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It is winding up, but not as we know it.

On 10 September 2021 the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Coronavirus) (Amendment of Schedule 10) Regulations 2021 was laid before Parliament and comes into force with effect from 29 September 2021.

For most people, that maybe a case of, “So what?”  However, for those who are thinking of enforcing the repayment of debts it will have a logistical impact. 

As many will know, prior to the introduction of the Corporate Insolvency & Governance Act 2020 (“CIGA”) a creditor, owed £750 (or more) could present a winding up petition against a debtor, following either an unsatisfied judgment or the expiration of a statutory demand.  However, provisions within CIGA prohibited the use of statutory demands or winding up petitions, unless it could be proven the petition debt did not arise (or become unpayable) as a direct result of Covid-19.  These interim provisions were due to expire on 30 September 2021, having previously been extended on previous occasions.

We can all speculate on why the CIGA temporary provisions were extended.  However, suffice to say the continuation of Covid-19 and the feared impact of “Letting loose” frustrated debtors to pursue unpaid debt (and its impact on the economy) were clearly on the agenda.

In short, the temporary provisions being introduced:

  1. Increase the debt that must be owed to present a company winding up petition to £10,000.
  1. Creditors must seek proposals from the debtor business for repayment of the debt, giving 21 days to respond before they can proceed with a winding up petition: and
  1. Commercial Landlords must still demonstrate to a court that debts are not Coronavirus related until the end of March 2022.

Many believe the £10,000 limit should remain beyond these temporary measures but that is a discussion for another day.

The more interesting measure is the introduction of the 21-day notice.  At first, those who deal with debt recovery may ask what is the difference between a statutory demand (that provides 21 days to pay or secure the debt in any event).  You may even ask whether a statutory demand still needs to be served after this new 21-day notice has expired.

Thankfully, the amendments to the schedule provide the answers.

Paragraph 4 includes two distinct requirements (in addition to those already prescribed):to the schedule provides the 21-day notice must contain:

(e)          a statement that the creditor is seeking the company’s proposals for the payment of the debt, and

(f)           a statement that if no proposal to the creditor’s satisfaction is made within the period of 21 days beginning with the date on which the notice is delivered, the creditor intends to present a petition to the court for the winding-up of the company.

This is a significant shift from the requirements within a statutory demand as it appears to be steering an unpaid debt scenario down the road of Alternative Dispute Resolution.  This assumption appears to be supported by the fact a statutory demand is not required on the expiry of the 21-day letter.  However, Rule 7.5(1) of the Insolvency (England & Wales) Rules 2016 have been amended to include two statements on the winding up petition, namely:

(1)          that the requirements in paragraph 1 of this Schedule are met, and

(2)          that no proposals for the payment of the debt have been made, or a  summary of the reasons why the             proposals are not to the creditor’s satisfaction (as the case may be).

In theory, this appears like a sound compromise to ensure there is not a flood of winding up petitions from 1 October onwards.  However, the issue regarding whether any proposals are satisfactory, or not, appears subjective.  If a petitioner believes they are not satisfactory, what happens at the first hearing of the petition?  What if the court adopt the view the petitioner was unreasonable in either refusing the proposals or, in the alternative, had not engaged in settlement negotiations?  Worse still, if the petition is dismissed in favour of payment terms, who pays the costs, not to mention consideration of any damage caused by the petition having already been advertised?

At PBC we are taking the view these interim measures were attempting to allow debtors to pursue unpaid debts but in a commercial and understanding manner.  In short, avoiding the potential flood of recovery action that has been the fear behind previous extensions.  It also sends out a warning to those on the receiving end of debt enforcement and that is to act in a timely and appropriate manner when considering the viability of your business.

Should you have an insolvency-related issue then please contact me at PBC Business Recovery & Insolvency on (01604) 212150 (Northampton office) or (01234) 834886 (Bedford office). Alternatively, you may send an email to garypettit@pbcbusinessrecovery.co.uk or access our website at www.pbcbusinessrecovery.co.uk