UK shops reopening provides relief for retailers, although insolvency worries loom

The re-opening of shops has provided much-needed relief for retailers in the past two weeks, although a large number are thought to be in financial distress as Covid-19 has caused shopper numbers to slump.

Footfall was down by more than 50 per cent year-on-year in the last week of June, said the British Retail Consortium (BRC). Neverthless, this was some improvement on a dire May, when footfall was down 82 per cent.

Shops reopened on 15 June in England after a three-month lockdown to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“Consumers have benefited as shop prices have fallen for the 13th consecutive month. However the situation for many retailers, such as those in clothing and footwear, remains very challenging. Sales have dropped significantly since mid-March and two thirds of businesses are reporting turnover below pre-crisis levels, meaning there is a serious risk to jobs as a result,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive at the BRC.

Insolvency risk

Separately, it is feared 35 per cent of businesses in the UK are at risk of insolvency – with retail and hospitality firms the most at risk.

In a poll by consultancy The Centre for Economics and Business Research, 17 per cent of firms said there was a moderate to high risk of going insolvent, with a further 18 per cent reporting to be in some financial distress.

However, economists said it was encouraging that 65 per cent of respondents felt there was no risk of collapse.

Hospitality businesses should also feel some relief this weekend when pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels are allowed to re-open. According to the RAC, around 10 million drivers will take to the roads this weekend to celebrate the easing of lockdown on 4 July.

James Endersby, chief executive at data firm Opinium, said: “A light at the end of the tunnel does appear to be surfacing for some businesses across the country – with current trading conditions and future prospects both improving.”

The hospitality and tourism industry employs around 1.6 million people across 127,000 businesses, according to the British Hospitality Association. The retail sector employs some 2.9 million people across 208,000 firms.

Economic contraction worst in 41 years

Official figures showed on Tuesday the UK economy contracted an annualised 2.2 per cent in the first three months of the year.

The Office for National Statistics said it was the joint largest fall since 1979, and this barely covered the coronavirus crisis as lockdown was brought in towards the end of March.

Recent ONS figures showed the economy plummeted by 20.4 per cent in April – the largest drop in a single month since records began.

Source: inews


UK mall operator Intu collapses into insolvency. Thousands of jobs are at risk

Britain is already facing its steepest recession in 300 years, and expected to suffer the worst coronavirus-induced slump of any major economy this year. It's also risking a rupture with its single biggest trading partner, the European Union, if a new trade deal is not agreed soon.

Tens of thousands of jobs have already gone in energy, banking, aviation and aerospace and now many more are at risk after Intu (INTU), one of the United Kingdom's largest shopping mall owners, said Friday that it is entering administration. The company has debts of £4.5 billion ($5.6 billion) and was unable to agree repayment holidays with its creditors. Its shares, which have been on a downward trajectory for several years, plunged 54% on Friday before they were suspended.

Intu owns 17 UK shopping centers and two in Spain, accommodating 800 brands and 400 million shopper visits a year, according to the company. These centers will remain open during the insolvency process and individual retailers will have to enter transitional agreements with the administrators, KPMG.

But UK retailers are themselves suffering from a collapse in sales and many have been unable to pay rent for the upcoming quarter, raising questions as to how many of the shopping centers can realistically afford to remain open.

Just 14% of the rent owed by UK retailers for the third quarter of this year was paid on June 24, the due date, according to property management platform Re-Leased.

"We expect there will be more pressure to come," Re-Leased CEO Tom Wallace said in a statement Friday. "The temporary ban on evictions for non-payment of rent and the government furlough scheme is providing a lifeline to many tenants at the moment, but those measures will not last forever," he added.

Intu said it received just 29% of second quarter rent from tenants, down from 77% for the same period last year. Intu, which employs 2,600 people, was in a tight spot going into the pandemic. It posted a £2 billion ($2.5 billion) loss last year.

News of its collapse into insolvency will come as a particularly bitter blow to retailers because it coincides with a loosening of lockdown restrictions in the United Kingdom that has allowed stores to welcome customers again for the first time in months.

