chosen a specialist route that really does mean that practically they do not need the in-depth knowledge of all insolvency areas, and, given that they will not have kept up their knowledge of, and they will have little, if any, useful experience in, insolvency processes outside their specialist field, does it really do the profession or the public any favours for them to be indistinguishable from an IP who has worked hard to maintain strong all-round knowledge and experience? Surely it would be more just and transparent for such specialists to hold limited licences, wouldn’t it?

From my perspective as a former IPA regulation manager, I believe that there would also be less risk in limited licences. As things currently stand, an IP could have passed the JIEB Administration paper years’ ago (even when it was better known as the Receivership paper) and never have touched an Administration in his life, but (Ethics Code principle of professional competence aside) tomorrow he could be talking to a board of directors about an Administration, pre-pack, or CVA. Personally, I would prefer it if IPs who specialise were clearly identified as such. Then, if they encountered a situation that exceeded their abilities, which they would be less likely to encounter because everyone could see that they had a limited licence, at least they would be prohibited from giving it a go.

Clearly, with so many facets to this issue, it is a good thing that the Committee has recommended that the clause proposing limited licences be the subject of further consultation!

The other insolvency-related clauses in the draft Bill have sat silently, but presumably if limited licences stall for further consultation, the other provisions – such as fixing the Administration provisions that gave rise to the Minmar/Virtualpurple confusion and modifying the bankruptcy after-acquired property provision, which allegedly is behind the banks’ reluctance to allow bankrupts to operate a bank account – will gather dust for some time to come.

SIP3.2 (CVA): a preview of the final SIP3 (IVA)?

I found the November consultation on a draft SIP3.2 for CVAs interesting, as I suspect that this gives us a preview of what the final SIP3 for IVAs will look like: the JIC’s winter 2013 newsletter explained that the working group had reviewed the SIP3 (IVA) consultation responses to see whether there should be any changes made to the working draft of SIP3 (CVA). Consequently, it seems that there will be few changes to the consultation draft of SIP3 (IVA)… although that hasn’t stopped me from drawing from my own consultation response to the draft SIP3 (IVA) and repeating some of those points in my consultation response to the draft SIP3 (CVA). I was pleased to see, however, that few of my issues with the IVA draft had been repeated in the CVA draft – it does pay to respond to consultations!

I’ve lurked around the LinkedIn discussions on the draft SIP3.2 and been a bit dismayed at the apparent differences of opinion about the role of the advising IP/nominee. Personally, I believe that the principles set out in the Insolvency Code of Ethics and the draft SIP3.2 handle it correctly and fairly clearly. In particular, I believe that an IP’s aim – to seek to ensure that the proposed CVA is achievable and strikes a fair balance between the interests of the company and the creditors – as described in Paragraph 6 of the draft SIP3.2 – is appropriate (even though, as often it will not be the IP’s Proposal, this may not always be the outcome). In my mind, this does not mean that the IP is aiming for some kind of mid-point between those interests, as the insolvent company’s interests at that time necessarily will have particular regard for the creditors’ interests, and so I do not believe that the SIP supports any perception that the advising IP/nominee sides inappropriately with the directors/company. However, given that apparently some have the perception that this state exists, perhaps it would be worthwhile for the working group to see whether it can come up with some wording that makes the position absolutely clear, so that there is no risk that readers might misinterpret the careful responsibility expected of the advising IP/nominee.

I would urge you to respond to the consultation, which closes on 7 January 2014.

The JIC Newsletter: all bark and no bite?

Well, what do you think of the JIC’s winter 2013 newsletter? I have to say that, having been involved in reviewing the fairly inconsequential reads of previous years whilst I was at the IPA, I was pleasantly surprised that at least this newsletter seemed to have something meaningful to say. Personally, I wish it had gone further – as really all it seems to be doing is reminding us of what the Ethics Code already states – but I am well aware of the difficulties of getting something even mildly controversial approved by the JIC members, their respective RPBs, and the Insolvency Service: it is not a forum that lends itself well to the task of enacting ground-breaking initiatives. And anyway, if there were something more than the Ethics Code or SIPs that needed to be said, a newsletter is not the place for it.

