Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


It’s all happening in Scotland!

2314 Eungella

Over the past few months, I have accumulated a pile of papers annotated as if they belonged in a 1970s stellar observatory, although most of my Wow!s have arisen from a feeling of horrific incredulity.

I apologise in advance if I have got any details wrong; this post is nothing more than an English-person’s reaction to the Scottish Government’s proposed changes to the personal insolvency landscape across the border. I’m sure that Scottish IPs are well-acquainted with the changes, but some Englanders might like to scan this; it might make you feel more grateful for the current state of affairs down here!

Here are the key new pieces of legislation affecting the Scottish personal insolvency regimes:

• The Debt Arrangement Scheme (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2013, which came into force on 2 July 2013.
• The Protected Trust Deed (Scotland) Regulations 2013, which are due to come into force on 28 November 2013. The draft Regulations can be found at:
• The Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Bill, which is working its way through Scottish Parliament, Stage 1 oral evidence sessions having concluded on 6 November 2013.

In this post, I deal with the first two items. In a later post, I hope to cover the Bill.

Debt Arrangement Scheme (“DAS”)

The Chief Executive of the Accountant in Bankruptcy (“AiB”), Rosemary Winter-Scott, is quoted to have said: “DAS is the only Scottish Government-backed scheme that offers a way for people who are in debt to regain control of their finances again” (

That article also publicises the amount of money that has been paid via DAS: £13m in six months. Whilst that is pretty impressive, I am not entirely convinced that this is evidence enough that DAS is the success that the Scottish Government (“SG”) and AiB would have us believe. How many debtors have exited DAS debt-free? May we have some figures on that, AiB, please? If DAS is simply a statutory debt management plan (“DMP”) with no end date, is it really the solution for all the thousands of debtors that are being encouraged down that route?

The AiB’s 2012 DAS review stated that the average duration of all Debt Payment Plans (“DPPs”) is 7 years 2 months (, although I noted that this is the original scheduled duration and the review shows a few DPPs scheduled to last over 20 years, even the odd one or two over 30 years! Given that this statutory process does not have the flexibility of a non-statutory DMP that might be used as a temporary stop gap, I do wonder how this can be considered the “fair and reasonable” solution.

In my mind, the DAS Regulations 2013 at least have provided a light at the end of the tunnel for some debtors. Before the Regulations, the debts had to be paid in full (less up to 10% in fees). The Regulations introduced an element of composition (actually, “re-introduced”, as it had been an original provision back in 2004): where a debtor has been making payments for 12 years (excluding any payment breaks) and has repaid at least 70% of the total debt outstanding when the DPP was approved, the debtor would be eligible to make an offer of composition to creditors. Of course, creditors don’t have to accept – and the offer takes effect only with the acceptance or silence of every creditor – but if a debtor has been paying for 12 years, one would hope that they’d show some mercy..?

Much has been said also of the Regulations’ bringing-forward of the point when interest and charges on debts is frozen: to the date at which the DPP is applied for by the debtor, “potentially saving people in debt up to six weeks interest” ( Some commentators had hoped that the Regulations could have been amended so that it occurred earlier than that, but I was interested to read what might have been the real motivation behind the change: the DAS newsletter 3 points out that the change should avoid the “high volume of applications for variations to correct the level of debt included in a DPP where interest and charges have accumulated over the application process” (, so maybe it hasn’t been all about debtors…

Still, I shouldn’t be surly. However, it’s not all good news for debtors: the DAS newsletter 4 reported that some banks have reacted to this change by restricting or suspending debtors’ access to bank accounts on receipt of a DPP proposal ( Now who’s being surly..?!

Alan McIntosh brought attention to the numbers of DPPs that have been revoked ( and the numbers just keep going up: the number of approved applications to revoke in Q1 2013/14 was up 31.5% on the previous quarter and up 93.8% on the quarter of the previous year. I guess it’s not surprising that the figures are increasing, given the current squeeze on consumers and that the numbers agreeing DPPs are generally also on the rise. I just think it’s a bit rich that the Enterprise Minister, Fergus Ewing, continually hails DAS as a success in view of the fact that more and more people are accessing it, but there seems to be no attention given to the people that are (or are not) leaving it.