Brands such as Zara and H&M (HNNMY), which have already suffered steep sales declines this year, have outlets in malls owned by Intu. H&M said Friday that worldwide sales fell 50% from March through May, while Zara owner Inditex, the world's biggest clothing retailer, reported a 44% drop in sales for the three months to March. Both brands plan to accelerate store closures and a shift to online retailing — one of the few bright spots in the pandemic.

Only grocery stores and online retailers have dodged the slump in UK retail sales over the past few months, with the pandemic accelerating a move to e-commerce that was already hurting physical stores. Both the volume and value of retail sales suffered record declines over the three months to May, falling by 14% and 13%, respectively, when compared with the previous three months, according to the Office for National Statistics.The proportion spent online soared to the highest on record in May at 33.4%, breaking April's 31% record, according to ONS.In the United States, several major chains, such as JCPenney and Neiman Marcus, have already filed for bankruptcy and as many as 25,000 physical stores are expected to permanently close this year, driven partly by the continued shift to online shopping, according to Coresight Research. More than half of the store closures are expected to come in malls.

Source : CNN Business


Insolvency law shake-up will hurt UK pensioners

Sector says that emergency measures hand too much power to banks
The UK pensions industry has warned that emergency measures aimed at helping struggling businesses during the coronavirus pandemic could leave millions of pensioners worse off. In recent weeks the Pensions Regulator, the Pension Protection Fund and trade bodies representing retirement schemes have raised concerns with the government that the Corporate and Governance Insolvency Bill could have serious unintended consequences for retirement plans and their members.

The legislation, which is being fast-tracked through parliament, aims to ease the burden on businesses hit by the Covid-19 crisis by giving them breathing space of up to 40 days to pursue a rescue plan. During this period they are shielded from legal action and paying debts, including those pursued by the Pensions Regulator for unpaid contributions.

However the pension industry fears that, in its current form, the bill hands too much power to creditors like banks at the expense of pensioners, in the event that a company goes bust with a big pension deficit. “This new moratorium will make recovering unpaid pension contributions even more difficult than the current situation,” said the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, the trade body which represents more than 1,300 workplace pension schemes.

“By the time action can be taken, it may be too late for a DB scheme or the PPF to recover anything.” The PPF is a statutory lifeboat scheme that is intended to protect members if an employer sponsoring a defined benefits pension plan becomes insolvent. With the new legislation, a concern for the pension industry is that the proposed moratorium risks blowing out an existing pension funding hole, with trustees in a weaker position to recover unpaid contributions.

Currently, if a business goes bust with an underfunded defined benefit pension plan, the scheme has a right to seek funds from the insolvent company with the pension debt ranking alongside other unsecured creditors such as bank loans. But the draft bill would “dramatically alter” this by giving lending debts that fell due during the moratorium period “super priority”, according to the Society of Pension Professionals, a trade body — effectively pushing pension schemes further down the creditor queue.

“The result is that on a restructuring or insolvency, other unsecured creditors, including defined benefit pension schemes, may suffer materially worse recoveries,” the SPP said in a letter sent to the government this week. “This outcome will inevitably lead to more pensioners not receiving their benefits in full and greater strain on the Pension Protection Fund.”

The trade body said the new measures raised the “serious risk of systemic dumping” of DB pension schemes by financially distressed companies because the proposals weakened the influence of both trustees and the PPF during restructuring talks. “Currently, trustees and the PPF are able to get a seat at the table during restructuring talks, but it is more difficult for them to do so under the new rules,” said Tiffany Tsang, senior policy lead on DB schemes at the PLSA.

Since 2005, the PPF has recovered more than £3bn from failed businesses. This cash has been used to help fund compensation payments to hundreds of thousands of members transferred to the pensions lifeboat, which is mostly funded by a levy on solvent schemes. A PPF spokesperson said: “We’re working closely with [the] government to address the concerns that have been raised about specific provisions in the bill, and to make sure pension schemes and the PPF aren’t disadvantaged.“

A spokesperson for the Pensions Regulator said: “We can confirm we are working closely with the government and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and we are very mindful of the concerns the industry have expressed around the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill.” The government said: “This legislation, widely supported by business groups, will help companies through the Covid-19 emergency by giving firms essential breathing space to seek a rescue – ultimately, preserving jobs and livelihoods. “We are working to ensure that pension schemes are not disadvantaged by these important measures.”

