Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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Part 18: Reporting and Remuneration

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Finally, I’ve reached the end of the crazy-busy season and I can get back to the New Rules. This post deals with Part 18 of the Rules: Reporting and Remuneration.

I’m very pleased to see that the Insolvency Service has taken the opportunity to iron out some of the overly prescriptive, clunky and vague rules.   For example:

  • Fixing the prescriptive: stripping back on the loooong list of final report contents
  • Fixing the clunky: new approaches to the ADM-to-CVL conversion process and to reporting for changes in office holder or ADM extensions
  • Fixing the vague: settling the debates on issuing a fees estimate before being appointed as liquidator and on the process of seeking preferential creditors’ approval to fees in Para 52(1)(b) Administrations

Other changes have slipped in too, mainly as a consequence of the more material changes affecting other areas of practice, such as the abolition of final meetings.

For a step-by-step guide to Part 18, including many rules that I have not touched on in this post, I would recommend Jo Harris’ webinar, available now through The Compliance Alliance – contact info@thecompliancealliance.co.uk.

 

Part 18: Scope

Part 18 is one of the now “common” parts. I think it does help to bring together the procedures that are common to all cases… but it’s not quite this simple. Part 18 covers reporting and remuneration for Administrations, all Liquidations and Bankruptcies. It does not deal with VA reporting. Neither does it deal will all the closing reporting requirements – bits of these appear in the case-specific parts. Ho hum.

One key point to remember is that for the most part the changes apply across the board, so we need to be ready to report and seek rem under the New Rules from the off.

The exceptions are, as previously mentioned, progress reporting on the old pre-2010 appointments and any progress reports that fall due before 6 April 2017. But for everything else – including closure processes on all cases – the New Rules apply.

 

Contents of Progress Reports

There are some pesky little changes in here. One intriguing change is that, no longer must we detail “assets that remain to be realised”, but instead we need to detail “what remains to be done” (R18.3(1)(h)). I know that we usually do provide a one-liner on this, but isn’t it charming for the Insolvency Service to make it a statutory requirement..?

R18.3(6) accommodates the significant change in the process of an ADM moving to CVL. It’s good to see the Insolvency Service have yet another go at getting this process working smoothly. In my mind, the New Rules improve the process… although I still don’t see why we need to rely on the Registrar of Companies (“RoC”) to tell us when the ADM ends and the CVL starts. Regrettably, though, the trigger for the move has been set down in the Act, so the New Rules simply try to make the best of this awkward situation.

R3.60 sets out the new ADM-to-CVL process. The Administrator submits the Notice of the Move together with their final report to the RoC and copies the pack to creditors etc. Once the Notice is registered, the former Administrator informs the Liquidator of “anything which happens after the date of the final progress report and before the registration of the notice which the administrator would have included in the final report had it happened before the date of the report” (R3.60(5)).

Consequently, within the Liquidator’s first progress report, they must include “a note of any information received by the liquidator from the former administrator” (R18.3(6)).

This process sounds a bit odd when you remember that usually the Administrator is the Liquidator – will the RPBs expect the file to contain a “note to self”..? I think we get the idea though and at least the new process avoids the uncomfortable position of completing and issuing a final Administration report after having vacated office.

 

Timing of Progress Reports

In principle, nothing has changed on timing. However, again a couple of welcome simplifications in other areas will affect reporting complications with which we have all become familiar under the current Rules.

In future, the 6/12-monthly reporting routine will not be affected by the following events:

  • A change in office holder: under the New Rules, incoming office holders are required to deliver a notice to members/creditors (depending on the case type) “of any matters about which the succeeding (office holder) thinks the members/creditors should be informed” (Rs18.6(3), 18.7(4), 18.8(3)). This removes the need for a formal progress report to draw a line under the change, so the original progress reporting routine remains unaffected. The New Rules are vague on what triggers this requirement, but in my view it is likely to mean that nothing is required if the office holder changes but the practice does not.
  • Extension of an Administration: under the New Rules, a progress report is no longer required in order to seek approval of an extension. The New Rules simply require the Administrator to send, along with the court application or the notice requesting creditors’ consent, “the reasons why the administrator is seeking an extension” (R3.54(2)).

This is all good stuff, thanks Insolvency Service.

These changes do leave me with a question, though: what if you are already dealing with a case with an altered reporting schedule, i.e. an extended ADM or a case involving a change in office holder where the court was not asked to over-ride the current rules’ effect of changing the reporting timeline? After 6 April 2017, will you need to revert to the pre-extension/office holder-change schedule or will you continue to produce 6/12-monthly reports from the date of the last pre-April report? I have heard rumours that the Insolvency Service’s intention is the latter, but personally I think that the wording of the New Rules would require such cases to revert to the old schedule.   That’s another question for the Insolvency Service’s blog, I reckon.

(UPDATE 17/01/2017: the Insolvency Service responded to my query on their blog: “It was not the intention that where a reporting cycle in any relevant process had already been reset, it would need to be changed again as a result of the commencement of the new rules. As you have suggested, we had identified that a transitional provision would make it clear that this should not happen, and we are looking to see whether and how we can insert such a provision into Schedule 2 of the new rules.”)

(UPDATE 23/03/2017: the Insolvency Service has indeed introduced a fix via the recently-issued Amendment Rules.  This fixes the position for changes in office holder such that, if you have an existing case with an amended reporting schedule due to a pre-6/4/17 change in office holder, then after 6/4/17 you continue to report according to your amended schedule.  The position is a little less satisfactory for already-extended ADMs: whilst it seems that the Insolvency Service has attempted to apply the same principle to these cases, I am not convinced that the Amendment Rules wording delivers this effect… although casparjblog has suggested a possible wriggle-through – see the Insolvency Service’s blog at https://goo.gl/IE0pmK.)

