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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Insolvency Interim Management & Executive Support Liquidation, Pre-Packs & Phoenix Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs

Many companies for sale turn out to be insolvent

Many companies are being listed for sale through brokers with high price tags based on very tenuous valuations, where the owners have been deceived into thinking they will be paid a huge amount for their equity.
However, on closer inspection it turns out that many of them have a Time to Pay arrangement with HM Revenue and Customs or are in arrears with the Revenue and are stretching their trade creditors. All too often they are insolvent but don’t realise it. 
This over indebtedness is becoming a serious concern among potential investors because often the company they want to buy is operationally a great business and for trade buyers a perfect fit with their existing businesses. The problem for investors is how to protect their own interests and avoid contamination.
Very often, even experienced executives lack the knowledge and methodologies for assessing a company they want to buy, let alone knowing how to sort out the indebtedness once due diligence has revealed its extent.
In my view, potential investors can work with incumbent directors to reach agreement with creditors that protects all parties by enhancing the prospect of a return to sellers and avoiding cross contamination.
One method I use is an investment, conditional on approval of a CVA by creditors thus leaving finance agreements and any liabilities in the target company. It also allows creditors’ issues to be addressed where they are not normally consulted in a pre-pack. For the investor, this can be structured to give them security and control if they so wish.
As a rescue specialist I would advise owners trying to sell a business in difficulty to employ their own turnaround advisers before putting the business on the market.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs Winding Up Petitions

HMRC Insolvency and Enforcement workload

The HM Revenue and Customs insolvency and enforcement department in Worthing appears to have an increasing workload.
I believe there are several likely reasons for this. Businesses are continuing to withhold payment of PAYE and VAT liabilities, using any cash available to prop up their businesses. Fewer Time to Pay arrangements are being approved by HMRC and a lot of TTP arrangements are failing. The Revenue have also have resumed using seizure and distraint as a method for collecting overdue tax.
HMRC in Worthing are picking up the pieces, which probably explains the large number of Winding Up Petitions that dominate the Companies Winding Up Courts.
The only options for saving a company with a WUP are either paying the undisputed amount due or a Company Voluntary Arrangement and the Courts are generally happy to adjourn the Petition at the first hearing to allow time to either pay the bill or propose a CVA.
There is considerable evidence that HMRC are supporting the rescue of companies via CVAs although their focus is on proposals being realistic and incorporating fundamental change to ensure survival rather than continuing the old business model.
I am not yet clear whether the upsurge in HMRC Worthing’s activity relates to the traditional post recession increases in company failures when the market begins to grow, or whether the downturn is continuing and companies are just not able to hang on any longer.
However all of us in the restructuring profession must urge the directors of companies in difficulties to act urgently if they are to save their company, and that they or we as advisers keep HMRC fully informed of progress during the development of rescue plans.

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General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Insolvency Turnaround Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs

HM Revenue and Customs is Increasingly Rejecting CVA Proposals

It is not being much talked about in the marketplace but it is becoming increasingly common for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to reject Company Voluntary Arrangements that would previously have been accepted.
In the past HMRC has appeared to be a great supporter of CVAs, but recently they have been rejecting a number of CVA proposals that they would have approved in the past.
While there are no published statistics on the numbers of liquidations resulting from failed CVAs, historically a large percentage have failed. Business rescue advisers and insolvency practitioners believe that the failure rate of CVAs post approval is somewhere between 60% and 70%.
HMRC website guidelines to case officers indicate that they should attempt to get arrears repaid within 12 months with longer periods being the exception. This may explain why HMRC is now rejecting more proposals.
A CVA can be used to improve cash flow quickly in order to keep trading while paying off its debts in a manageable way.  It is a legally binding agreement between an insolvent company and its creditors to repay some, or all, of its historic debts out of future profits, over a period of time.
For a business in difficulty a low level of contributions in the early period of a CVA allows it to get back on its feet in the short term while refocusing the business on survival and increasing profits, thus enabling it to pay higher contributions later in the CVA.  This increases the chances of the business being able to maintain its payments throughout the CVA period and reducing the risk of failure. High repayments required in the early stages will mean it cannot do this.
However, many CVAs are drafted by insolvency practitioners with a view to the proposal being approved, and as a result many of those being approved today are offering significant contributions to creditors, some exceeding 100p in the £.
While the greater contribution improves the chances of a CVA proposal being approved by creditors, the lack of realism about a company’s ability to achieve the commitments is the reason for such a high failure rate post approval.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