Source: Financial Times


UK insolvency law poses hefty losses for government-backed loans

The UK government could face hefty losses on loans made to struggling businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic due to its new insolvency law that can force lenders to accept unfavourable terms during a debt restructuring process.

The new ‘Restructuring Plan', part of the government's Corporate Insolvency & Governance Bill being debated in parliament this week, empowers one class of creditors to force a debt restructuring plan on another class of creditors, in what is known as a cross class cramdown.

It therefore gives a majority of creditors the power to force a debt restructuring onto a single class of creditors who do not agree with it.

This could result in the government having to accept debt write offs on Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans (CBILs) and Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loans (CLBILs), which are 80% guaranteed by the government.

“We expect to see restructurings in the second half of the year that include these (government guaranteed) bank loans,” said one restructuring lawyer. “Under the new laws you can now cram down a single class -- it would be ironic if this class was these loans.”

The new law requires 75% of lenders, based on value across all the classes, to approve a debt restructuring. This is a far lower hurdle to overcome than the current UK scheme of arrangement system, which requires 75% by value and 50% of creditors in each class to approve the plan before it goes to court. The new law has the ability to cram down a dissenting class unlike the old system.

SUSCEPTIBLE

Some £8.9bn of CBILs were approved by the end of May, providing small and medium-sized businesses with loans of up to £5m each. The vast majority of the loans are unsecured and sit lower down the capital structure, making them susceptible to the will of higher-ranking lenders.

“There is no carve-out in the bill for CBIL loans, and so yes, they could be written down as part of a restructuring. The bank that provided the CBIL loan would be able to rely on the government for a shortfall of up to 80% of the loan,” a second lawyer said.

The loans could be written off completely or they could end up as part of a debt for equity plan, with the government left holding equity stakes in businesses.

“I think a lot of CBILs will be converted into equity – the government could end up the largest minority equity holder in the UK,” a second lawyer said.

 SLOW TAKE-UP

CLBILs, which provide larger corporates with loans of up to £200m, will mainly be secured. As they will rank on an equal basis to existing senior secured lenders, the debt is less likely to be crammed down.

However, the situation is complicated by the fact that existing senior secured lenders have to agree to a dilution of their security when a company takes a CLBIL. Restructuring advisers believe this is why the take up of these loans has been so low, with only 154 agreed so far.

It could also create a more complicated restructuring process where senior secured lenders become pitted against each other.

“Normally secured lenders would form one class in a restructuring, but there is scope for gerrymandering where some secured lenders form a different class and try to override another,” a third restructuring lawyer said.

Under the new bill, there are some safe guards against this as a court has to be satisfied that none of the dissenting classes would be any worse off under the plan than they would be in the event of an alternative process such as a liquidation.

However, the final approval of the plan lies with the judge.

 “It is a bit of a blunt instrument as it is. It will come down to how competent a judge is in understanding what is fair and what the motivations are of the different classes of creditors,” a fourth restructuring lawyer said.

Source: Yahoo Finance

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Three-quarters of Brits have given up on their financial resolutions for 2019 - but there is still hope.

Many people make money-related resolutions at the beginning of the year, but as it turns to spring, around three-quarters of Brits will already have abandoned their financial plans according to the latest survey from Voucher Codes Pro.

But what is it about making changes to our finances that we find so challenging, and is there any way to set yourself up for success? Let’s take a look.

Setting realistic goals

Many people are over-ambitious with their goals. This includes estimating how quickly they can get out of debt, or how much they can save each month. It is no surprise that many people are looking to tackle spiralling personal debt as quickly as possible and so set unsustainable targets for themselves.

The recent study carried out by Voucher Codes Pro revealed that more than one-third of Brits set January goals to get out of debt, and another third wanted to save money for a variety of reasons. While the route to achieving these goals may seem to be to cut out as many luxuries as possible to make massive annual savings, the reality is that most people will slip-up with spending.