(UPDATE 02/05/2017: in Dear IP 76, the Insolvency Service expresses the view that the Amendment Rule is “sufficiently clear” that the reporting schedule for an already-extended ADM should continue, rather than be re-set to the original schedule.)

 

Contents of “Final Accounts” and “Final Reports”

The abolition of final meetings in Liquidations and Bankruptcies necessitates a change in the final reporting processes. The new processes can be found at:

  • Rs5.9 and 5.10 for MVLs;
  • R6.28 for CVLs;
  • R7.71 for Compulsory Liquidations; and
  • R10.87 for Bankruptcies.

I won’t cover them here, but suffice to say that creditors (and/or members/bankrupt) are provided with a final account (or, in Bankruptcies, a final report) 8 weeks before the office holder obtains their release.

The contents of these final accounts/reports are found in R18.14. Delightfully, the Insolvency Service has decided to lighten up on the miserable prescription that had been introduced by the 2010 Rules (e.g. no more statements of the aggregate numbers of preferential and unsecured creditors or that accounts have been reconciled with those held by the SoS) – thank you again!

In case you’re wondering about Administrations, R3.53 contains details of some of the contents of an ADM final progress report… but because, in Administrations, the final document is called a final progress report, the Part 18 rules on the contents of progress reports also apply to Administration final progress reports (plus an additional requirement slipped in to R18.3(2)).

 

Remuneration: Circulating Fees Estimates

The biggest change in the remuneration chapters is something very welcome: finally, we can stop debating whether it is possible for an IP to issue a fees estimate (and/or other fees-related information) before they are appointed as Liquidator. R18.16(10) states that “a proposed liquidator” may deliver the information. Excellent!

Of course, the New Rules will transform the whole S98 process beyond recognition – this is a huge topic for another blog post entirely.

 

Remuneration Niggles

Yes, I know I can be pedantic. If you have visited the Insolvency Service’s blog, you will have seen my query on R18.18(3), which could be read as requiring every Administrator’s fees to be agreed by creditors by a “decision procedure”, which would have had unexpected consequences for Para 52(1)(b) ADMs with only secured creditors in the frame. Thankfully, the Service is on the case and hopefully this will be fixed before April.  (UPDATE 23/03/2017: the recently-issued Amendment Rules have fixed this issue so that Para 52(1)(b) case fees are subject to approval only by secureds/prefs.)

Another niggle of mine is that the wording of the time costs basis has been changed – again. I think it passed by many of us that the 2015 Rules changed the time costs basis from “the time properly given… in attending to matters arising in the administration/winding up/bankruptcy” to “the time properly given… in attending to matters arising in the administration/winding up/bankruptcy as set out in the fees estimate”. Those words in italics have been removed for the New Rules – so if you were diligent enough to change the wording of your standard resolutions last year, unfortunately you’ll have to put them back to the way they were pre-2015.

 

Preferential Creditors’ Approval

The New Rules resolve another long-running debate: how were we to read the current R2.106(5A)(b)(ii), which sets out that Administrators who have made a Para 52(1)(b) statement and who have made or intend to make a distribution to preferential creditors need to seek the approval to fees of “preferential creditors whose debts amount to more than 50% of the preferential debts of the company, disregarding debts of any creditor who does not respond to an invitation to give or withhold approval”. The question has always been: what happens if no preferential creditor votes, does this mean that you have approval?

R18.18(4) eliminates all doubt. It states that in future Administrators will need to seek preferential creditors’ approval (on relevant cases) “in a decision procedure”. This is a New Rules-defined term, which I will not go into here (again, this is another blog post entirely), but it does mean without a doubt that there will need to be at least one positive vote to reach a decision.

A second long-running question on the current R2.106(5A)(b)(ii) has also been: what if you have paid preferential creditors’ claims in full, do you still need to ask these creditors to approve your fees?

This conundrum is solved by Rs15.11 and 15.31(1)(a), which indicate that in these circumstances only preferential creditors who have not been paid in full are circulated and that, if there’s no claim left, the creditor has no vote. These two rules are specific to creditors voting in decision procedures in Administrations though, so they won’t help you in any other cases (including, I assume, where secured creditors are being asked to approve fees in Administrations).

 

As mentioned earlier, there are many more rules in Part 18 that are essential-reading, but if you prefer to hear about them, drop an email to info@thecompliancealliance.co.uk and ask about Jo’s webinar.

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The New Rules: Part 1… of many

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We’ve all heard overviews of the new Rules by now, but time is short – less than 5 months to go – and so it’s about time that we started delving into the nitty gritty.

 

Starting at the start

It would be wrong to assume that, with the exception of the SBEE changes that everyone has already talked about, the new Rules are simply the old rules in a different order. I thought that starting with the introductory Rules and definitions would be straightforward and frankly dull, but the new Rules are peppered with unexpected intricacies that make such assumptions dangerous.

 

New Rules, new approach to transitional provisions

No doubt you have heard that the new Rules are a departure from the tradition of leaving old cases to run out under the old rules. This has some advantages: no longer will we need to think twice about the date of an appointment before deciding how to approach a statutory matter, nor will we need to maintain old checklists, diaries and templates to cope with a variety of aged cases. Eliminating this complication should mean that we could run all cases, present and future, on one system… but is that true…?

 

If you don’t want the confusion, clear away pre-2010 CVLs (and MVLs)

The transitional provisions (Schedule 2 of the new Rules) refer specifically to cases commencing (i.e. orders in the case of bankruptcies (“BKYs”) and compulsory liquidations (“WUCs”)) before 6 April 2010:

  • BKYs & WUCs: this is the easy bit – the new Rules’ provisions on progress reports do not apply
  • CVLs: “a progress meeting required by section 104A of the Act” continues and “R4.223-CVL as it had effect immediately before 6 April 2010 continues to apply”
  • No specific reference to MVLs – did the Insolvency Service assume that all pre-2010 MVLs would be closed?

