Formal crackdown on directors who dissolve companies to evade debts

The Insolvency Service has been granted new powers to take to task directors who dissolve companies to avoid paying company debts. This is as a direct result of directors dissolving companies to avoid repaying Government backed loans put in place to support businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The new legislation now extends the Insolvency Service’s powers to investigate and disqualify company directors who have been deemed to have abused company dissolution processes.

Previously the Insolvency Service had these powers to investigate directors of companies that entered formal insolvency such as liquidation and administration. It is also understood that the Insolvency Service may also be instructed to investigate live companies where evidence has been brought to their attention of wrongdoing.

In addition, the new legislation also allows for the Insolvency Service to apply to court for an order to require a former director of a dissolved company, who has been disqualified, to pay compensation to creditors who have lost out due to their fraudulent behaviour.

Should you be a director and are concerned re the new legislation then please do make contact with Gary Pettit, Ian Cooke or Jamie Cochrane (01604 212150) to understand your obligations and responsibilities

What is in a (Company) name?



Can a director be held personally liable for the debts of their company?  The immediate reaction will probably be, “No” although that is not entirely accurate.


Generally, a director can be found personally liable for:

  • Debts where they have given a personal guarantee.
  • They have borrowed company money for personal use, creating an adverse loan account.
  • They are found guilty of malpractice (which causes a loss to the company) including any actions that place company assets out of the reach of creditors.


However, a question that often arises is when directors are looking to re-start trading with a new company and whether they use the current company name for their new enterprise.  As we all appreciate, the company name can be your brand, it is what your customers are attracted by and so therefore may carry a value.

Section 216 Insolvency Act 1986 (“The Act”) states that the name of a company in insolvent liquidation becomes a prohibited name.  That also goes for a trading name or a name that is so similar that it may cause confusion to the public.  This restriction only applies to those people who were directors (or “shadow” directors) of the liquidated company in the 12 months leading to liquidation AND who become directors of a company with a prohibited name within 5 years AFTER the liquidation date.

Section 217 of the Act then gives rise to personal liability following contravention of re-use of a prohibited name, as well as criminal sanctions including potential imprisonment.


In the recently reported case of PSV 1982 Ltd v Langdon [2021] EWHC 2475 (Ch) it was held:

  1. the effect of section 217 of the Act is that establishing the company’s liability (through proceedings or otherwise) makes a defaulting director automatically responsible. It is not necessary to bring separate proceedings against a defaulting director; and
  2. ‘liability’ as defined in section 217 means an obligation to pay a sum of money. The relevant liability was incurred when the contract was breached, at which time [the director] was in breach of section 216 and therefore personally liable.


The Claimant in the above case (PSV) were seeking recovery of some £1.4 million inclusive of costs and interest and, while the decision is likely to be appealed on a couple of technicalities, it serves as a stark warning to directors.

So, if a director was planning to start afresh what should they do when it comes down to the name?  Well, they can always steer clear from the prohibited name completely.  While this may cause some communication issues with customers, it certainly avoids any threat of breaching section 216 of the Act.

However, if the name (or something very similar) is needed then there are exceptions where permission can be obtained (prior to using the name) and readers are advised to take independent advice from an insolvency practitioner and/or solicitor who practices in the insolvency field to ensure you (a) meet the requirements for an application to use the name and (b) what the defined steps required consist of to ensure you do not become another Mr Langdon.

The number of “Phoenix” insolvencies is increasing and, it therefore follows, so does the exposure to breaching section 216 of the Act.  That company name could be seen as a precious commodity.  However, it is clear it can also become an expensive and personal liability.


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

Government extends business support measures.

The Government have announced two further extensions of provisions under the Corporate Insolvency & Governance Act 2020.


Commercial landlords

The ability to evict or take goods in lieu of rental arrears has been further suspended until 25 March 2022.  The Government have produced a guide for landlords, which includes financial assistance.  The link is:

While this provision can be financially damaging to landlords, tenants also need to understand they must continue to pay rent (whether that is the contractual sum or a reduced amount under an agreement with their landlord) otherwise they are simply accruing a debt that could become unmanageable, while simultaneously increasing the landlord’s frustration, meaning they show less understanding once these provisions are lifted.

Further to the above, a director may have given a personal guarantee or, in non-payment of the rentals, could be exposing themselves to potential malpractice action (which carries personal liability) should their company ultimately fall into liquidation.

Debt enforcement

The restrictions on statutory demands and winding up petitions are being extended for a further three months until 30 September 2021.  The Government claim this is, “To protect companies from creditor enforcement action where their debts relate to the pandemic.”

It is, perhaps, interesting the announcement appears to be silent on extending the moratorium over wrongful trading, although directors, in particular, should not hold the misconception suspending wrongful trading provisions protects them if they continue trading beyond a point where creditors suffer.

While being of the view extending the above provisions further is kicking the can down the road, it is understandable.  The COVID road map has been pushed back until 19 July and with furlough to end in the autumn companies will need to re-adjust their overhead expenditure while also getting their business back on track after the adverse impact of lockdown.  Holding off aggressive creditor action to the end of September provides some breathing space for companies to recover before having to deal with aged debt.  Holding off landlords even further allows additional time for business owners to assess the viability of continued trading.

