The 2018 Budget has seen the announcement that HMRC will regain their preferential creditor status, a position which they lost in 2002 under the Enterprise Act. Since then they have ranked alongside unsecured creditors (such as suppliers, landlords etc).

Chancellor Philip Hammond, speaking in Parliament said, “We will make HMRC a preferred creditor in business insolvencies…to ensure that tax which has been collected on behalf of HMRC, is actually paid to HMRC”.

Further detail announced by HM Treasury states, “Taxes paid by employees and customers do not always go to funding public services if the business temporarily holding them goes into insolvency before passing them on to HMRC. Instead, they often go towards paying off the company’s debts to other creditors.  From 6 April 2020, the government will change the rules so that when a business enters insolvency, more of the taxes paid in good faith by its employees and customers but held in trust by the business go to fund public services as intended, rather than being distributed to other creditors such as financial institutions”.

It is understood HMRC will become a “secondary preferential creditor”, ranking after current preferential creditors, which includes the Redundancy Payments Service and employees for certain elements of their employment rights. HMRC will only become preferential for debts collected by the company on behalf of HMRC, such as VAT, PAYE and employee’s NI contributions but will remain unsecured for Corporation Tax and employers’ NI contributions.

The Government believe this measure will result in an extra £185 million in taxes being recovered each year. However the policy will have other consequences such as:

  • Banks and other lenders may be unwilling to support companies, or charge higher interest rates on lending, as their risk will increase.
  • Other unsecured creditors, including small businesses, landlords, pension funds, suppliers and employees will see the amount they receive reduced.

The full release from HM Treasury is available here:

The budget also included confirmation of proposals whereby directors could be held liable for debts due to HMRC where there is a risk that the company may deliberately enter insolvency. Following Royal Assent of the Finance Bill 2019-20, directors and other persons involved in tax avoidance, evasion or phoenixism could be jointly and severally liable for company tax liabilities in certain cases.