Nevertheless, I would still recommend a read: http://www.ion.icaew.com/insolvencyblog/post/Joint-Insolvency-Committee-winter-2013-newsletter (I’d love to be able to direct people to my former employer’s website, but unfortunately theirs requires member login).

Bill Burch quickly off the mark posted his thoughts on the Commissions article: http://complianceoncall.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/dark-portents-from-jic-for-commissions.html, which pretty-much says it all. Personally, I hope that this signifies a “right, let’s get on and tackle this issue!” attitude of revived enthusiasm by the regulators, but similarly I fear that some offenders may just seem too heavy-weight to wrestle, at least publicly, although that does not mean that behaviours cannot be changed by stealth. Many would shout that this is unfair, but it has to be better than nothing, hasn’t it?

My main concern, however, is how do the regulators go about spotting this stuff? Unless a payment is made from an insolvent estate, it is unlikely to reach the eyes of the monitor on a routine visit. It’s all well and good asking an IP where he gets his work from, if/how he pays introducers, and reviewing agreements, but if someone were intent on covering their tracks..? I know for a fact that at least one of the examples described in the JIC newsletter was revealed via a complaint, so that would be my personal message: if you observe anyone playing fast and loose with the Ethics Code, please take it to the regulators, and if you don’t want to do that personally, then get in touch with R3 and they might help do it for you. If you don’t, then how really can you cry that the regulators aren’t doing enough to police your competitors?

However, the theoretic ease with which inappropriate commissions could be disguised and the multitude of relatively unregulated hangers-on to the insolvency profession, preying on the desire of some to get ahead and the fear of others of losing out to the competition, do make me wonder if this issue can ever be tackled successfully. But the JIC newsletter at least appears to more clearly define the battle-lines.

Insolvency Service Update to the BIS Committee: all good things come to those who wait

Jo Swinson’s response to the House of Commons’ Select Committee is available at: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/business-innovation-and-skills/20131030%20Letter%20from%20Jo%20Swinson%20-%20Insolvency%20Service%20update.pdf. It was issued on 30 October so by now many items have already moved on, but I wanted to use it as an opportunity to highlight some ongoing and future developments to look out for.

Regarding “continuation of supply”, which was included in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 but which requires secondary legislation to bring it into effect, Ms Swinson stated: “We intend to consult later this year on how the secondary legislation should be framed”. I had assumed simply that the Insolvency Service’s timeline had slipped a bit – understandably so, as there has been plenty going on – but I became concerned when I read the interview with Nick Howard in R3’s winter 2013 Recovery magazine. He stated: “We are in the process of consulting on exactly how that [the supply of IT] works because the power in the Act is fairly broad and we want to ensure we achieve the desired effect”. Have I missed something, or perhaps there’s another “informal consultation” going on?

I’m guessing the Service’s timeline has slipped a bit in relation to considering Professor Kempson’s report on fees, however, as Ms Swinson had planned “to announce the way forward before the end of the year” in relation to “a number of possible options for addressing this fundamental issue [that “the market does not work sufficiently where unsecured creditors are left to ‘control’ IP fees”], by both legislative and non-legislative means. Still, I imagine this isn’t far away, albeit that Ms Swinson is now on maternity leave.

This might be old news to those with their ears to the ERA ground, but it was news to me that the Insolvency Service will be implementing the Government’s Digital by Default strategy in the RPO “with a digital approach to redundancy claims anticipated to be launched in the autumn of 2014”. My experience as an ERA administrator may date back to the 1990s when people were comforted more by the feel of paper in their hands, but I do wonder how well the news will go down with just-laid-off staff that they need to go away and lodge their claims online. A sign of the times, I guess…

Finally, don’t mention the Draft Insolvency Rules!