Protected Trust Deeds (“PTDs”)

Proposed changes to the PTD process have been rumbling on for a number of years with the SG’s express motivation being to “drive up the performance of PTDs”. Although it has sought to do this by tackling “the trend of rising costs associated with delivering PTDs alongside disappointing dividend returns” (, it seems intent on achieving this by dealing with what it seems to see as rip-off costs, but it does nothing tangible to help address the real costs. What I mean is: the SG seems to think that, by relegating pre-TD costs to the status of unsecured claims, outlawing fees on a time costs basis, and layering yet more requirements on the Trustee, the “trend of rising costs” will be reversed. Aren’t we all facing a trend of rising costs in every aspect of our lives? The AiB experiences rising costs – of course, the statutory costs on PTDs continue to increase – but somehow IPs are supposed to have a magic cure for this problem..?

Having said that, I’m not completely blind to the effects of the market in debtors, the anecdotal stories of which suggest a crazy world of surely unviable sums being sought. I do wonder if the situation isn’t so grim in England because creditors have exerted more pressure on fees in IVAs. However, personally I don’t see a statutory bar on pre-TD costs as a panacea. After all, that only controls the monies in the insolvency estate.

Fergus Ewing does not see PTDs “as a sustainable debt relief solution for either creditors or debtors if more than half of all the receipts are spent on costs”. Unfortunately, the Chinese whispers have led to this message becoming even more extreme in front of the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee: “A key issue with PTDs in recent years has been that, in some cases, they offer insufficient returns to creditors because most of the value in the debtor’s estate is used to pay the trustee’s fees” ( Please, will someone start talking some sense?! Firstly, the AiB’s statistics focus on total costs, not just Trustees’ fees. And we’re not talking mainly about DAS candidates here, are we? How many bankruptcies return more than half the pot to creditors? Does the lack of such a dividend make them unfair?

I also find some of the fantastically biased AiB releases staggering. They repeatedly quote ABCUL, which refers to Trustees having “so often pocketed” the vast bulk of realisations and welcomes the “new measures to clamp down on abuses of protected trust deeds” ( They absurdly misrepresent statistics, such as quoting Fergus Ewing in the same release: “the costs of protected trust deeds… are increasing by more than 25 per cent. The latest figures show this is happening in up to 84 per cent of cases”, when the figures show that this is happening in only 25% of cases! (The 84% comes from one firm’s figures alone. You could say it is “up to 100% of cases”, if you’d picked the right cases!) Thank goodness that IPs are strong professionals that will not let this kind of criticism demoralise them into stopping doing a decent job. Sometimes cases that appear straightforward on day one just get complex or assets appear – such as PPI refunds – that weren’t originally envisaged and the effort just needs to be expended, by IPs, agents and solicitors… to improve returns! Or would Mr Ewing prefer Trustees to walk away from tricky or new assets for fear that their costs might increase?

Right, I must start getting objective about this. Otherwise, I’ll never get to the end of this article!

Some of the PTD Regulation changes detailed in the AiB releases are:

• A trust deed will be ineligible to be protected if the debtor’s total debts can be repaid in full within a 48 month period (i.e. from the full amount of the debtor’s surplus income, as calculated by means of the Common Financial Statement).
• “Pre-trust deed fees, such as fact-finding fees,” will be excluded “so that these can no longer be charged separately and will be treated the same as other debts”. The AiB release refers to “fees”, but I think this should be “outlays”, shouldn’t it; I don’t think that even the AiB is expecting an IP to prepare a Trust Deed free of charge, is she?!
• Trustees’ fees will be charged on the basis of a single fixed upfront fee and a percentage of funds ingathered. The fixed fee may be increased either with a majority in value of creditors (that is, an absolute majority, not a majority of those voting) or by the AiB.