In pretty-much all other respects, the new Rules apply to these old cases.

What is “a progress meeting”?! Search all you like in the current Act and Rules, you won’t find one. And what is the relevance of S104A to meetings? S104A was the method used to replace the old S105 annual meetings by progress reports.

I think that the Insolvency Service planned for annual meetings to continue on old CVLs, as well as the old six-monthly R&Ps, which had been required under the old R4.223… but I accept that this takes a bit of a stretch of the imagination. Perhaps we will receive some clarity before April.

(UPDATE 23/03/17: the recently-issued Amendment Rules have changed the references to “progress meeting” and S104A so that it now refers to “meetings required by sections 93 and 105 of the Act”.  Therefore, it seems to me that annual meetings on pre-04/2010 MVLs and CVLs should continue to be convened after 04/2017.)

 

Perhaps also avoid calling a meeting to be held after 6 April 2017

Schedule 2 also includes transitional and savings provisions to enable meetings called before the Rules’ commencement date to be held after that date and for all the usual items resolved upon in meetings, e.g. fixing the basis of fees, to be decided. In a similar way, the old rules will apply also where an invitation to vote on a resolution by correspondence was issued prior to 6 April 2017 but where the deadline for voting falls afterward.

The Schedule includes potential catch-all references, e.g. “governance of the meeting”, stating that “the 1986 Rules relating to the following continue to apply”. Presumably, this will also cover matters such as adjournments.

It is not clear to me whether these transitional provisions will also work where a draft final report has been issued but where, say, R4.126(1D) kicks in after 6 April 2017. That is, what should happen where you have not complied with R4.49D, e.g. because something unexpected has occurred in the 8-week period? Should you follow old R4.126(1D) and issue a revised draft final report and fresh notice of a final meeting under the old rules? It looks like it to me, but I would prefer to avoid straddling the April date with any meeting convened under the old rules.

 

Other transitionals

Schedule 2 contains many other transitional and savings provisions, including:

  • old rules apply where any progress report became due pre-6 April 2017 but where it has not been issued by that date;
  • conversions from Administration (“ADM”) to CVL started under the old rules generally continue; and
  • all statements of affairs due on pre-6 April 2017 cases continued to be expected under the old rules.

 

(UPDATE 23/03/2017: the recently-issued Amendment Rules have resolved the issues explored in these next two sections.)

How long is one month?

The mind-bending Schedule 5, “Calculation of Time Periods”, also appears in Part 1 of the Rules.

It starts sensibly enough: “days” are calculated according to the CPR (there is no definition of “weeks” in the Rules).

There are two ways of calculating “months”, depending on whether the date specified is the start date (e.g. the time period within which a progress report should be issued or the progress report review period) or the end date. As I’m struggling to think of any specified end dates involving months, let’s look at a scenario where the start date is specified:

  1. the month in which the period ends is the specified number of months after the month in which it begins, and
  2. the date in the month on which the period ends is:
    • the date corresponding to the date in the month on which it begins, or
    • if there is no such date in the month in which it ends, the last day of that month.

If I’m reading this correctly, then one month from 10 April is 10 May – one month and one day.

 

Reporting transactions on a period-end date

Let’s say that you received some money on 10 April 2017 on a CVL that began on 10 April 2016. How would this be reported in your progress reports?

  • The review period of your first progress report would be 10 April 2016 to 10 April 2017, so you would report it.
  • The review period of your second progress report would be 10 April 2017 to 10 April 2018… err… so you would report it..?!

This cannot be right, can it?! It would skew all your R&Ps, as the c/f and b/f figures would not tally. In the same way, your time cost breakdowns would be confusing if you incurred any time costs on the threshold day.

What I’m struggling with is why the Insolvency Service has seen fit to redefine the length of a month: what was wrong with the way us mortals measure time?

(UPDATE 17/01/2017: the Insolvency Service responded to my query on their blog: “We have taken legal advice on this matter and will be looking at whether and how we can clarify the definition of a period expressed in months in Schedule 5 so that there is no day which occurs in two different reporting cycles.”  Phew!)

(UPDATE 23/03/2017: the recently-released Amendment Rules have fixed this – no more time-shifting: a month is a month long again.)

 

So what is the deadline for sending out progress reports?

Let’s take an ADM with a period end date of 10 April 2017. You have “one month after the end of the period” in which to deliver a progress report. Setting aside whether “after” starts the day after – which would add another day to your timescale – let’s assume that this period ends on 10 May 2017.

Ah, but there’s a catch. The report must be “delivered”, not “sent”, by this date. The new Rules define “delivery” as follows:

  • 1st class post is “treated as delivered on the 2nd business day after the day on which it is posted”; and
  • 2nd class post is “treated as delivered on the 4th business day after the day on which it is posted”.

Therefore, you need to factor the delivery times into your statutory timescale. If you left it until 9 May 2017 to put the progress reports in the post, you would be too late. When the new Rules refer to “deliver”, in fact they are referring to the time that the document is deemed to be received by the recipient.

 

So will every statutory deadline need to factor in the time to deliver the document?

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. For example, the new Rule on issuing progress reports in CVLs – R18.7 – sets the 2-month deadline with reference to the sending of the report, not its delivery. “Send” is not defined in the new Rules.  (UPDATE 23/03/17: the Amendment Rules have changed this “send” to “deliver”, so that all filing deadlines are now consistent.)

However, notwithstanding this inconsistency (I thought that making the rules consistent was one of the main objectives behind the new Rules!), you could do worse than factor time periods to deliver documents into your processes. At least that way you should always meet the deadlines (and you would avoid any debate over semantics -v- the perceived “spirit” of the Rules with your regulator).