The resolutions most likely to fail according to the research are saving a set amount each month, and using no credit at all, which indicates that a lack of flexibility in your goals can be harmful to your progress overall.

Freedom Finance has also produced research which shows that it takes three attempts to complete a new year’s resolution, so there is still time to get back on track.

George Charles, a spokesperson for Voucher Codes Pro, said:

“Having failed at a new year’s resolution doesn’t mean that you have to throw the towel in and wait until 2020 to try again.”

“There’s no time like the present. We’re all going to slip up along the way, but what matters is that you make a conscious effort to do better with your finances for the sake of your future.”

Keeping track is the first step

While many believe that paying a set amount back each month is the route to success, most people will derive more significant benefit from just accurately tracking their spending.

You should examine your finances and keep track of your spending in detailing - cutting out unnecessary expenditure where you identify patterns. Suitable examples include available subscriptions, insurance or TV bundles. You should also look into whether you are paying too much for energy, broadband and mobile contracts - even the smallest reductions in cost can add up over the year.

Set small, manageable goals

While at the beginning of the year you may have estimated how much you could hypothetically save, falling behind on these savings can affect your enthusiasm.

Nick Green from Unbiased.com said:

“A year is a long time, make it your resolution to set yourself small, regular goals over each week or month.

“Award yourself a small prize for achieving each one and tell your partner or a close friend about your goals, so they hold you to them.”

Contact us

We understand that facing up to financial challenges can be a tough and stressful time. However, you should be reassured to know that there are options available and, with the right advice and support, you can take the necessary steps to improve your situation. For specialist legal guidance on how you can get financially comfortable in Scotland, speak with one of our experts today.


Personal insolvencies in Scotland up by nearly 30% year-on-year

The number of Scots who are in serious financial difficulty has increased by 29.2 per cent in the last quarter of 2018-2019 (January-March) compared with the first three months of 2018, new figures show. This is despite unemployment being at a historic low and an increase in wages.

Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB) reported personal insolvencies rose from 2,533 in the first three months of 2018 to 3,272 in the same quarter of 2019; the highest quarterly figure recorded since 2013. Some of the suggested reasons for the increase were high levels of household debt and the general economic uncertainty caused by Brexit.

There were 1,223 bankruptcies – also known as sequestration – awarded during this quarter, nine less than the previous quarter (1,232), but a 14.4 per cent rise on the same quarter of 2017-18 (1,069). Protected Trust Deeds (PTDs) was the main contributor to the overall rise in personal insolvencies, increasing nearly 40 per cent year-on-year from 1,464 to 2,049. PTDs have been on the rise since the January-March 2015.

In the first three months of 2019, there was a 22.1 per cent uplift in the number of people entering the Scottish government’s Debt Arrangement Scheme (DAS), which allows people to try to put their finances in order without going into insolvency. This figure has risen from 489 in 2017-18 to 597 in 2018-19. A total of £9.4 million was repaid through DAS during this quarter, an increase of 0.6 per cent on the £9.3 million recorded in 2017-18.

Additionally, there were 2,544 Debt Payment Programmes (DPPs) approved in 2018-19, 226 more than the previous year. A total of £37.1 million was repaid from debtors under DAS during 2018-19 compared with £37.6 million in 2017-18. In the first three months of 2019, 597 DPPs were approved under DAS, 108 more than the figure recorded in the same quarter of 2017-18 (489).

The figures mean personal insolvencies, bankruptcies and protected trust deeds (PTDs) have now risen for the third consecutive year but remain below levels seen previously between 2006-07 and 2013-14.

Corporate insolvencies in Scotland also rose by 34 per cent compared with the previous quarter (from 209 to 280), and eight per cent compared with the same quarter last year. The AiB reported 259 Scottish registered companies became insolvent or entered receivership in the first three months of 2017-18, compared with 280 in the same period of 2018-19.