But other changes have not been given top-billing by the AiB:

• The acquirenda period for Trust Deeds will be 4 years. Considering that, at least for a couple of years until the Bill becomes Act, bankrupts will only have to pay for 3 years (, are discharged after 1 year and are only exposed to a 1 year acquirenda period), some are predicting that PTD candidates will choose Sequestration. Personally, I doubt this, as it did not happen in England when 5-year IVAs became commonplace, but then IVAs are seen as some debtors’ best efforts to do the right thing by their creditors; I’m not sure that PTDs have the same image.
• Debtors’ contributions will be determined using the Money Advice Trust’s Common Financial Statement.
• Irrespective of creditors’ wishes regarding the Trust Deed achieving protected status, the AiB will have the power to refuse to register the Trust Deed, if she is not satisfied that the debtor’s expenditures and contributions are at appropriate levels.
• The Regulations fix the equity of heritable property as at the date that the Trust Deed is granted, but they raise all kinds of questions about how equity realisation or contributions in lieu of equity are to work.
• The AiB will have power to give directions, whether on the request of the Trustee, debtor, or creditors, or on the AiB’s own initiative. The Scottish Parliament Committee report mentioned above notes ICAS’ concerns that “the AiB is not best placed to take decisions in place of and over-ruling highly experienced and qualified IPs”, but all that it records the Minister saying in response is that “the AiB was undergoing significant restructuring to ensure that certain staff who would be involved in such decisions and appeals would be ring-fenced from those taking the original decisions” – that doesn’t deal with the concerns!

The (brief) Regulatory Impact Assessment suggests that, whilst the AiB will incur costs of £1.3m over the first 5 years, which will be recovered through a statutory fee, the Regulations are not expected to impact on IPs’ costs, as the Regulations are not expected to restrict the level of IPs’ fees, just revisit the basis on which they are calculated. Does the SG truly believe that the Regulations will result in no additional expense on IPs?!

For more details on the issues with the Regulations, I’d recommend ICAS’ written evidence, accessible at: (thank you, ICAS, for making available such an enlightening summary).

Phew! Right – those are the imminent changes. The Bill proposes some more incredible changes and I know that ICAS and others are expending a lot of effort in an attempt to refine its contents. You have my sympathy!

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Legislative changes on the horizon: PTDs, TUPE, and gift vouchers


Something else that I’ve been meaning to do post-holiday was sweep up all the announcements of consultations and proposals for changes to insolvency and related legislation that have been published by various government departments and agencies. Here are the ones I’ve discovered:

• AiB’s proposed changes to PTDs and DAS
• BIS TUPE consultation
• New proposal on gift voucher creditors

AiB’s proposed changes to PTDs and DAS

28/02/2013: The AiB published some welcome (by me, anyway) fine-tuning to her developing “vision of a Financial Health Service” (

She has withdrawn the proposals to introduce a minimum dividend for PTDs and to deal in-house with creditors’ petitions for bankruptcy, two items that I covered in an earlier blog post: (and I know of many others who have been more vocal on the issues). The third item I covered in that post – restructuring PTD Trustees’ fees so that they can only be drawn as an upfront fixed sum plus a percentage of funds ingathered – seems to have strengthened in tone: no longer is reference made to “guidance”, so it seems possible to me that there will be a legislative change to enforce this. My personal view on this is that, although of course there are vast differences between PTDs and IVAs, straightforward IVAs have been worked on this basis for many years now and I think that, although the inevitable tension between creditors and IPs regarding the quantum of the fixed and percentage fees persists, on the whole it seems to have developed into a settled state generally acceptable to all parties. However, I see far more difficulty in moving away from charging fees on an hourly basis for complex cases – I sense that the fees in many complex IVAs and PVAs are still based on hourly rates – and I do wonder what will result from the AiB’s approach to fees for individuals with complex circumstances and unusual/uncertain assets.