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 or access our website at

Lockdown 2 – Open for Business and Support

The news none of us wished to hear was announced with the UK being placed under lockdown until 2 December 2020.  This could not be any worse for many businesses who are believing this maybe the final straw.

At PBC we recognise businesses need access to advice and assistance without any delay.  Accordingly, the PBC Team continue to be available, while also recognising the need to comply with the lockdown provisions.

There are some key dates advisors should be aware of when assisting your clients.  These include:

  • Crown preferential status returns on 1 December.  This will relate to all unpaid tax liabilities on any formal insolvency procedure that comes into effect on or after 1 December and could impair any effort of restructuring a business.
  • Under reforms to The Corporate Insolvency & Governance Act 2020 two interim prohibitions were extended to 31 December.  These are:
  • Serving of statutory demands or presentation of winding up petitions; and
  • A landlord of commercial property may not take enforcement action against a tenant for amounts due that fall within the COVID interim period.


A more concerning point of note is the freezing of the wrongful trading period was not extended beyond 30 October.  Accordingly, directors and business owners alike are now exposed to personal liability or (where an individual is made bankrupt) a bankruptcy restrictions order should they continue to increase liabilities with no reasonable prospect of avoiding insolvent liquidation or bankruptcy.  The inability to trade (as a result of lockdown) does not stop liabilities from continuing to accrue so clients need to assess the financial position of their business and take early advice

What superpower would you have if you could?

What superpower would you have if you could?  Invisibility? Being able to fly? Teleportation?  Or how about being able to re-write the law to suit yourself and ensure you are always on the right side?  That’s exactly what the government has done with two measures in the Finance Act 2020.


The first is the position where HM Revenue & Customs rank for dividend purposes.  For insolvencies commencing after 1 December 2020, HMRC shall rank as a secondary preferential creditor for the majority of taxes owed by the insolvent party where that party has acted as a collector of taxes.  This includes PAYE, VAT, CIS and employee’s NI contributions (but not any penalties associated with those debts).  “Secondary preferential” means their preferential status ranks after existing preferential claims (generally employee claims for wages and accrued holiday pay) but in priority to the holder of floating charge security.  HMRC will remain an unsecured creditor for other taxes including corporation tax and employer’s NI contributions.  To summarise, HMRC have therefore jumped to pretty much the top of the priority order in one fell swoop.


As a direct result of this, The Association of Business Recovery Professionals estimate that future new lending by banks will be £1 billion less, making recovery and turnaround harder.  To make things worse, the ability to use a formal insolvency vehicle (such as a company voluntary arrangement) may no longer be a viable option asthe unpaid taxes rank ahead of the general body of creditors, reducing the amount available to unsecured creditors.  Furthermore, it is likely there will be a significant HMRC debt as generally HMRC are the first creditor businesses and individuals stop paying – indeed this is one of the Government’s main reasons for introducing the measure.


The second new measure contained within the new law is where HMRC can issue personal liability notices against company directors following tax avoidance and evasion penalties and repeated insolvencies.


There are various conditions which must be met before HMRC can issue personal liability notices, but all involve scenarios where the company is insolvent (or likely to be).  In the tax avoidance and evasion cases, the directors can be held liable for all of the tax avoided (and any penalties as a result).  However, in the circumstances following repeated insolvencies the directors can be held liable for debts of the failed companies as well as for any future tax debt of a new company.


Before you come over all Lance Corporal Jones (Don’t Panic!) this legislation is aimed at those who act in a deliberate manner of tax avoidance/evasion.  It is not aimed at those who have missed the payment deadline for this month’s PAYE (provided you do still pay that is) or your overall circumstances demonstrate, as a director, you have acted honestly and fairly to creditors as a whole.


Having said that, the key message that should be derived from this legislation is if you feel there is an increasing difficulty in managing the company tax affairs, or liabilities as a whole, then seek early advice.  Creditors, including HMRC, are generally understanding where they learn of a possible issue at an early stage rather than wait until the need for enforcement procedures commences.  In addition, the earlier advice is sought the more options there are available.


Anyone with an insolvency related issue can contact PBC on 01604 212150.  Our initial consultations are always free, confidential, impartial and no obligation.

Jamie Cochrane

The Preference Trap?

Jamie CochranePBC Logo

My most recent blog on the Chancellor’s support schemes  (available here) included comments on the Bounce Back Loan scheme.  One question I have received following that blog focussed on how using the funds from the loan to pay off debts personally guaranteed by the director would be treated (as the Bounce Back Loan scheme does not involve any personal guarantee) and I thought I would take the opportunity to explain the situation.


The Insolvency Act 1986 states “a company gives a preference to a person if that person is one of the company’s creditors or a surety or guarantor for any of the company’s debts or liabilities and the company does anything…..[which puts] that person which, in the event of the company going into insolvent liquidation, will be better than the position he would have been if that thing had not been done”.


So let’s unpick that legal jargon for a moment by revisiting the scenario.  The director was a guarantor for a company debt.  The company did something which put the director in a better position – by paying off the debt which had been guaranteed and removing the potential for the creditor to call on the guarantee.


