250,000 Businesses Might Close in 2021

Pressure continues to build on UK Businesses – as if Covid and Brexit were not enough!

Back in late March 2020, just as the first lockdown began, one of our Insolvency Practitioners, Antony Batty, made the point that many thousands of companies went from being profitable, going-concerns to having almost no income but still plenty of overheads. Many predicted a swift and sizeable spate of insolvencies would be the likely result – companies the UK could ill afford to lose.

The outcome, so far, has not been one of growing insolvencies, and this is almost entirely down to Government support and affected companies working as hard as they can to stay afloat. A recent survey by the Federation of Small Businesses suggests, however, that 250,000 small businesses could close this year as the third lockdown bites and exporters find that the additional Brexit related red tape causes costs and time spent to increase.

In this article, our insolvency practitioners point out that the financial pressure that firms are facing is not just the fact that some are ‘falling though the cracks’ of government support, or the length of time the pandemic has been going on for, or even the Brexit effect. We highlight 4 additional key areas that are also causing increased pressure on businesses right now, and suggest how insolvency practitioners can help:

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Repayment of Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans

The first CBIL repayments are now only 3 months or so away, which means that an extended lockdown period could force more businesses to the edge of insolvency as their income remains much reduced. It might well be that the Government will act on this and extend the interest free period, but as things stand, such repayments could force companies into insolvency.

Directors not fulfilling their duties at insolvency

The fiduciary duties of directors at insolvency to their creditors and shareholders are unchanged by Covid-19. If insolvent, company directors must tread very carefully to avoid personal liability to creditors and the possibility of misfeasance claims, director disqualification, or even prison.

It is also worth highlighting that if CBILs, for example, are mis-used and the receiving company becomes insolvent, Insolvency Practitioners have statutory powers of investigation, with personal liability for directors again being a likely outcome for the outstanding loan.

The 4 key sins for directors to avoid (as detailed in the Insolvency Act, 1986) when their company is insolvent are:

Directors must always be aware of their company’s financial position. Pleading ignorance is no excuse. Indeed, failure to recognise that a company is in financial difficulties is likely to be seen as irresponsible, negligent and proof of ‘unfit conduct’ by the directors.”

Late payment of invoices

The late payment of invoices in the UK has long been a major problem, especially those owed to small businesses by larger businesses. Recent Government figures show that in October 2020, late payments owed to small businesses had reached £23.4 billion, a situation that is likely to get worse as lockdown 3 continues. Indeed, the Institute of Directors has commented that nearly 40% of businesses had faced an increase in overdue commercial invoices during the pandemic.

At a time when generating turnover is paramount, the late payment of invoices could easily be enough to tip struggling companies into insolvency.

January Tax Return Time

As if the above were not enough, the annual tax return deadline is approaching on 31st January, and the end of January tax bill is likely to bring further financial hardship to companies – and directors – struggling to survive.

How Can Insolvency Practitioners Help?

The threat of insolvency to businesses is huge and it seems inevitable that many that are already under threat will not survive.

One thing we know for certain, however, is that the sooner under pressure directors act, the better the chance of survival. Figures from R3 (the Association of Business Recovery Professionals), for example, show that over 40% of insolvent businesses are rescued by Insolvency Practitioners. Options range from providing access to finance to help turnaround to the breathing space that insolvency procedures such as Company Voluntary Arrangements and Administrations provide. Liquidation is not inevitable.

In addition, the earlier directors talk to a Insolvency Practitioners the quicker they can be advised on what measures to take to avoid breaching their responsibilities.

Talk to our teams at any of our offices for an initial free discussion:

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