The Questions HM Revenue and Customs Asks to Assess a request for Time to Pay Arrears

Recently uploaded guidelines for HM Revenue and Customs case officers dealing with requests from businesses in difficulty for time to pay arrears of VAT, PAYE or tax, reveal the detail of what questions will be asked before the request for a Time to Pay arrangement (TTP) can be considered.
Applicants must be able to show that they have tried to raise the money they owe by other means beforehand.  Individuals, which includes sole traders and the self employed, may be asked to show that they have approached their bank or asked friends or family for a loan or that they cannot pay the debt via a credit card.
However, the advice to case officers also states that for individuals “it is unacceptable for us to insist that a customer has made every effort to secure a loan before agreeing TTP” because it would contravene Office of Fair Trading Debt Collection Guidelines.
Both individuals and larger businesses may also be asked whether they have any assets that can be easily converted into cash or any savings that they could use to settle the debt, even if early withdrawal might incur a payment penalty. This also applies to endowment or life insurance policies, although the HMRC cannot insist that these are cashed to pay a debt.
The HMRC distinguishes between debts below £100,000 and debts above that amount and for larger businesses HMRC would want to see evidence, usually a letter from the bank, that the company has approached their bank and discussed borrowing facilities beforehand as well as exploring options for raising money from: shareholders, Directors, book debt factoring and invoice discounting, stock finance, sale and leaseback of assets or venture capital providers.
The case officer will also consider the applicant’s previous history of paying on time, whether they have had a previous TTP and previous difficulties will weigh heavily in the final decision and whether the business is viable.
It would make sense, therefore, to have a thorough business review and the support of a rescue adviser or insolvency practitioner to assess the business viability and explore all these options and to document them before approaching HMRC.

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General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

HMRC’s Assessment Criteria for a Time to Pay Arrangement for Revenue Arrears

As businesses face continued tough trading conditions in 2011 a new series of guidelines has appeared on the HM Customs and Revenue (HMRC) website on the arrangements for paying arrears of tax, VAT and PAYE, known as Time to Pay (TTP).
Although the guidelines are aimed at those working in the revenue they are equally useful for businesses in difficulties in outlining the questions and conditions businesses will need to be prepared for if they are in arrears with revenue payments and looking for a manageable way to spread the repayments.
Firstly, in all cases the repayment period to be set will be as short as possible and usually no more than a year unless there are “exceptional circumstances”. However long the arrangement, interest will be charged while the debt remains outstanding.
There is no entitlement for a business to be granted a TTP.  HMRC officers must consider the timescale being requested by the “customer”, their previous payment history and the amount outstanding. 
Businesses must meet two further conditions and they are that the applicant must have the means to make the agreed payments as well as the means to pay other tax liabilities that become due during the TTP period.
Finally, the guidelines make it clear that the preferred method of dealing with TTP requests is by telephone, because it allows for detailed questioning of the viability of the business, and as part of the assessment of whether the situation is a “can’t” or a “won’t” pay.
The amount of detailed information that will be requested from the applicant will vary according to the level of the debt, divided into three categories, for debts below £100,000, from £100,000 to £1 million and for more than £1 million.
Whatever the level of arrears, for a successful TTP to be achieved any business in difficulty is strongly advised to be honest with itself and its advisers about all its outstanding debts and liabilities if it is to be able to stick to any TTP arrangement.
It is crucial that before the telephone conversation the applicant has all the required information on income and expenditure prepared and ready so that they can remain calm throughout what can be a stressful situation.