No summary of regulatory goings-on would be complete without referring to the draft Insolvency Rules, on which the consultation closes on 24 January 2014. And no, I’ve still not started to look at them properly; it feels a bit futile even to think about starting now. But then, if we don’t pipe up on them now, we won’t be able to complain about the result, even if that may be yet years’ away…


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Two cases of marshalling; support for ETO dismissals; a flawed Chairman’s report fails to help a debtor escape her IVA; and a Company’s challenge of its Administrators’ appointment

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Although I have promised myself an article on the Scottish Bankruptcy Bill and I see that the Deregulation Bill has not gone smoothly through the House of Commons Committee, I should catch up with some recent decisions:

Crystal Palace v Kavanagh: dismissals for an ETO reason are possible after all.
Smith-Evans v Smailes: is an IVA a nullity, if a Chairman’s report on the requisite majority achieved is challenged long after the S262 period?
Highbury v Zirfin: marshalling and the difference between equity of exoneration and the right of subrogation…
Szepietowski v the NCA: … but sometimes marshalling is restricted by the terms of the deal.
Closegate v McLean: the Company/directors were entitled to challenge the Administrators’ appointment.

Back to the future: dismissals can be for an ETO reason even where the objective remains a going concern sale

Crystal Palace FC Limited & Anor v Mrs L Kavanagh & Ors (13 November 2013) ([2013] EWCA Civ 1410)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1410.html

This successful appeal has been the subject of some helpful articles already, such as that written by Dr James Bickford Smith for R3’s Recovery News. My summary of the history up to this Appeal Court decision can be found at: http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-2R.

The Court of Appeal stressed the case-sensitive natures of both this case and Spaceright Europe Limited v Baillavoine, which had formed the basis for the previous EAT’s decision to the contrary. Lord Justice Briggs highlighted the need, per Regulation 7 of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, to analyse the “sole or principal reason” for dismissals “so that the Employment Tribunal needs to be astute to detect cases where office holders of insolvent companies have attempted to dress up a dismissal as being for an ETO reason, where in truth it has not been” (paragraph 26).

This Court agreed with the original ET’s analysis in this case that, whilst the Administrator’s ultimate objective remained the sale of the Club (as, Briggs LJ pointed out, would be the case in almost all Para 3(1)(b) Administrations), he made the dismissals because he needed to reduce the wage bill in order to continue running the business, i.e. they were for an ETO reason. This was contrasted with the facts of the Spaceright case, which had decided that the sole or principal reason behind the dismissal of the CEO was to make the business more attractive to a purchaser, illustrating how dismissals could fall outside of an ETO reason.

(UPDATE 15/06/14: On 14 May 2014, the Supreme Court refused permission to appeal this decision.)

If a Chairman’s report states that the IVA was approved and no S262 challenge is raised, does the IVA exist if the requisite majority had not been achieved?

Smith-Evans v Smailes (29 July 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3199 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3199.html

I make no apologies for the length of this summary or the numerous quotes: I believe that this is a somewhat surprising and material outcome so that I felt it was wise to draw heavily from the judgment.

In a nutshell, the debtor appealed against her bankruptcy order, which was made as a consequence of a breached IVA. The debtor claimed that the IVA was a nullity, as the requisite majority had not voted in favour at the S257 meeting.

Two creditors, RBS and HSBC (who had voted via TiX), had voted to restrict the IVA’s duration to 2 years, but, although immediately after the meeting the Chairman had written to TiX “pointing out the divergences from the instructions received” (paragraph 15), in the absence of a reply the Chairman reported that the IVA was approved and its duration was 3 years. HH Judge Purle QC stated that “whilst the chairman of the meeting did not initially, in May 2008, have authority to cast the RBS and HSBC votes in the way subsequently indicated, RBS and HSBC have unequivocally ratified his actions by voting (albeit in the minority) for a determination upon the footing that the IVA was in place” (paragraph 17), referring to the creditors’ voting years’ later on the subject of how the Supervisor should react to the debtor’s breach of the IVA terms.

Purle HHJ commented on the application of the decision in Re Plummer, in which Registrar Baister described his view of the differences between a material irregularity and something that invalidates an IVA approval. Registrar Baister had provided as an example a case where the chairman had wrongly calculated the votes and reported approval when the requisite majority had not been achieved. He had said that this goes further than a material irregularity; in reality, there never was approval. “It cannot be that in those circumstances section 262(8) could be said to overcome the problem by making real that which simply never was. The reason it cannot is because of its wording, which presupposes approval: it is ‘an approval given at a creditors’ meeting’ which ‘is not invalidated’. Non-approval cannot, however, be transformed into approval” (paragraph 28).

