Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


Leave a comment

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.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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!


Leave a comment

A Janus View of Developments in Insolvency Regulation

IMGP4139

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…


1 Comment

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.

.
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.