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General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs Winding Up Petitions

Guide to Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVA) and When to Use Them

A Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) is a binding agreement between a company and those to whom it owes money (creditors).
It is based on a proposal that will include affordable, realistic and manageable repayment terms. It normally allows for repayment to be spread over a period of three to five years and can also be used to offer to repay less than the amount due if this is all the company can afford.
The proposal is sent to the Company’s Creditors along with an independent report on the proposal by an insolvency practitioner acting as Nominee.
Creditors are invited to respond to the CVA proposal by voting to either accept it, or reject it, or accept it subject to modifications that the Creditor proposes as a condition of their vote for acceptance. The votes are counted by value of claim where the requisite majority for approval is 75% of the votes cast. This is subject to a second vote to check that 50% of the non-connected creditors approve the proposals.
A CVA can only be used when a company is insolvent but it can be used to save a company rather than close it when creditors are pressing including when a debt related judgement can’t be satisfied or a creditor has filed a Winding Up Petition (WUP).
In addition to proposing terms for repaying debt, it helps to include details of any restructuring and reorganisation along with a business plan so that creditors can assess the viability of the surviving business. The proposals must be fair and not prejudice any individual or class of creditor including those with specific rights such as personal guarantees. These include trade suppliers, credit insurers, finance providers, employees, landlords and HM Revenue and Customs, the latter often being key in view of the arrears of VAT and PAYE that many companies have built up.
A CVA should only be used when the company’s directors are willing to be honest with themselves and face up to the position the company is in, preferably with the advice and guidance of an insolvency practitioner or experienced business rescue advisor but used properly it can improve a company’s cash flow very quickly by removing onerous financial obligations and easing the pressure from creditors.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs

Save Your Company by Terminating Onerous Contracts to Cut Costs

Many directors are afraid of terminating contracts and agreements when their companies are in financial difficulties normally out of a concern that termination will lead to a cancellation payment that the company cannot afford.
If a company is experiencing fewer orders or lower sales, for example, generally it will need fewer staff but the worry is that terminating contracts of employment will trigger costs, particularly where senior staff are involved.
Similarly, a reduction in orders may mean that the company only needs two of the five fork lift trucks it has where terminating a hire purchase, hire or lease arrangement ahead of the agreed contract period will trigger a termination settlement or a contract termination liability.
Equally it might now no longer be able to afford the 12-month advertising contract it agreed six months previously. Even terminating contracts with advisers can be expensive.
A company in financial difficulties does not have the surplus cash to meet these obligations.  But while it puts off terminating arrangements it no longer needs it continues to bear the costs.
It is often better to cut the cash flow if this reduces costs that mean the business is viable: profitable with positive cash flow. There are remedies that can be used if necessary to deal with the crystallised liabilities when a company cannot afford them.
Negotiating terms for informal arrangements with creditors is sensible. It may involve negotiating terms of payment, such as a Time to Pay (TTP) arrangement with HMRC for PAYE or VAT arrears, which have been very effective in helping companies out of insolvency.
Many companies leave it far too late to reach informal arrangements that would have allowed them to terminate contracts before the company finally runs out of money.
But there is a solution that allows companies to terminate contracts and not pay for them immediately on termination. A Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) avoids liquidation of the business and closing it down. It allows for paying the contract termination out of profits.

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General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs Winding Up Petitions

Employing Restructuring Advisers to Help Save Your Company

There are a number of options for companies who find themselves in financial difficulties, but a real challenge is finding someone to help.
It’s made more difficult if the directors/owners take the view that they know their business better than anyone else and infer from this that if they don’t know the solution, then no one else will.
A second issue is trying to solve the situation alone, via a self-help route.  It may be that research has revealed a number of options and in a situation of financial difficulty there is a temptation to latch onto the cheapest or first solution. Indeed, you are likely to think you can’t afford help and as a result persuade yourself that the cheap solution is the right one. It is no surprise that a lot of companies fail having not sought any advice.
In either situation eventually a squeeze on cash flow or pressure from creditors tends to be the catalyst that galvanises action and you are likely to start looking for a solution.
Who do you turn to for help when feeling as boxed in as this?  What’s needed is a business rescue adviser, but how do you go about the process of finding one from among the insolvency, turnaround, accounting and consultancy advisers?  
Carry out a thorough vetting process to confirm they have suitable experience and offer a rescue process rather than selling only one rescue solution. The rescue process should involve a thorough business review to identify a viable business that can emerge from the process, then developing and implementing an operational reorganisation and financial restructuring plan. One aspect of the financial restructuring plan will be how to deal with all the company’s liabilities.
In addition to bank and trade creditors a key creditor is likely to be the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise). Too often companies are advised to enter a Time to Pay arrangement with the HMRC to deal with tax, VAT or PAYE arrears or to enter a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA) to deal with debts without a realistic assessment of the other demands on the company’s cash.
The first thing to find out, therefore, is whether the adviser is selling something or has a vested interest in the company pursuing a particular solution. Having established they are truly independent, the adviser will conduct a review to establish the core issues.
Support from business rescue advisers with broad commercial experience, not just insolvency, will help manage the process while at the same time helping find a realistic solution.