 

Opting out

In her November Technical Update https://goo.gl/XBTAFV, Jo Harris summarised the new Rules under which creditors can send to office holders a notice asking to be excluded from most future standard circulars. This provision – along with the wider website use described below – are two significant changes introduced by the Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Act 2015 that appear in Part 1 of the Rules.

I won’t go into detail on these points, but I will just add to Jo’s observations:

  • Ensuring that you provide information on opting out in your “first communication with a creditor” could take some managing. You will need to make sure you include this when you first communicate with newly-discovered creditors. The new Rules are also silent on how this applies to a successor office holder.
  • As Jo mentions, you will need to designate opted-out creditors differently on your system, but also ensure that they are included in the exempted circulars, such as “notices of intended distribution” (R1.37)… or should that be “notices of proposed dividend” (R1.39)… or perhaps even “notices of intention to declare a dividend” (R14.29)!
  • If you are taking on a consecutive insolvency proceeding, you will need to ask the predecessor for a list of opted-out creditors, as you must exclude them from the defined circulars.

Personally, I don’t expect many creditors to opt out – after all, if they are not engaged enough to be interested in future updates, then are they likely to be sufficiently engaged to sign and return an opting-out notice? However, this new section will add yet another page (no really – the prescribed contents do go on a bit) of information to first circulars, which we will need to take care to get right.

 

Wider website use

Finally, this is something in the new Rules that put a smile on my face! Again as Jo explained in her Update, under the new Rules office holders will be able to issue to creditors just one notice explaining that future communications will only be uploaded to a website, rather than issue such a notice every time a communication is uploaded as is currently the case.

I have heard some unrest about this provision. Many feel that it will simply help to distant creditors even further from the process. I agree, it will. However, I do not feel that this is sufficient reason to avoid taking advantage of this provision. The Insolvency Service seems to have been charged with the aims of increasing engagement and reducing costs – two aims that are clearly in opposition to one another, as demonstrated also by the new Rules’ abolition of office holder-convened physical meetings – but I wonder how much engagement really is achieved by progress reports that are necessarily unwieldy in order to comply with the plethora of SIPs and statutory requirements. On the other hand, I think that the new provision allowing for website use alone most certainly will reduce costs.

 

Part 1: just the beginning

As I hope I’ve demonstrated, there are plenty of revisions in Part 1 of the new Rules that will require some thoughtful planning… and that generate more than the odd furrowed brow. I am looking forward to posing a few questions on the Insolvency Service’s forum, which we expect to be launched in the next few weeks.

If you would like to listen to my webinar that explores this Part in more depth and that will be available in the next few days, please drop a line to info@thecompliancealliance.co.uk.

The second webinar in this series, which will review the new Rules on Reporting and Remuneration, will be presented by Jo Harris in a few weeks’ time.


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The Insolvency Rules Modernisation Project: an ugly duckling no more?

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The Insolvency Service’s work on the modernisation of the Insolvency Rules has appeared swan-like: to the outside world, the project seems to have drifted on serenely, but I get the feeling that those on the inside have been paddling furiously.  I set out here how the tome has been developing, as described in an update received from the Service last week.  Please note that this project is work in progress and the items as they are described below may evolve yet further before the Rules are finalised.

The Service reports that their consultation, which closed in January 2014, generated over a thousand policy and drafting points for consideration.  Their target remains to have a new set of Rules commencing in April 2016, although they are seeking to publish finalised Rules in autumn 2015 so that all of us who will be applying the Rules can get our houses in order for the big day.  That means that the Insolvency Rules Committee will need to be provided with the bulk of the new Rules to review in spring 2015.

The Service has endeavoured to keep those of us who have expressed a particular interest in the project informed and engaged in the process of developing the draft Rules, holding meetings to discuss related chunks and following this up with “we’d appreciate your comments on…” email exchanges.  Personally, I have been impressed by these efforts, although I have been conscious that such meetings and exchanges barely scratch the surface.  Although we might expect many Rules to remain intact, I envisage that the “simple” task of ensuring consistency throughout as regards, for example, notice requirements wraps in and has a knock-on effect on a whole host of interconnected Rules.  That Herculean task of dealing with the detail is left to the Insolvency Service team and, once the ever-changing impact of other government reviews and Bills is factored in, I can see why the Rules project has a projected 2016 end point.

About-Face

Good on the Service for taking the opportunity to propose some changes that were bound to upset some people!  The Service’s recent update illustrates the value of consultation, as they have reported that consideration of consultation responses has resulted in some proposed changes of direction:

  • Withdrawal of the proposed new requirement for personal service of winding-up petition;
  • Return of the current requirement to disclose any prior professional relationships of proposed administrators; and
  • Return of the ability to have contributory members on liquidation committees.

Further Progress

The consultation responses have led to further proposed changes to the draft Rules:

  • Withdrawal of the requirement for the appointor and committee to check the IPs’ security;
  • The Rules on disclaimers and on proxies will form separate parts (in the previous draft, these appeared to be scattered somewhat within the chapters dealing with different insolvency processes); and
  • Clarification of the requisite majority rules for CVAs and IVAs.

I found that last item particularly interesting.  It was not until I came to scrutinise the Rules – both draft and existing – when I was looking at the consultation that I saw quite how confusing the provisions are.  When considering the impact of connected (or associated) creditors’ votes, I’d had the idea that these connected votes are stripped out and then one looks at which way the remaining unconnected creditors were voting: if more than 50% (in value) of those voting were voting against the VA Proposal, then the Proposal was not approved.  However, I recently realised that this is not what the current Rules say.

Rule 1.19(4) (and similarly R5.23(4), the IVA equivalent) states that “any resolution is invalid if those voting against it include more than half in value of the creditors, counting in these latter only those –
a) to whom notice of the meeting was sent;
b) whose votes are not to be left out of account under [rule 1.19(3)]; and
c) who are not, to the best of the chairman’s belief, persons connected with the company.”