However, Purle HHJ held a different view. He reflected on another example in which a requisite majority is obtained on a vote marked objected to: “But let us suppose that no creditor in fact challenges the result. We are left with an IVA which has been approved on a disputed debt, which turns out later never to have been owed. Then, just as much in that case as in the example given by Registrar Baister, it can be said that there never was, as a matter of fact and law, the requisite majority. It would follow that the debtor could, when in breach of the IVA, let us say two years later, turn round and say: ‘There was no IVA and I cannot be made bankrupt for being in breach of its terms’, thus making the time-limited right of challenge or appeal redundant. It seems to me that that is such a startling result that it cannot possibly have been intended by Parliament and the draftsman of the Rules. For my part, I would not and do not construe this part of the 1986 Act or the rules as giving rise to those consequences. I would on the contrary construe section 262(8) and rule 5.22(6) as precluding that result” (paragraph 29).

Consequently, in relation to decisions made at, or in relation to, a S257 meeting, Purle HHJ concluded that “If those decisions are not challenged, in my judgment, they should stand once the relevant report has been made. The time limits, which are tight, set out in both the Act and the Rules, should be applied and not subverted by a collateral attack months or even years down the line” (paragraph 32). In this case, he therefore decided that “as there was no challenge under section 262, the matter cannot be taken now by the debtor. Likewise, there was no challenge (assuming there could have been one) under paragraph 5.22, under which the court’s power is expressly exercisable only if the circumstances giving rise to the appeal are such as to give rise to unfair prejudice or material irregularity. There is no unfair prejudice in holding the debtor to an IVA which he promoted nor was the irregularity material in light of the affected creditors’ knowledge and subsequent ratification” (paragraph 36).

Marshalling and the difference between equity of exoneration and the right of subrogation

Highbury Pension Fund Management Company & Anor v Zirfin Investments Management Limited & Ors (3 October 2013) ([2013] EWCA Civ 1283)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1283.html

I summarised the first instance decision at http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-23. The key conclusion of that decision – that Highbury had a right to marshal securities, even though there was no common debtor (the claims attached to properties of the debtor and the guarantors) – was not the subject of the appeal. Highbury sought to appeal Norris J’s conclusion that its rights over the properties charged to Barclays could not be exercised until Barclays had been paid in full, because Highbury’s rights were restricted so by the wording of the guarantee.

The Appeal judges agreed that the guarantee did not restrict the application of the principle of marshalling. Lord Justice Lewison explained the difference between (i) Zirfin’s right to become subrogated to Barclays’ rights by reason of the guarantee but only after Barclays had been paid in full and (ii) the right of equity of exoneration existing between Zirfin and the Affiliates (the primary debtor): “Where two persons are liable to a creditor for the same debt, but as between themselves one of them is primarily liable and the other is only secondarily liable, the debtor with the secondary liability is entitled to be exonerated from liability by the primary debtor. This equity, unlike the remedy of subrogation, is not dependent on actual payment by the secondary debtor. As soon as the liability is crystallised he is entitled to go to a court” (paragraph 19).

Consequently, it was decided that, on the application of the principle of marshalling, Highbury was entitled to realise the securities notwithstanding that Barclays had not been paid in full, Barclays still retaining priority to repayment over Highbury.

Marshalling again: it can come down to the wording

Szepietowski v The National Crime Agency (formerly SOCA) (23 October 2013) ([2013] UKSC 65)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2013/65.html

In 2005, the Assets Recovery Agency (which later became SOCA and, later still, the NCA) pursued assets acquired by Mr Szepietowski and this resulted in a settlement involving the granting of a second charge in favour of SOCA over a property, which was charged also to RBS, entitling SOCA to recover up to £1.24m from the proceeds of sale of the property. In 2009, the property was sold but, after RBS’ debt was paid off, SOCA received only £1,324. Consequently, SOCA sought to invoke the right to marshal against another property charged to RBS (“Ashford House”). The lower courts had held that SOCA’s marshalling claim was well-founded and Mrs Szepietowski appealed to the Supreme Court.

Although the Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal, the justices’ reasons for doing so fell roughly into two camps.