The AiB has also dropped the idea that debts incurred 12 weeks prior to bankruptcy should be excluded (which also seemed to me difficult to legislate:

So what now does she propose to introduce? Some new significant items for PTDs:

• A minimum debt level of £5,000 (previously £10,000 had been the suggestion)
• A new joint PTD solution (with a £10,000 debt minimum)
• A new requirement on the Trustee to demonstrate that a Trust Deed is the most appropriate solution for the individual. If the AiB is not satisfied with the case presented, there will be a new power to prevent it becoming Protected. As now, the Trustee could apply to the Sheriff, if they disagree with the AiB’s assessment. (Personally, I hope that the AiB will exercise this power only to deal with obvious cases of abuse. For example, looking solely from a financial perspective some individuals might be better served going bankrupt, but often they wish to avoid bankruptcy and improve their creditors’ returns, which is a commendable attitude that should not be stifled. Ultimately, is it not the debtor’s choice?)
• Pre Trust Deed fees and outlays will be excluded. Any such fees and outlays will rank with other debts. (I have some sympathy with the AiB’s apparent frustration at insolvency “hangers-on” seeming to reap excessive rewards from the process of introducing debtors to the PTD process, however I am not convinced that this is the solution. As an upfront fixed fee is going to be introduced, will it not simply send such costs underground?)
• On issuing the Annual Form 4 (to the AiB and to creditors), if the expected dividend has reduced by 20% or more, Trustees will be required to provide details of the options available and to make a recommendation on the way forward. (“Make a recommendation”? Who gets to decide what happens? Isn’t the Trustee obliged/empowered to take appropriate action?)
• Acquirenda will be standardised at 1 year for both bankruptcy and PTDs. (It makes sense to me to ensure that PTDs are not seen to be more punitive than bankruptcies, but this is quite a change, isn’t it?)
• No contributions will be acceptable from Social Security Benefits.
• Equity will be frozen in a dwelling-house at the date the Trust Deed is granted.

The AiB also has proposed some new changes to DAS, the one that caught my eye being that interest and charges will be frozen on the date the application is submitted to creditors, rather than at the later stage of the date the Debt Payment Programme is approved, as is the case currently. The AiB’s proposal also remains that a DPP might be concluded as a composition once it has paid back 70% over 12 years.

BIS TUPE Consultation

17/01/2013: The BIS consultation on proposed changes to the Transfer of Undertaking (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 was issued and closes on 11 April 2013 ( – a 72-page document that takes some reading!).

Despite the calls for legislative clarity on the application of TUPE in insolvencies, most notably in administrations, the consultation states: “the Government’s view is that the Court of Appeal’s decision in Key2law (Surrey) Ltd v De’Antiquis has provided sufficient clarity and that it is not necessary to amend TUPE to give certainty” (paragraph 6.30). I don’t know about you, but every time I ask myself what is the current position on TUPE in administrations, I have to check the date! Key2Law may well appear to have settled the issue now, but I have to remind myself every time what its conclusion was exactly.

The proposals do include some elements that may be more useful:

• BIS invites views on whether there should be a provision enabling a transferor to rely on a transferee’s ETO reason, seemingly recognising the risks that purchasers of an insolvent business run in absence of this provision (paragraph 7.72 et seq).
• It is proposed that the regulations be changed so that a transferee consulting with employees/reps, i.e. prior to the transfer, counts for the purposes of collective redundancy consultation (paragraph 7.84 et seq).
• It is proposed that, where there is no existing employee representative, small employers (suggested to be with 10 or fewer employees) will be able to consult directly with employees regarding transfer-related matters (paragraph 7.94 et seq).

Whilst on the subject, it seems timely to remind readers that it is expected that the consultation requirement where 100 or more employees at one establishment are proposed to be made redundant will be amended from 90 days to 45 days. This change appears in the draft Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (Amendment) Order 2013, anticipated to come into force on 6 April 2013.

Gift Voucher Creditors

15/03/2013: R3 issued a press release entitled “Voucher holders’ proposal to become ‘preferred creditors’” (, but the motivation for this release, other than awareness of some stories surrounding high profile retail administrations, might not be known to you.

MP Michael McCann’s ten minute rule bill seeking consideration for gift voucher creditors to be made preferential seemed to go down well at the House of Commons on 12 February 2013 ( Then on 14 March 2013, a House of Commons’ notice of amendments to the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill was issued, which included the following:

“(1) The Chief Executive of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme shall, within six months of Royal Assent of this Act, publish a review of the protections understanding that such payments are deposits in a saving scheme.

