A Winding Up Petition Due to HMRC Arrears Need Not be the End

In early 2010 HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) served notice for a Winding up Petition against a small trading company. The company had ignored HMRC for three years and had not submitted accounts for three years, not since 2007.  A director attended the winding up hearing in court unrepresented.  He said he was trying to reach agreement with the Revenue and was granted 3 weeks stay of execution.

During the three weeks the company sought our help and experience of turnaround and insolvency, to advise on restructuring options, help develop and implement a rescue plan and also help manage the court process.

After a business review, we concluded that it was possible to buy some time to allow the company to be restructured. We first recommended that a barrister should represent the company at the adjourned hearing.  The barrister successfully sought a six-week adjournment to give time for a rescue plan to be put in place, including proposing a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) for approval at a meeting with creditors. This strategy was achieved and at the third hearing the petition was dismissed.

Winding-up petitions are generally used for two purposes:

They may be used as a final attempt by a legitimate creditor to force the debtor company to respond following previous failed attempts to contact them to try to agree payment terms for the outstanding liability.

They are also used to bully a debtor company into settling an outstanding liability, whether disputed or just to get paid before other creditors.

This second reason is often an abuse of process, where the courts are easily deceived. Procedure in court is often key, especially when experienced creditors who know how to play the court ‘game’ use barristers to deal with innocent directors doing their best to represent the company without expert advice.

Winding up petitions in themselves don’t mean that a company is insolvent but they do indicate underlying issues that have not been addressed. The issues can include a lack of cash to pay bills on time, being unaware of legal process, or a dispute that has been ignored or spilled over into frustration.

The courts are aware of this and tend to be lenient towards directors who ask for time to resolve the petition by granting an adjournment. However, their attitude hardens if, at the adjourned hearing, it is shown that the director has failed to fulfil the undertaking given at the earlier hearing.

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