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General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Are Government Insolvency Statistics Concealing the Number of Insolvent Companies?

As a consequence of the global financial crisis it is reasonable to assume that the numbers of companies in financial difficulties serious enough to precipitate insolvency would be increasing.
However, figures for the second quarter of this year released by the UK Insolvency Service in August show that there were 2,080 companies in England and Wales that were placed into liquidation.
These are made up of compulsory liquidations and creditors voluntary liquidations and showed a 0.5% increase on the previous quarter but a decrease of 19.1% on the same quarter in 2009.
Compulsory liquidations were down 9.9% on the previous quarter and 21.0% on the corresponding quarter in 2009, while creditor voluntary liquidations were up 5.4% compared with the previous quarter but down 18.3% compared to the same quarter in 2009.
It would be tempting to infer from these figures that the economy is beginning to recover and the pressure on companies is easing.
It is possible, however, that the decline in liquidations is concealing the number of companies in financial difficulties because of a lack of pressure from creditors other than the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs ), the only active creditor currently seeking winding up orders in the courts.
The Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in October may reveal the full impact on UK insolvencies.
Even if the UK avoids a double dip recession, there is a risk that the UK economy could develop a twin track economy, with public-sector-dependent industries facing higher levels of financial distress than sectors which are less directly linked to government spending cuts.
Some commentators argue that while Corporate insolvencies are still well below the numbers that would normally be expected at this point in the cycle the slight quarterly rise in the number of liquidations may signal that conditions are starting to turn against UK companies once again.
The lower than expected number of insolvencies is ascribed to a variety of proactive measures, HMRC Time to Pay arrangements and bank forbearance, together buying time for companies to deal with their financial situation. However, this may perhaps have only delayed the inevitable for others that are less robust or those that fail to use the time by taking remedial action to reduce costs or implement other steps that ensures survival.

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General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Managing Tax Payments with Time To Pay Arrangements

There are hundreds of thousands of businesses struggling to meet their financial obligations to the Exchequer.
Businesses, especially smaller enterprises, have been reporting that in the current difficult economic climate they are struggling with cash flow issues as customers and suppliers try to stretch out the time they take to pay invoices. That means they may not have enough liquidity to pay the tax they owe.
While the majority of these tax monies are repaid, the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) has reported that 10% of expected revenues are outstanding.
The UK’s Time to Pay (TTP) scheme was introduced in 2008 and allows businesses to pay overdue tax bills over a certain period of time. The scheme is administered by the Businesses Payment Support Service.
According to the HMRC website, arrangements are tailored to the ability of the customer to pay and are typically for a few months although they can be longer.
TTPs lasting longer than a year are only agreed in exceptional cases. Most arrangements involve regular monthly payments being made but in exceptional cases may involve a short period of deferral.
All businesses seeking a TTP of £1m or more need to pay for an Independent Business Review (IBR) to be carried out by an approved firm, normally an insolvency practitioner, and a total of 13 firms have been approved by HMRC to carry out IBRs to establish whether the business can pay back their deferred tax bill.
When the restructuring plans are ready, a business rescue adviser would normally expect to bring in an HMRC approved firm that they already know. The IBR would assess the company’s ability to eventually pay back any tax deferred by HMRC based on a review the proposals prepared by the adviser. These would be prepared with view to demonstrating a viable business.
The most recent statistics issued by HMRC are from March 2010 when it was revealed that 300,000 businesses have entered TTP arrangements since the end of 2008, deferring at least £5.2bn in business taxes. That equates to an average of 4,500 a week.
Concerns have been raised that it is getting tougher to join the scheme, and there have been some predictions that it would eventually have to close. However HMRC has insisted the TTP is still available and the eligibility criteria have not changed. The UK Coalition Government’s Business Secretary Vince Cable, speaking at a recent Institute of Directors event, reinforced this by saying that his department’s instructions to HMRC was to still make it “easy” for applicants to agree TTP arrangements.