Over the year, the number of corporate insolvencies increased by 9.3 per cent, from 884 in 2017-18 to 966 in 2018-19. The majority of corporate insolvencies are compulsory liquidations, an uplift of 34.2 per cent from 149 in January-March 2018 to 200 in the same period of this year. There were 137 member’s voluntary liquidations in the last quarter of 2018-19, 15 more than the previous quarter, and a 15 per cent increase (18 more) year-on-year.

Scottish government’s business secretary, Jamie Hepburn, concluded on the findings:

“In this climate it is more important than ever that people encountering financial difficulty seek early advice and the appropriate solution.

The Scottish government urges those in financial distress to obtain money advice at the earliest possibility in order to take control of their finances and ensure the right debt solution is found to suit their circumstances.”

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For expert advice about insolvencies, bankruptcies and liquidations in Scotland, speak with one of our experts today.


Business Financial Distress UK

CVAs

Landlords vs CVAs: The battle of UK retail

CVAs have been in the news again recently as a number of High Street retailers have invoked the procedure to stave off administration.

Although landlords have voiced fairly negative views of CVAs, ultimately, pragmatism triumphed as landlords accepted the House of Fraser proposals

Era ends as House of Fraser to axe 31 stores and 6,000 jobs

The 169-year-old department store chain accepts CVA as part of rescue deal, But away from the High Street, CVAs remain as unpopular as ever here in Scotland

YEAR ENGLAND / WALES SCOTLAND
2017 292 3
2016 346 13
2015 364 4
2014 554 14
2013 571 16

I seem to be in a minority of one, but it saddens me that such a powerful and flexible restructuring tool has not found favour here. No other insolvency process more fully embraces the rescue culture than a CVA.

Directors can put forward any proposal they wish. The only restriction (besides illegality!) is that they cannot propose a compromise of a secured debt – so debts secured by standard security, floating charge or a leasing or HP agreement – without the consent of that lender. Small companies can take advantage of a statutory moratorium to provide a breathing space to fine tune proposals or start the organisational restructuring which often has to accompany the financial restructuring provided by the CVA.

So why haven’t we embraced the small company CVA in Scotland?

Many professionals say they don’t work, and research which was recently commissioned by R3, the body representing the restructuring profession, seems to back that up. That research identified 65% of CVAs which commenced in 2013 as terminating without achieving their stated aims.

But 18.5% successfully completed and a further 16.5% were ongoing. From my own experience of CVAs, even those which do not complete deliver a better outcome for creditors than either administration or liquidation.

SECTOR LIQUIDATION CVA
RESTAURANT NIL 50p in £ Secured

16.6p in £ Unsecured

RETAIL 10p in £ 42p
SERVICES 12p 32p

 

CVAs are not an easy option. Many do fail.

So what factors lead to success?

Duration

My advice to directors is to consider a maximum duration of 36 months. Most CVAs depend to some extent on contributions from cash flow. It’s unrealistic and unhelpful to fetter cash flow for longer – all this means is that the company can’t invest, can’t adapt to change, whether technological or otherwise, in its market space.

Besides, forward forecasting for more than 3 years for companies at the small end of the SME spectrum becomes largely a matter of guess work!

Management Commitment

Implementing a restructuring plan entails making some hard decisions so the commitment and dedication of the management team is vital. In my experience, that often comes from the desire to preserve reputation and a sense of duty. Most directors entering into a CVA have a desire to preserve their good relationships with employees and suppliers, many of whom have worked alongside them for a number of years.

Cause of Distress

When assessing whether a CVA might work, I look to establish whether there is a sound core business. If a business is in terminal decline, because its market has moved or for some other strategic reason, it is not an obvious candidate for a CVA. If, however, it has suffered a significant bad debt or some issue in its supply chain, the financial restructuring of a CVA can make the difference between survival and failure.

I believe that, used wisely, CVAs are a useful tool in the armoury both of insolvency professionals and company directors.

If you would like advice on CVAs, please contact Maureen Leslie.


Provisional Liquidator Appointed to T Graham & Son (Builders) Limited

On Friday 1st June 2018 Keith Anderson of mlm Solutions was appointed as Provisional Liquidator to T Graham & Son (Builders) Limited.