“The creditors” that forms the denominator in this fraction does not relate to creditors voting, but effectively to creditors entitled to vote. This is supported by Dear IP (chapter 24, article 13). Thus, chairmen should be looking, not simply at the majority of unconnected votes cast, but whether the votes cast rejecting the Proposal amount to more than half of the total of unconnected creditors’ unsecured claims.

Now, it may just be me who has misunderstood this all this time (and I hasten to add that I have not had cause to look carefully at this Rule probably since my exam days).  However, I suspect I am not alone, as the draft new Rule dealt with this matter in exactly the same way, but in plainer English, which seemed to make the consequence far more stark and this resulted in quite some debate at the Service-hosted meeting that I attended as to exactly how the requisite majority rule should operate.

I am not sure whether the new draft Rules will follow the current Rules – or if it will reflect how I suspect many of us have been reading it for many years – but I am pleased to hear that the language used will be revisited so that hopefully it will be unequivocal.  As the Administration equivalent – R2.43(2) – clearly refers to total creditors’ claims, not only creditors voting, I suspect the new VA Rules will be consistent with this design.

Unsettled Policy

The Service has also described some areas that are still in the process of being explored.  In responding to my request that I share the Service’s update publicly, I was asked to make it very clear that this is – all – still work in progress and, particularly as regards the following items, the Service is still in inviting-comments-and-reflecting mode and they should not be treated as settled policy.

Creditors

I greeted with disappointment the news that, as some of the Administration consent requirements are contained in Schedule B1 of the Act, the Rules’ Administration approval requirements are unlikely to depart from the Act’s model.  In other words, where all secured creditors’ approvals are required for a matter, this is likely to be repeated in the new Rules.  I am pleased to note, however, that the Service has heard the complaints of difficulties in persuading some secured creditors to engage.

The Service seems to be a little more sympathetic to IPs’ difficulties when it comes to persuading preferential creditors to vote.  They are reflecting on what exactly is meant by the approval of 50% of preferential creditors etc. (for example, in R2.106(5A)): does this mean that at least one pref creditor needs to vote or does 50% of zero equal zero..?  Whether or not the new Rules will allow Para 52(1)(b) fees to be approved on a zero pref creditor basis, it seems very likely that a positive response will be needed, if not by a pref creditor, then by a secured one.

So what about the old chestnut: do paid creditors get a vote?   For some time even before I had left the IPA, this debate has rumbled through many corridors.  The current Rules present a problem: if one views a “creditor” as someone who had a claim at the relevant date, then, as an example, R2.106(5A) may be difficult to achieve.  How do you get a secured creditor who has been paid out to respond to a request to approve fees?  The key may be to seek their approval pdq on appointment before they are paid out, but what if that doesn’t happen?  Do the Rules really require their approval?  It hardly seems in the spirit of the Rules to give a creditor, whose debt has been – or even is going to be – discharged in full, the power to make decisions that could affect someone else’s recovery.

The Service has considered whether it might be possible to define creditors in the Rules to overcome this difficulty.  At present, however, their conclusion is that, largely because of existing provisions defining certain “creditor”s and “debt”s in the Act, seeking to resolve this via the Rules will be difficult to achieve.

Progress Reports

The Service’s proposals regarding progress reports appear more promising.  Several people have commented that the government’s drive to reduce costs in the insolvency process seems at odds with the ever-increasing, e.g. via the 2010 Rules, level of prescription around certain requirements such as the timing and content of progress reports.  Already, the courts seem to have improved the default position of the current Rules when it comes to block transfers of insolvency cases: I understand that more often than not courts are now making orders that disapply the Rules’ requirements for progress reports by departing office holders and the re-setting of the reporting clock to the date of the transfer order (which, if not so ordered by the court, would have the unfortunate consequence that the incoming office holder would need to produce a progress report on all of his transferred-in cases on the same day each year/six months).

The Service is currently considering the following proposals:

  • Dropping the Rules’ requirement for a progress report on a case transfer (although the court may order, or the incoming office holder may decide, otherwise);
  • Dropping the requirement for a progress report to accompany an Administration extension application/request for consent, although the Administrator would need to explain why the extension was being requested; and
  • Because progress reports would not be required in the circumstances above, the timing of the next progress report would not be affected by the event (i.e. by the case transfer or extension request); the case would continue to follow the reporting cycle relative to the insolvency date.

 

Phew!  It’s good to see that much progress has been made – the ugly duckling is already showing signs of maturing into a reasonably-looking bird – and I wish the team all the best in their labours of coming months.


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The Kempson Review of IP Fees – a case of Aussie Rules?

5436 Sydney

Whilst this atypical British weather may have brought out the Aussie in many of us, as we settle down to sipping a stubby over the barbie, Professor Kempson seems to be gazing at the Southern Cross a little more completely.

Kempson’s report to the Insolvency Service was tagged quite unceremoniously to the foot of the page, http://www.bis.gov.uk/insolvency/news/news-stories/2013/Jul/transparency-and-trust, which headines Mr Cables’ Transparency & Trust Paper. Her report even had to follow the uninspiring terms of reference of the pre-pack review and so here I will follow the antipodean theme and blog about the bottom item of that press release first.