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General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Dealing with VAT Arrears and PAYE Arrears

Owing HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) more than £150,000 for overdue VAT and PAYE when your turnover is less than £3 million is not uncommon in 2010.  
The leniency of HMRC, whose light touch approach to collecting Revenue arrears since the recession began has helped the cash flow of many companies, has also made it easier for them to accrue both VAT and PAYE arrears. But the lack of a recovery has left companies in arrears burdened with debt they can’t easily repay.
Companies in this position have a number of options, but a real challenge is when to do something about it. If ignored, the liability can build up and the underlying business problems can escalate to a point where the company can find it more difficult to recover.
While directors are normally aware of the problems, and in particular of the liability in respect of Revenue arrears, they may not be aware of their options, assuming: “I know my business better than anyone else and if I don’t know the solution, then no one else will.”
Consider three financial solutions when dealing with HMRC arrears. They are immediate payment, a Time to Pay (TTP) arrangement or a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA). However, all too often one of these is implemented without considering other issues that perhaps need to be addressed at the same time.
The build up of PAYE arrears and VAT arrears is an indicator that the business is no longer profitable or that it doesn’t have sufficient working capital. The underlying issues can be identified by a business review and preparation of forecasts. It is obvious that an unprofitable company cannot achieve a payment plan while also covering ongoing payments. Less obvious is the restructuring and reorganisation that may be needed to achieve a viable business, one that is profitable with adequate working capital and positive cash flow.
Surviving the pressure of PAYE and VAT arrears generally involves more than just fixing the financial problem.  the underlying issues need to be identified and workable solutions put in place.

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General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs Winding Up Petitions

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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County Court, Legal & Litigation General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Insolvency Personal Guarantees Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround Winding Up Petitions

Guide to Winding Up Petitions (WUP) and How to Deal With Them

A Winding Up Petition is a legal application to the High Court or another appropriate court by a creditor asking that a company be closed down.
If granted by the court, the official receiver is appointed to oversee closing down the company and may then engage a licensed insolvency practitioner as approved liquidator.
The purpose of winding up a company is generally to remove control of a company from its directors so that its affairs can be dealt with properly. At the end of the process the company is dissolved and ceases to exist.
The petition must be properly served on the company, normally by personal delivery at its registered office and also it must be advertised in the London Gazette. The advertisement is intended to notify the public but in practice this is normally how banks and other institutional creditors learn of the petition.
Directors, on receipt of the petition, should be aware that the company’s bank account is likely to be frozen when the bank learns about it. They should also be aware that any further trading after the date of receipt may mean that they can be held personally liable for any company debts accrued after that date if, when their actions are investigated, they are found not to have acted in the best interests of the company’s creditors.
If the directors wish to continue trading in order to save the company then they should seek help from a business rescue adviser if the company is insolvent. If they believe that trading on as a managed workout would benefit creditors through recovering assets, then they should seek help from an insolvency practitioner who might well be introduced by the bank or another secured creditor.
Although the petition is very serious and should not be ignored it does not mean that the company is doomed to closure.  With proper representation based on a credible plan to deal with the company’s difficulties it is possible to have a winding up petition dismissed.
A WUP is often used as an action of last resort initiated out of frustration following attempts by a creditor to agree terms for repayment of money owed or after repeated attempts to contact the company have been ignored. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) regularly uses the petition when its repeated written reminders and requests for repayment of outstanding PAYE, VAT or tax have been ignored.