T Graham & Son (Builders) Limited, a long established building contractor based in Langholm in the Scottish Borders, ceased trading on 31st May 2018.

The company employed 30 staff all of whom have been made redundant with the exception of 5 employees whom have been retained to assist the liquidators.

Keith Anderson, Director at mlm Solutions and Provisional Liquidator T Graham & Son (Builders) Limited to said:

“The Company has seen a fall in turnover and increasing price competition over the last 12 months. This coupled with delays in completing contracts has resulted in significant trading losses and severe cash flow difficulties. We are working with the employees and liaising with other agencies to protect the interests of the employees at this very difficult time. Our focus will then be on disposing the company’s assets in order to maximise the recoveries for the creditors. All suppliers will be contacted in due course.”


Research Reveals Insolvency Domino Effect

New research has revealed that as many as 26% of UK companies have suffered a hit to their finances following the insolvency of a customer, supplier or debtor in the last six months.

According to the research, which was conducted by R3, the insolvency and restructuring trade body, the financial impact of the insolvency of another business was described as “very negative” by 10% of respondents, and as “somewhat negative” by 16%.

The figures are evidence of the so-called ‘domino effect’, where one company’s insolvency will increase the insolvency risk for others.

In Q1 2018, following a spate of high profile insolvencies involving large companies such as Carillion or Toys R Us, underlying insolvencies climbed 13% from the previous quarter.

“No business exists in isolation, and every headline-grabbing corporate insolvency will have consequences for numerous other enterprises,” explained Andrew Tate, spokesperson for R3. “In the worst-case scenario, the loss of a vital business relationship can lead to a company’s own insolvency in turn – the ‘domino effect’ in action. Recently, we have seen a string of insolvencies of high-profile companies, from Carillion to Toys R Us, which will have caused upheaval at other companies.”

“Often, the problems caused by the domino effect are ones that firms are able to weather, albeit with a hit to future turnover and profitability,” he added. “The insolvency and restructuring profession has a role to play in helping to steady firms at risk of the domino effect, a task that would be easier with access to a more flexible set of tools, such as the business rescue ‘moratorium’ proposed by the Government back in 2016. Despite the help a moratorium would offer a company dealing with a sudden shock, very little real progress has been made to introduce it.”

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We understand that facing up to financial challenges can be extremely difficult and stressful. However, you should be reassured to know that there are options available and, with the right advice and support, you can take the necessary steps to improve your situation. Contact MLM Solutions today to arrange a free, no-obligation, options review.


DS (Slaughterhouse) Limited

Variety is the spice of insolvency life but on 26 January 2018 Maureen Leslie received an unusual and relatively rare appointment when she became interim liquidator of DS (Slaughterhouse) Limited. The appointment was made by HM Revenue and Customs.

Elaine Ramage, mlm’s corporate senior manager, and Daniela Coia, an assistant manager in the corporate team,  attended the premises in Dunblane when the court order arrived in our Glasgow office.

Elaine, who is a vegetarian, found  to her dismay, that the company was still trading, her arrival on site coinciding with a delivery of pigs.  She made a call to the office to advise Maureen of the position.

When a company is still trading, an insolvency practitioner will usually assess whether it should continue to do so as a going concern sale will generally provide a better return to creditors than a break up sale will.   DS (Slaughterhouse) was a family run business which had been trading for 40 years and providing slaughtering services for traditional family butchers across central Scotland and as far north as Oban and Pitlochry.  However, it was fairly clear that a combination of regulatory and environmental risk factors would not allow us to continue in this case - to say nothing of the pigs, which our on site staff insisted could be heard squealing.  The Company employed 10 staff many of whom had been with the Company since the outset.  All staff had to be made redundant.

The directors advised that the Company had traded successfully for a number of years however; latterly a combination of foreign meat imports and cheaper supermarket prices had a damaging financial effect on small abattoirs.

Our team at mlm can respond quickly to appointments across a wide range of sectors.  Our thanks go to Elaine and Daniela for dealing very efficiently with a challenging assignment.  If you are a creditor, or if you have a client who is owed money which is proving difficult to collect, we’d be happy to talk to you about your options.