(2) The review in subsection (1) shall include consideration of any consequential reform to creditor preference arrangements so that any payments made in advance as part of a contract for the receipt of goods or services (such as gift vouchers, certificates or other forms of pre-payment) in expectation that those sums would be redeemable in a future exchange for such goods or services might be considered as preferential debts in the event of insolvency.”

As can be seen, a change to gift voucher creditors’ status seems a long way from becoming statute, but the wheels are now in motion for something to be done.

To me, R3’s suggested alternative of an insurance bond makes more sense. The costs of seeking, adjudicating on, and distributing on a huge number of relatively small gift voucher claims likely would appear disproportionate to the outcome… and it is not as if IPs need any more spotlight on their time costs! I appreciate that such costs will arise where claims need to be dealt with even as they are now, as non-preferential unsecured claims, but I suggest it would be unfair to other ordinary unsecured creditors if they were forced to sit in line and watch whilst realisations were whittled away in dealing with this large new class of preferential creditor. The USA Borders case demonstrates some of the difficulties in dealing with gift voucher claims (see, for example, – the clue is in the name…)

There are other alternatives, of course, such as the use of trust accounts, although a paper (which now seems ahead of its time) by Lexa Hilliard QC and Marcia Shekerdemian of 11 Stone Buildings discusses the difficulties arising from these also (

(UPDATE 22/05/2016: Gift vouchers became topical again with the Administration of BHS.  R3 summarised the difficulties in dealing with gift vouchers in an insolvency at  This “R3 Thinks” also brought to my attention a paper written by R3 on the subject in June 2013, accessible at


Right, that brings me up to date… almost. Just the consultation on the FCA’s regime for consumer credit remaining…

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Scottish Government’s Response to the Consultation on Bankruptcy Law Reform Defies Logic

I appreciate that I am a bit behind the times here – the Scottish Government’s response was published on 1 November 2012:  I won’t summarise it here, as it is a fairly brief document, which is well worth reading.  However, I could not resist commenting on some of the plans.

Fundamental Changes to Trust Deeds

It seems to me that, at present, one strength of the Trust Deed is its flexibility: with the assistance of an IP, a debtor can consider what he/she can afford and what he/she is prepared to put forward to creditors, effectively in exchange for avoiding bankruptcy.  I appreciate that, to some extent, Trust Deeds – and creditors’/creditor agents’ reviewing of them – have become standardised so that in effect we now have a “consumer” Trust Deed, which anticipates a pretty standard level of contribution over a standard three-year period, delivering a fairly standard dividend to creditors.  However, I think it should be remembered that this is not what the legislation (currently) provides and the beauty of it is that debtors can formulate a Trust Deed to fit their particular circumstances.  Not all debtors fit the “standard consumer” model.

However, the SG is now looking to “standardise the period over which an individual makes the assessed contribution in bankruptcy and protected trust deeds, to be equivalent to a minimum of 48 monthly payments”.  The response also states: “There is a strong case for setting a minimum dividend at which Trust Deeds are eligible to become protected. We recognise that there are differing views among interested parties and believe that there is a legitimate debate to be had on the level of any minimum dividend. Our view is that the level would be most appropriately set between/around 30-50p in the £.  We will engage constructively with interested groups over the coming weeks to agree on an appropriate level.”

Why take a flexible tool and impose such restrictions on its use?  And how do these conclusions stack up with the consultation responses?

One of the conclusions described in the report on the consultation responses was: “There should not be a fixed term for completion of a protected trust deed” (page 5) – 71 respondees were opposed to a fixed term and only 29 were in favour.  Perhaps the argument is that, in setting a minimum of 48 monthly payments, the SG is not setting a fixed term!

What exactly is the “strong case” for setting a minimum dividend?  The report on consultation responses observed that “in recent years some creditors have taken a greater interest in PTDs and have actively rejected the protection of trust deeds which propose a dividend of less than 10p in the £” (page 31) – so that means that the Trust Deed framework is working, doesn’t it?  In introducing a minimum dividend at which Trust Deeds become eligible for protection, isn’t the SG taking the power away from creditors to decide what they are prepared to accept?  And how does evidence of creditors rejecting Trust Deeds anticipating 10p in the £ lead to a conclusion that the minimum dividend should be 30-50p?