I’ll also start from the back of Kempson’s report and summarise her recommendations, uncontaminated by any personal opinion (for the moment):

• Consideration of the potential for limited competitive tendering (section 6.1.1)
• A radical revision or replacement of SIP9 (section 6.1.2)
• Consideration of the Australian approach of providing a costs estimate at the outset of the case with an agreed cap on fees (section 6.1.2)
• The creation and adoption of a Code on the lines of the Insolvency Practitioners Association of Australia Code of Professional Practice (section 6.1.2)
• Some contextual information from an independent body to help creditors assess the reasonableness of the remuneration and disbursements (section 6.1.2)
• Greater oversight exercised by the Crown creditors, HMRC, RPS and PPF, working together (section 6.1.3)
• Consideration of Austria’s model of creditor protection associations acting on creditors’ committees (section 6.1.3)
• Reconsideration of the circumstances in which creditors’ meetings need not be held in Administrations (section 6.1.3)
• Exploration of non-time cost bases or a mixture of bases for fees (section 6.1.4)
• Increasing the debt threshold for bankruptcy petitions (section 6.1.5)
• Extending S273 to creditors’ petitions (section 6.1.5)
• Provision of information (e.g. Insolvency Service booklet) to debtors regarding the likely costs of bankruptcy (section 6.1.5)
• Provision of generic information (e.g. Insolvency Service booklet) to directors subject to personal guarantees as well as case-specific information, e.g. by treating them on a par with creditors (section 6.1.5)
• A single regulator, perhaps the Financial Conduct Authority, for IPs (section 6.1.6)
• A simple low-cost mediation and adjudication service for disputes about low-level fees, perhaps by means of the Financial Ombudsman Service (section 6.1.7)
• Alternatively, some form of independent oversight of fees, such as that used in Scotland via court reporters and the AiB (section 6.1.8)

Charge-out rates – a surprisingly positive outcome!

Given the “how much?!” reaction often resulting from a disclosure of charge-out rates, I was ready to wince at this section, but actually I think the insolvency profession comes out of it fairly well.

The report details the charge-out rates gathered via the IP survey (which was responded to by 253 IPs):

Partner/Director: average £366; range £212-£800
Manager: average £253; range £100-460
Other senior staff: average £182; range £75-445
Assistants/support: average £103; range £25-260

Encouragingly, Kempson reports that these charge-out levels “are not, however, unusual in the accountancy and legal professions to which most IPs belong” (section 3.1). From my experience, I’d also suggest that the firms that charge the top end for partners/directors usually charge junior staff at the lower end and vice versa, i.e. I doubt that any firm charges £260 for juniors and £800 for partners/directors.

Professor Kempson also acknowledges that these “headline rates” are not always charged because IPs normally agree lower rates in order to sit on banks’ panels and, in other cases, the time costs are not recovered in full due to lack of realisations. Setting aside panel cases, Kempson suggests that fees were below headline rates “in about a half of cases, including: the great majority of compulsory liquidations, about two thirds of administrations; half of creditors’ voluntary liquidations and a third of personal bankruptcy cases” (section 3.2). Putting those two observations together, is it arguable, therefore, that IPs provide a far better value for money service than others in the accountancy and legal professions?

Panel Discounts – not so great

The report states that, at appointment stage, secured creditors negotiate discounts of between 10% and 40% on IPs’ headline rates and that some banks may achieve a further discount by entertaining tenders. “The implicit sanction underpinning all negotiations was to remove a firm from the panel. None of the banks interviewed could remember a firm choosing to leave their panel because the appointments they received were un-remunerative. From this they surmised that (individual cases aside) work was being done on a lower profit margin rather than a loss” (section 4.1.1).

Kempson does not suggest it, but I wonder if some might conclude that, notwithstanding the comments made above about charge-out rates, this indicates that IPs’ headline rates could drop by 10-40% for all cases. Personally, I do wonder if banks’ pressuring for discounts from panel firms could be un-remunerative in some cases, but that firms feel locked in to the process, unable to feed hungry mouths from the infrequent non-panel work, and perhaps there is an element of cross-subsidising going on. If Kempson had asked the question, not whether firms chose to leave a panel, but whether any chose not to re-tender when the panel was up for renewal, I wonder if she would have received a different answer.

Seedy Market?

To illustrate the apparent clout of bank panels, the report describes a service “that is marketed to IPs, offering to buy out the debts of secured creditors, thereby ensuring that an IP retains an appointment and giving them greater control over the fees that they can charge” (section 4.1.1).

Is it just me or is there something ethically questionable about an IP seeking to secure his/her appointment in this manner? Presumably someone is losing out and I’m not talking about the estate just by reason of the possibly higher charge-out rates that may have not been discounted to the degree that the bank would have managed with a panel IP. Presumably there’s an upside for the newly-introduced secured creditor? How do their interest/arrangement/termination charges compare to the original lender’s? Is the insolvent estate being hit with an increased liability from this direction? And why… because an IP wanted to secure the appointment..?

Is the problem simply creditor apathy?

Reading Kempson’s report did give me an insight – a more expansive one than I’ve read anywhere else – into an unsecured creditor’s predicament. They don’t come across insolvencies very often, so have little understanding of what is involved in the different insolvency processes (so maybe I shouldn’t get twitchy over the phrase “problems when administrations fail and a liquidation ensues”!). How can they judge whether hourly rates or the time charged are reasonable? They receive enormous progress reports that give them so much useless information (I’m pleased that one IP’s comment made it to print: “… For example saying that the prescribed part doesn’t apply. Well, if it doesn’t apply, what’s the point in confusing everybody in mentioning it?” (section 4.2.3)) and they struggle to extract from reports a clear picture of what’s gone on. Many believe that they’re a small fry in a big pond of creditors, so they’re sceptical that their vote will swing anything, and they have no contact with other creditors, so feel no solidarity. Personally, I used to think that creditors’ lack of engagement was an inevitable decision not to throw good money after bad, but this report has reminded me that their position is a consequence of far more obstacles than that.

Progress Reports – what progress?