Three justices held that marshalling failed partly because the charge did not create, or acknowledge the existence of, any debt from Mrs Szepietowski to SOCA; it simply provided that she was bound to pay SOCA an amount up to £1.24m from the sale proceeds. Lord Neuberger concluded that “where the second mortgage does not secure a debt owing from the mortgagor to the second mortgagee, the right to marshal should not normally exist once the common property is sold by the first mortgagee and the proceeds of sale distributed, because there would be no surviving debt owing from the mortgagor to the second mortgagee. In such a case, equity should proceed on the basis that the second mortgagee normally takes the risk that the first mortgagee will realise his debt through the sale of the common property rather than the sale of the other property” (paragraph 56). He could not conceive of a case, but did not rule out its existence in exceptional circumstances, in which marshalling effectively could create a secured debt, where in the absence of marshalling no debt existed at all.

However, the two other justices did not consider that the existence or non-existence of a personal liability was the key to deciding whether marshalling was possible. Lord Carnwath agreed that the appeal should be allowed because the terms of the settlement entitled SOCA to recover a sum from property with the specific exclusion of Ashford House and the wording impliedly excluded recourse to any source for payment other than those identified. “If SOCA had wished to include Ashford House as potentially recoverable property, they should have done so specifically, rather than hope to bring it in later by an equitable backdoor” (paragraph 91).

Company/directors were entitled to challenge Administrators’ appointment (but failed in any event)

Closegate Hotel Development (Durham) Limited & Anor v McLean & Ors (25 October 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3237 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3237.html

The companies challenged the validity of the Administrators’ appointments by a QFCH on the basis that the floating charge was not enforceable.

Firstly, the companies had to overcome the hurdle as to whether they had authority to make the application, given that Paragraph 64 of Schedule B1 states that, without the Administrators’ consent, a company may not exercise management power – defined as a power that interferes with the exercise of the Administrators’ powers. Richard Snowden QC did not see this as a difficulty for the companies: “I do not think that paragraph 64 is intended to catch a power on the part of the directors to cause the company to make an application challenging the logically prior question of whether the administrators have any powers to exercise at all” (paragraph 6).

The facts of this case involved lengthy exchanges between the companies and the bank in relation to the companies’ complaints against the bank subject to litigation and proposals to settle the debt due to the bank, which ended with the bank’s appointment of Administrators. It was the companies’ case that “the Companies reasonably understood the communications from the Bank and the course of conduct between them to be a representation that neither side should take any action whilst negotiations between them were continuing” (paragraph 44) and thus the bank had been estopped from taking the action of appointing Administrators. Mr Snowden QC decided on the evidence presented that the companies stood no real prospect of establishing that the bank’s statements or conduct amounted to a clear and unequivocal representation that the bank would not exercise its rights to take enforcement action and therefore the bank was not estopped from appointing Administrators.


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Still not the Eurosail Judgment

0937 Antelope

Even if you’ve been living in a cave for the past few weeks, you will not have escaped the flood of comprehensive legal updates on Eurosail. Consequently, I’m not even going to attempt to cover the case here.

Instead, something completely different: I thought I would convey my thoughts on the recent SIP re-drafts, now that the consultations are over.

SIP3A (Scotland)

I feel ill-equipped to comment on this SIP, so I am sure that my peripheral thoughts stack up poorly against those of you who deal with Trust Deeds on a daily basis.

Having seen the substantial tone change of the draft SIP3 (E&W), i.e. the stripping-out of a vast amount of prescription from the current SIP3, I felt that this new draft SIP3A stood in stark contrast, containing much of the existing prescription and even adding to it in some areas. I sense that a fairly large proportion of insolvency professionals prefer prescription to principles – as I mention below, personally I don’t place myself in that crowd – but I do wonder whether even those people would feel that this SIP3A draft has the balance wrong.

I had to chuckle at the SIP consultation response form mentioning that “matters being addressed in the PTD Regulations will not be included in SIP3A”; I counted at least 13 paragraphs that pretty-much simply repeat a statutory requirement. For example, what exactly is the point of including in a SIP: “Trustees should comply with the procedures for bringing the Protected Trust Deed to a close as detailed in the Regulations”?!