However, that is not the whole situation.  The liquidator has to prove three things:


  1. The transaction took place at a relevant time. As the director is a connected party, the transaction must have taken place in the two years prior to the liquidation.


  1. The company must have had the desire to prefer the individual who received the preferential treatment. As the director is a connected party, this desire is presumed (but can be rebutted by the director).


  1. The company was insolvent at the time of the transaction or as a result of the transaction. Clearly, this fact is subjective on the facts of each individual case.


Let’s return to our scenario.  Could the company have taken out a bounce back loan to repay other business borrowing (whether or not guaranteed) to take advantage of the low interest rates on the Bounce Back Loan versus their existing borrowing?  Therefore, the director may argue that the desire was not there as they were seeking to improve the cash-flow of the business, but that argument would be stronger if contemporaneous notes (something I strongly advise) were made explaining the thinking behind the transactions, particularly as such transactions may be challenged several years later.


As previously stated, each scenario will depend on its own facts.  Should you be worried about your position or you have another 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 or access our website at


Am I Liable or Not?

Can a director be held personally liable for company debt?

The knee-jerk response to the above is, “No, that is what limited liability means.”  Indeed, the only obvious exceptions would be where a director has given a personal guarantee or, when a director is the named contracting party, which does happen occasionally, especially where leasehold property is concerned.

In a recent press release by the Insolvency Service two directors received custodial sentences and a Proceeds of Crime Receiver appointed to recover monies from the estate of both directors for the benefit of the company creditors.  This should be considered as the worst-case scenario in terms of penalties for errant directors, but it should also be considered a warning to those who feel they are “Above the law”.

There is a worrying upward trend in directors acting in a manner where they believe they can beat the system and fall short of meeting their duties as required by the Companies Act.  Both the Official Receiver and insolvency practitioners are being asked by creditors to investigate the conduct of directors and to seek restoration (compensation) by “Lifting the corporate veil” and demanding directors contribute towards the company losses.  Some of the principal areas of focus include unlawful dividends, debt avoidance and adverse loan accounts, where a director has (what HMRC describe as) taken disguised remuneration.

What is probably more disturbing is the “Blame culture” as an increasing number of directors are seeking to point the finger of culpability toward their professional advisors by suggesting a defence of merely following independent advice.  This is seeing advisors being caught up in litigation or demands to deliver up their client files, or both.  It is a trend that advisors have probably noticed but what can be done to minimise the risk?

On 13 May PBC are holding a free to attend seminar at the Kettering Park Hotel where Gary Pettit and myself will be discussing the issues that are generally leading to personal liability and what professional advisors ought to consider.  Should you be interested then please contact Lisa Parker on in order to book one of the limited spaces available.



The meaning of substantial

I am sure most directors are proud the first time you order business cards (with your title as director). Expanding as you employ staff. But do you know the duties and responsibilities of being a director? Do you consider you are a responsible director?

Hopefully, your answers are, “Yes” and “Yes, of course I am.” Unfortunately, there are a minority who see directorship as a means to personal financial gain at the expense of third parties.

The Insolvency Service has recently published their latest report on director disqualifications which cites 1,242 directors were disqualified in 2018/19. A director can be disqualified for a period between 2 and 15 years and during this time they are unable to act as a director (without permission of the court) or be involved in the management, promotion or formation of a company. Since 2014 the average disqualification is 5.7 years and breaching a disqualification can attract severe penalties, including up to 2 years imprisonment.

There are many grounds for a director to face disqualification but, in general, the common grounds include:

• Trading whilst insolvent to the detriment of creditors.
• Failure to maintain proper books and records.
• Transferring company assets to avoid creditors.
• Not properly accounting for tax/VAT.
• Multiple insolvencies.

The 2018/19 figures include 70 directors who were disqualified for 11 to 15 years, a period referred to as the “substantial disqualifications”. Looking at the substantial disqualifications it is notable the bulk of these disqualifications (66%) were directors aged in their 40-50s. However, two directors who received a substantial disqualification were over 70 years of age, proving the offence(s) prevails over the age of the culpable director.

So, what does it take to become subject to a substantial disqualification? Well, examples cited by Insolvency Service include:

• Being involved in a multi-million-pound VAT fraud.
• A husband and wife team duping businesses into sponsoring unnecessary educational materials.
• Transferring £2.5 million-worth of company assets to her father-in-law.

When comparing the number of corporate insolvencies to disqualifications the number facing this sanction is relatively low. However, I would suggest if you were a victim to one of these people then one incident is one too many, irrespective of whether it is in the minority or not!

A director (or the board of directors) should never be shy in taking advice, whether that is from the company accountant or solicitor, if there are concerns on whether they may be at risk of not meeting their statutory duties. An insolvency practitioner can add to that advice, based upon both current issues and experience. In short, I would advise directors never to assume but seek advice early.

Should you have an insolvency-related issue or a corporate dispute then please contact PBC Business Recovery & Insolvency on (01604) 212150 (Northampton office) or (01234) 834886 (Bedford office).