The report on consultation responses quotes two responses from credit unions in support of 50p in the £ and I have already described how I personally feel about these in my earlier blog post (

In my mind, it is simply not logical to put a minimum dividend on a Trust Deed.  The dividend level is simply a measure of net assets/income over total liabilities; it is not a measure of what a debtor can afford to pay and neither is it a reflection of how appropriate the proposal is.  Take two people: one can raise net assets/income of £12,000 and has liabilities totalling £40,000; the other can raise net assets/income of £13,000 and has liabilities totalling £45,000.  Where is the logic in allowing the first person to acquire a Protected Trust Deed, as the dividend will be 30p in the £, but denying the second, as the dividend would be 29p in the £?

What is wrong with a Trust Deed that offers a return of 29p in the £, if the likely outcome of bankruptcy is no improvement?  I remember an IP telling me that she had arranged an Individual Voluntary Arrangement for a 1990s Lloyd’s Names individual, which proposed a return of only a fraction of 1p in the £, but it still represented the best deal for creditors and it involved some reasonable assets/income.  Surely that is the key of voluntary processes, such as IVAs and Trust Deeds – they can offer a better deal for both debtor and creditors, when compared with the alternative of bankruptcy.  They should not be restricted by the need to meet a minimum dividend, which fails to recognise the individual circumstances of the debtor.

So will the introduction of a minimum dividend lead to many more people choosing bankruptcy?  I wonder.  It seems to me that many people will do almost anything to avoid bankruptcy, even when from a purely financial perspective it is obviously the best option for them.  If they are prohibited from seeking a PTD, I wonder whether they would rather take the option of a long-term DAS or informal debt management plan or simply struggle on in no man’s land.  In introducing a minimum dividend for PTDs, it seems to me that the misery for thousands will be extended for many years.

Protected Trust Deed “Guidance”

The SG appears to be seeking to introduce a further fundamental change to the PTD process, but via “Guidance”: “New Protected Trust Deed Guidance will also be introduced, to encourage best practice to be adopted in all cases.  The Guidance will include a revised structure for trustee fees consisting of an up-front fee for setting up the trust deed and a percentage fee based on the amount of funds ingathered from the debtor’s estate.”

I believe that it is correct to avoid prescribing the basis on which Trustees should be paid via legislation, but I do wonder how the SG/AiB expects its Guidance will persuade IPs to re-structure fees to be on this fixed sum and percentage basis.  What pressure will it bring to bear on IPs who do not follow this approach that it calls “best practice”?  Will the AiB, as is stated in the paragraph preceding this, “take a more proactive role, where necessary compelling trustees to act by using their powers of direction”?  But the Guidance is just guidance, isn’t it?

Creditor applications for Bankruptcy

The SG response states that the Bankruptcy Bill will look to develop “the bankruptcy process to facilitate the ability for non-contentious creditor applications to come to AiB rather than a petition to the court for an individual’s bankruptcy”.  This plan appears most odd to me, particularly in view of the report on the consultation responses.

In the report’s summary, one of the conclusions of the consultation responses was: “creditors should continue to petition the court for an individual’s bankruptcy” (page 6), which appears unequivocal to me.  The response statistics also bear out this conclusion – there were more responses opposed to the proposal that creditor applications be submitted to the AiB than there were responses in favour and this remained the case even when the proposal was restricted to “non-contentious” creditor applications.  So what is the argument for proceeding with this plan?

Fortunately, Westminster has decided not to take forward the idea that creditor petitions for bankruptcy and company windings-up in England might avoid the courts.  It took that decision having consulted on the proposal and having received the clear message back that the majority were opposed.  It is strange that Holyrood has decided to take the opposite view on having received a similar reaction to a similar consultation question.


Of course, I have only commented on the plans that appear to me to be most significantly flawed – there are many more planned changes, including some that make perfect sense and are welcome.  However, some leave me asking the question: why?  What ills are these changes seeking to remedy?  Are they going to be an improvement over what we already have, which seems to me to work reasonably well on the whole?  And what kind of world will we live in when it all becomes a reality?