The report majored on the apparent failure of many progress reports to inform creditors. Comments from contributors include: “Unfortunately the nature of the fee-approval regime can lead to compliance-driven reports, generated from templates by junior-level staff, which primarily focus on ensuring that all of the requirements of the statute and regulation are addressed in a somewhat tick-box-like manner. This very often means that the key argument is omitted or lost in the volume, which in turn make it difficult for us to make the objective assessment that is required of us” and from the author herself: “there were reports that clearly followed the requirements of the regulations and practice notes (including SIP9 relating to fees) slavishly and often had large amounts of text copied verbatim from previous reports. Consequently, they seemed formulaic and not a genuine attempt to communicate to creditors what they might want to know, including how the case was progressing and what work had been done, with what result and at what cost” (section 4.2.3).

To what was the unhelpful structure of progress reports attributed? Kempson highlighted the 2010 Rule changes (hear hear!) but she also mentions that IPs “criticised SIP9 as being too prescriptive”. I find this personally frustrating, because long ago I was persuaded of the value – and appropriateness – of principles-based SIPs. During my time attending meetings of the Joint Insolvency Committee and helping SIPs struggle through the creation, revision, consultation, and adoption process, I longed to see SIPs emerge as clearly-defined documents promoting laudable principles, respecting IPs to exercise their professional skills and judgment to do their job and not leaving IPs at the mercy of risk-averse box-tickers. I would be one of the first to acknowledge that even the most recent SIPs have not met this ideal of mine, but SIP9?! Personally, I feel that, particularly considering its sensitive and complex subject matter – fees – it is one of the least prescriptive SIPs we have. I believe that a fundamental problem with SIP9, however, is the Appendix: so many people – some IPs, compliance people, and RPB monitors – so frequently forget that it is a “Suggested Format”. Most of us create these pointless reports that churn out time cost matrices with little explanation or thought, produce pages of soporific script explaining the tasks of junior administrators… because we think that’s what SIP9 requires of us and because we think that this is what we’ll be strung up for the next time the inspector calls. And well it might be, but why not produce progress reports that meet the key principle of SIP9 – 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 [and so that creditors are] able to understand whether the remuneration charged is reasonable in the circumstances of the case” (SIP9 paragraph 14)? And if an RPB monitor or compliance person points out that you’ve not met an element of the Appendix, ask them in what way they feel that you’ve breached SIP9. Alternatively, let’s do it the Kempson way: leave the Insolvency Service to come up with a Code on how to do it!

I do wonder, however, how much it would cost to craft the perfect progress report. The comment above highlighted that reports might be produced by junior staff working to a template, but isn’t that to be expected? Whilst my personal opinion is that reports are much better produced as a free text story told by someone with all-round knowledge of the case (that’s how I used to produce them in “my day”), I recognise the desire to sausage-machine as much of the work as possible and this is the best chance of keeping costs down, which is what creditors want, right? Therefore, apart from removing some of the (statute or SIP-inspired) rubbish in reports, I am not sure that the tide can be moved successfully to more reader-friendly and useful reporting.

Inconsistent monitoring?

The report states: “During 2012, visits made by RPBs identified 12.0 compliance issues relating to fees per 100 IPs. But there was a very wide variation between RPBs indeed; ranging from 0 to 44 instances per 100 IPs. Allowing for the differences in the numbers of IPs regulated by different RPBs, this suggests that there is a big variation in the rigour with which RPBs assess compliance, since it is implausible that there is that level of variation in the actual compliance of the firms they regulate” (section 4.5). I also find this quite implausible, but, having dealt with most of the RPB monitors and having attended their regular meetings to discuss monitoring issues in an effort to achieve consistency, I do struggle with Kempson’s explanation for the variation.

Although I can offer no alternative explanation, I would point to the results on SIP9 monitoring disclosed in the Insolvency Service’s 2009 Regulatory Report, which presented quite a different picture. In that year, the RPBs/IS reported an average of 10.6 SIP9 breaches per 100 IPs – interestingly close to Kempson’s 2012 figure of 12.0, particularly considering SIP9 breaches are not exactly equivalent to compliance issues relating to fees. However, the variation was a lot less – from 1.3 to 18 breaches per 100 IPs (and the next lowest-“ranking” RPB recorded 8.1). Of course, I have ignored the one RPB that recorded no SIP9 breaches in 2009, but that was probably only because that RPB had conducted no monitoring visits that year (and neither did it in 2012). Kempson similarly excluded that RPB from her calculations, didn’t she..?

Somewhat predictably, Kempson draws the conclusion (in section 6.1.6) that there is a case for fewer regulators, perhaps even one. She suggests setting a minimum threshold of the number of IPs that a body must regulate (which might at least lose the RPB that reports one monitoring visit only every three years… how can that even work for the RPB, I ask myself). In drawing a comparison with Australia, she suggests the sole RPB could be the Financial Conduct Authority – hmm…

Voluntary Arrangements: the exception?

“We have seen that the existing controls work well for secured creditors involved in larger corporate insolvencies. But they do not work as intended for unsecured creditors involved in corporate insolvencies, and this is particularly the case for small unsecured creditors with limited or no prior experience of insolvency. The exception to this is successful company voluntary arrangements” (section 5). Why does Kempson believe that the controls work in CVAs? She seems to put some weight to the fact that the requisite majority is 75% for CVAs, but she also acknowledges that unsecured creditors are incentivised to participate where there is the expectation of a dividend. If she truly believes the situation is different for CVAs – although I saw no real evidence for this in the report – then wouldn’t there be value in examining why that is? If it is down to the fact that creditors are anticipating a dividend, then there’s nothing much IPs can do to improve the situation across cases in general. But perhaps there are other reasons for it: I suspect that IPs charge up far fewer hours administering CVAs given the relative absence of statutory provisions controlling the process. I also suspect that CVA progress reports are more punchy, as they are not so bogged down by the Rules.

But I don’t think anyone would argue with Kempson’s observation that IVAs are a completely different kettle of fish and that certain creditors have acted aggressively to restrict fees in IVAs to the extent that, as IPs told Kempson, they “frequently found this work unremunerative” (section 4.2.3).