I understand that I was not alone in questioning the SIP’s directions regarding face-to-face meetings. Put into an historical context, I am not surprised to see this draft SIP3A require visits to the business premises in all cases where the debtor is carrying on a business. E&W followed a 2-stage process to drop physical meetings for IVAs: the current SIP3 (E&W) requires meetings in person for trading individuals, but – thankfully, in my opinion – the re-draft SIP3 has left this to the IP’s judgment. However, do PTD Trustees need to take the same incremental steps? Can we not focus on what is the purpose of a physical meeting? Are all debtors in business so untrustworthy and difficult to read that the IP/staff have to check out every story for themselves?

There seem to have been some unhelpful cut-and-pastes from the AiB Guidance, resulting in some contradictions and some matters, which I feel are not fit for a SIP (e.g. the purely procedural requirement to advise the AiB of the debtor’s date of birth). There seems to be a contradiction in that para 6.9 requires the IP to “quantify the equity in each property as accurately as possible before the debtor signs the Trust Deed”, but para 6.13 sets a deadline of the presentation of the Trust Deed to creditors. This para also prescribes how the equity should be assessed, but it seems to me that desk-tops and drive-bys might meet para 6.13 but not the (excessive?) accuracy criterion set out in para 6.9. And what if the equity is clearly hopelessly negative? Does the IP really have to go to the expense of quantifying it as accurately as possible before the Trust Deed is signed?

I have never been keen on SIP3A covering fees issues that I feel should be placed in SIP9. This historical mismatch has led to a fees process for PTDs that, to my mind, has never mirrored that for other insolvency processes as per SIP9. This issue is repeated in this draft. For example, SIP3A para 8.4 refers to payments to associated parties as defined in statute, whereas for some time now SIP9 has wrapped up, not only payments to statutorily-defined associates, but also payments “that could reasonably be perceived as presenting a threat to the office-holder’s objectivity by virtue of a professional or personal relationship” (para 25). SIP3A’s overlap, but not quite, of this SIP9 point is less than helpful: Trustees might be lulled into a false sense of security in feeling that they are complying with SIP3A whilst overlooking a breach of SIP9.

I also feel that it is a shame that this draft repeats the current SIP3A words: “all fees must be properly approved in the course of the Trust Deed and in advance of being paid” (para 8.6). I know what the drafter is getting at, but how is it that fees that are properly set out in a Trust Deed, which has subsequently achieved protected status, are not already “properly approved”? And why do Trustees have to go through an additional step in the process that is not required for any other insolvency process per SIP9?

SIP3 (IVAs)

I understand that some have taken issue with the draft SIP’s perceived more onerous tone. I can see that repeated use of words like “be satisfied”, “ensure”, “demonstrate”, and “assessment” seem more onerous than the current heavily-prescriptive SIP3, but, speaking from my perspective as formerly working within a regulator, I am not sure if it is intended to mean much more in practice. If IPs are not already recording what they do, how they do it, and what conclusions they come to, I would have thought they were at risk of criticism by their authorising body. In addition, many of the requirements relate to having “procedures in place” to achieve an objective, which is how I think it should be – IPs should be free to use their own methods applied to their own circumstances; I believe that it is the outcome that should be defined, not the process – but I do accept that this means more thinking-time for IPs and perhaps more uncertainty as to whether they have the processes right so that they’re not doing too little or too much.

Overall, I think that the draft SIP focuses attention where it is needed; it highlights the softer skills needed by an IP that draw on ethical principles rather than statutory requirements.

I also welcome the reduced prescription. Although I suspect that many IPs will not change their standards as regards, for example, content of Nominees’ reports and Proposals, at least they may find that they are picked up less frequently than in the past where a document has failed to tick a particular SIP3 box… provided, of course, that they meet the principle of providing clear and accurate information to enable debtors and creditors to make informed decisions.

There are a few areas where I feel that more careful drafting is needed. For example, there seems to be a difference in expectations as regards the advice received by a debtor depending on who gives the advice. Paragraph 11 d states that, if an IP is giving the advice, “the debtor is provided with an explanation of all the options available, and the advantages and disadvantages of each, so that the solution best suited to the debtor’s circumstances can be identified and is understood by the debtor”. However, the level of satisfaction required by an IP who becomes involved with a debtor at a later stage is simply that he/she “has had, or receives, the appropriate advice in relation to an IVA” (paragraphs 12 a and 13 a). It would seem to me that “appropriate advice in relation to an IVA” may be interpreted as being far more limited than that described in paragraph 11 d.

