Since the Cork Report in 1982 that led to the Insolvency Act 1986 (IA86) there have been a number of initiatives that have led to legislation aimed at promoting a rescue culture in UK.
The shift was from a penal approach to insolvency one based on a belief that saving insolvent companies by restructuring offers a better outcome for all concerned than the alternative of simply closing them down.
This can be achieved by putting the company into Administration, where an IP (Insolvency Practitioner) takes over the running of the company, including negotiating with creditors with the aim of saving the company or at least saving the business by selling it to new owners. In addition to benefitting secured creditors Administration also helps save jobs.
The alternative is a CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement) where the directors effectively reach agreement with creditors for revised payment terms such as “time to pay” and sometimes for a write down of the debt as a condition for the company surviving. A CVA is supervised by an IP but the directors remain in control providing they meet the revised terms.
There are problems with the current regime as both cases require an IP to be involved and both are enshrined in the IA86 which means that they are tarnished by the reference to insolvency. While this might be the case, it encourages a self-fulfilling prophesy and all too many companies fail again shortly after going through Administration or a CVA which might suggest the restructuring measures were not sufficient when perhaps other factors might also contribute to the restructuring not being successful.
One provision that is missing from insolvency legislation in the UK, when compared to the USA’s bankruptcy protection (Chapter 11) and Canada’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), is some breathing space, or moratorium, that works in practice to allow time to develop and agree a plan before entering any formal procedures.
A moratorium would provide for a temporary stay of action by creditors and suppliers while a rescue plan is devised, and it is argued, would encourage directors to act earlier when their business is in difficulties.
Indeed, there are current provisions for a CVA moratorium as a 28-day period to allow for preparing CVA proposals but it doesn’t work and is rarely used because IPs as supervisors of the moratorium have been advised by their lawyers that they could be held liable for credit during the moratorium period. It is logical therefore that IPs prefer Administration which gives them the control necessary to manage any such liabilities.
This has been ignored during the latest initiative by the Insolvency Service who, as part of efforts to improve the UK rescue culture, have consulted on proposals for a different moratorium period, presumably one that that would allow for a broader breathing space than the current CVA moratorium.
While new legislation has not yet been enacted, it would appear that the consultation has resulted in plans for a 28-day moratorium with scope for a 28-day extension. This proposal on the face of it would appear sensible but like the CVA moratorium it won’t work in practice for the same reasons: it must be supervised by an IP and it could expose IPs to liability to creditors.
Further confusion on behalf of those proposing the new moratorium relates to proposals that a business may only apply for a moratorium if it is still solvent and able to service its debts. This makes no sense, why would a business that is able to pay its debts risk damaging its credibility and ability to operate by advertising the fact that it is heading into difficulties by appointing an IP as supervisor of a moratorium that is part of insolvency legislation?
This is surely counter-productive to any attempts at saving a business since the moratorium would cut off its credit.
In my view, rescue legislation should be part of the Companies Act and if supervision is deemed necessary, then a broader range of professionals ought to be approved, not just IPs.
Furthermore, it is hard to see why an IP would not push for Administration instead of a moratorium and taking on the related liabilities; turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.
The credit for the prospective and in my view flawed legislation goes to R3 whose lobbying on behalf of IPs has captured the turnaround space and in doing so has helped kill off initiatives to develop a rescue culture.