Disadvantages of Time Costs

I found this paragraph interesting: “several authoritative contributors said that, when challenged either by creditors or in the courts, IPs seldom provide an explanation of their hourly rates by reference to objective criteria, such [as] details of the overheads included and the amount they account for, and the proportion of time worked by an IP that is chargeable to cases. Instead they generally justify their fees by claiming that they are the ‘market rate’ for IPs and other professionals. Reference is invariably made to the fact that the case concerned was complex, involved a high level of risk and that the level of claims against the estate was high. More than one of the people commenting on this said that the complexity of cases was over-stated and they were rarely told that a case was a fairly standard one, but that there were things that could have been done better or more efficiently or the realisations ought to have been higher so perhaps a reduction in fees was appropriate. They believed that, by adopting this approach, IPs undermined the confidence others have in them” (section 5.2.1). It’s a shame, however, that no mention has been made of the instances – and I know that they do occur – of IPs who unilaterally accept to write-off some of their time costs so that they can pay a dividend on a case.

But this quote hints at the key disadvantage, I think, of time costs: there is a risk that it rewards inefficiency.

Kempson first suggests moving to a percentage basis as a presumed method of setting remuneration, although she acknowledges that this wouldn’t help creditors as they would still face the difficulty on knowing what a reasonable percentage looked like. She then suggests a “more promising approach” is the rarely-used mixed bases for fees that were introduced by the 2010 Rules (section 6.1.4). She states that this should be “explored further, for example fixed fees for statutory duties; a percentage of realisations for asset realisations (with a statutory sliding scale as described above); perhaps retaining time cost for investigations”. Whilst I agree that different fee bases certainly do have the potential to deliver better outcomes – I believe that it can incentivise IPs to work efficiently and effectively whilst ensuring that they still get paid for doing the necessary work that doesn’t generate realisations – it does make me wonder: if creditors already feel confused..!

Lessons from Down Under?

Kempson is clearly a fan of the Australian regime. She recommends the scrapping or radical revision of SIP9 in favour of something akin to the IPAA’s Code of Professional Practice (http://www.ipaa.com.au/docs/about-us-documents/copp-2nd-ed-18-1-11.pdf?sfvrsn=2). At first glance (I confess I have done no more than that), it doesn’t look to have much more content than SIP9, but it does seem more explanatory, more non-IP-friendly, and the fact that Kempson clearly rates it over SIP9 suggests to me that, at the very least, perhaps we could produce something like it that is targeted at the unsecured creditor audience.

She also refers to a Remuneration Request Approval Report template sheet (accessible from: http://www.ipaa.com.au/about-us/ipa-publications/code-of-professional-practice), which she acknowledges “is more detailed than SIP9” (section 6.1.2) – she’s not kidding! To me, it looks just like the SIP9 Appendix with more detailed breakdowns of every key time category, probably something akin to the information IPs provide on a >£50,000 case.

Finally, she refers to a “helpful information sheet” provided by the Australian regulator (ASIC) (http://www.asic.gov.au/asic/pdflib.nsf/LookupByFileName/Approving_fees_guide_for_creditors.pdf/$file/Approving_fees_guide_for_creditors.pdf), which looks much like R3’s Creditors’ Guides to Fees, although again the content does perhaps come over more readable.

Thus, whilst I can see some value in revisiting the UK documents (or producing different ones) so that they are more useful to non-IPs (although will anyone read them?), I am not sure that I see much in the argument that moving to an Aussie Code will change radically how IPs report fees matters. I am also dismayed at Kempson’s suggestion that “a detailed Code of this kind would be very difficult to compile by committee and would require a single body, almost certainly the Insolvency Service in consultation with the insolvency profession, to do it” (section 6.1.2). Wasn’t the Service behind the 2010 Rules on the content of progress reports..?

After singing Australia’s praises, she admits: “even with the additional information disclosure described above, creditor engagement remains a problem in Australia” (section 6.1.3) – hmm… so what exactly is the value of the Australian way..?

Other ideas for creditor engagement

Kempson recommends consideration of the Austrian model of creditor protection associations (section 6.1.3), which is a wild one and not a quick fix – there must be an easier way? I was interested to note that, even though creditors are paid to sit on committees in Germany, committees are only formed on 15-20% of cases – so paying creditors doesn’t work either…

The report also seems to swing in the opposite direction to the Red Tape Challenge in suggesting that the criteria for avoiding creditors’ meetings in Administrations should be reconsidered. Kempson highlights the situation where the secured creditor is paid in full yet no creditors’ meeting is held either because there are insufficient funds to pay a dividend or because the Administrator did not anticipate there would be sufficient funds at the Proposals stage. As I mentioned in an earlier post (http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-3p), in my view these Rules just do not work – something for the Insolvency Rules Committee…

However, raising these circumstances makes me think: whilst endeavours to improve creditor engagement are admirable, could we not all agree that there are some cases that are just not worth anyone getting excited about? There must be so many cases with negligible assets that barely cover the Category 1 costs plus a bit for the IP for discharging his/her statutory duties – is it really sensible to try to drag creditors kicking and screaming to show an interest in fixing, monitoring and reviewing the IP’s fees in such a case? Whatever measures are introduced, could they not restrict application to such low-value cases?

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The fact that the release of this report seems to have made fewer ripples than the Government’s announcement of its plan to conduct the fees review makes me wonder if anyone is really listening..? However, I’m sure we all know what will happen when the next high profile case hits the headlines, when the tabloids report the apparent eye-watering sums paid to the IPs and the corresponding meagre p in the £ return to creditors. Then there will be a revived call for fees to be curbed somehow.

In the meantime, we await the Government’s response to Professor Kempson’s report, expected “later this year”.