Although I applaud the move to freeing IPs to exercise their professional judgment as to how to meet the principles and objectives, I confess that there are a few current SIP3 items that I am sad to see go. And having griped about SIP3A’s interference with fees issues, I feel doubly embarrassed to admit that I quite like the current SIP3’s treatment of disclosure of payments to referrers, which is narrowed in scope in the draft new SIP3 (e.g. under the new draft, a referring DMC’s fees (whether the DMC is independent of the IP/firm or not) for handling the debtor’s previous DMP need not be disclosed). I also like the current SIP3’s requirement to disclose information in reports if the original fees estimate will be exceeded (para 8.2) and the current SIP3’s direction on treatment of proxies where modifications have been proposed (paras 7.8 and 7.9). But I accept that, as a supporter of the principles-based SIP, I should be prepared to let these go.

Talking of principles v prescription…

SIP16

Before the draft revised SIP16 had been released, I had been encouraged by the Insolvency Service’s statement dated 12 March 2013, reporting the Government’s announcement of a review of pre-packs, which stated: “Strengthened measures are being introduce (sic) to improve the quality of the information insolvency practitioners are required to provide on pre-pack deals” (http://www.bis.gov.uk/insolvency/news/news-stories/2013/Mar/PrePackStatement). I was therefore most disappointed to read a re-draft SIP16 adding 14 new items of information for disclosure – would this really improve the quality of information or simply the quantity?

For example, would the addition of “a statement confirming that the transaction enables the statutory purpose of the administration to be achieved and that the price achieved was the best reasonably obtainable in the circumstances” really improve the quality? And what exactly is meant by “best price”? Does that take account of, say, the avoidance of some hefty liabilities on achieving a going-concern sale or the security of getting paid consideration up-front rather than substantially deferred from a less than reliable source or the avoidance of large costs of disposal and risk of depressed future realisations?

There also seems to be a mismatch between the explicit purpose of the disclosure – justification of why a pre-pack was undertaken, to demonstrate that the administrator has acted with due regard for creditors’ interests – and the bullet-point list. For example, how exactly does disclosure of the fact that the business/assets have been acquired from an IP within the previous 24 months (“or longer if the administrator deems that relevant to creditors’ understanding”!) support that objective? Such an acquisition may raise questions regarding the way the business was managed prior to the sale or it might even raise some suspicions of a serial pre-packer at work (wherever that gets you), but I think it contributes little, if anything, to the justification of the pre-pack sale itself.

I understand that there has been some dissatisfaction at the introduction of a 7 calendar day timescale (counting from when?) for disclosure. Personally, I think that it is damaging to the profession if creditors are not made aware of a sale for some time, but I would have preferred for there to be a relaxation of the detailed disclosure requirements so that initial notification, even if it is not complete in all respects (surely much of the detail can be provided later?), is pretty immediate. There may be all kinds of practical difficulties in getting a complete SIP16 disclosure out swiftly, particularly with the proposed additions, and I think it would be an own-goal if this meant that some IPs relied on the “unless it is impractical to do so” words to delay issuing the disclosure until they were sure that their SIP16 disclosure was perfect in all respects. Fortunately, I feel that IPs generally are cognisant of the criticisms/suspicions levelled at the profession when it comes to pre-packs and most will pretty-much clear their desks to ensure that a complete SIP16 disclosure gets out on time.

Finally, returning to my point about unnecessarily repeating statute in SIPs: it is a shame that the drafters have not taken the opportunity to remove the words: “the administrator should hold the initial creditors’ meeting as soon as practicable after appointment”, which apart from omitting the word “reasonably” (is that intended?) is an exact repetition of Paragraph 51(2) of Schedule B1 of the IA86.

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I could go on, but I’m sure I’ve bored you all already. I am certain that many of you will have come up with many more thoughts on the drafts – after all, that is the purpose of sending them out for consultation – I do hope that you have conveyed them to your RPB so that the resultant SIPs can be well-crafted, practical, unambiguous documents that support the high ethical standards of the profession.