Will the government support schemes make things worse?

Whilst we all might have our views on how Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock et al have handled the health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, one politician who has emerged with his reputation enhanced is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and that’s not just because he has been nicknamed “Dishy Rishi”.


Whilst there is inevitably some people who have fallen through the cracks, the Chancellor’s support schemes have included the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (commonly known as the furlough scheme) – with 9.4million employees furloughed as at 5 July 2020, the Self-Employment Income Support scheme – with 3.5million people supported, and CBILS and Bounce Back Loans totalling £45billion as at 5 July 2020.


While this is a staggering amount of support that Mr Sunak has offered to UK businesses, there’s the potentially slightly controversial opinion that these schemes make things worse for the directors and their companies.


At PBC, we always raise awareness about seeking advice at the earliest possible opportunity as this gives the greatest chance of survival, the largest range of options available and minimises the risk of directors entering the “elephant traps” of antecedent transactions or breaches of their statutory duties.  But we are worried that some directors are believing that the government support schemes, combined with the suspension of wrongful trading provisions from 1 March – 30 September 2020, mean that their business will be fine once the Covid-19 restrictions are fully lifted and trading conditions return to business as normal.


However, while the furlough scheme helped towards wages and other schemes were designed to support business survival, liabilities such as utilities, rent, financial commitments etc will have continued to accrue.  In addition, it is unlikely that conditions will return to a “Pre Covid normal” for a significant period of time and businesses should be focussing on how they will adapt to the “new-normal” and ensure that they remain solvent and their cashflow is healthy.


Our concerns about the schemes making things worse are highlighted by a well published survey that reports just under half of Bounce Back Loans will not be repaid.  Are these loans being taken out purely to see the business survive for a few more months and enable the director to profit from the business before it fails?  Bounce Back Loans were publicised with no liability on the director or that no recovery action could be taken against a borrower’s main home.  However, while the loans were for business purposes only we have heard of scenarios where the loans have been taken into the company and then used to pay off the director’s personal debt.  This could lead to personal liability for the director and we urge all directors to seek independent advice on the use of the benefits received from the schemes


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 jamiecochrane@pbcbusinessrecovery.co.uk or access our website at www.pbcbusinessrecovery.co.uk


Jamie Cochrane

Recession or is it something else?


What is the outlook for the UK economy post lockdown?  That is a question I have been asked many times, while others tell me how busy my profession will be.

The truth is, nobody can accurately predict what will happen.  Personally, I have heard views from, “It is going to be a tough time, but we will get through it,” to others predicting 800,000 – 1 million businesses will fail over the next 12-18 months.

Before we look forward, let us look back.  I have worked through two major recessions, being 1990 and 2008.  The first of these saw UK officially enter recession at the end of the 4th quarter of 1990.  Corporate insolvencies were up 44% in 1990 (from 1989) with the level of failures increasing with 1991 being 60% higher than 1990.  A further increase was suffered with 1992 being 72% higher than 1991.  While numbers dropped in 1993 corporate failures still totalled 26,316 as compared to 18,720 in 1990.

You then compare that with the 2008 recession which was entered at the end of the 3rd quarter of 2008.  2007 had seen 15,774 corporate insolvencies, rising in 2008 to 21,082 (an increase of 34%). 2009 saw this figure further increase to 23,979.

What the 1990 and 2008 recessions told us is the peak of business failure may well arise a year or two after officially entering recession and levels remain high for a year or two after the peak.   However, this looming crisis is likely to be different to those past recessions.

While we may officially enter recession in the 3rd quarter, it is likely corporate failures will start to rise immediately as opposed to previous trends of corporate failures rising in the wake of a recovering economy.  The principal difficulty will be cash flow as most industries will find themselves back at pre-lockdown operational costs (including salaries as furlough ceases) but also, some will have the additional burden of servicing the bounce back and business interruption loans, as well as any deferred tax payments.  All this cost pressure will be challenging when it is anticipated “Normal” levels of turnover may not return for some time.

In saying the above, it would be remiss of me not to mention corporate insolvency numbers fell by 8.5% in the 1st quarter of 2020 (as compared to the corresponding quarter of 2019).  However, this maybe artificial as according to a well-known high court judge I spoke to recently, the working hours of the courts have been reduced with only 40% employment retained and winding up petitions have fallen by 85% principally as a result of HMRC ceasing enforcement action on standard unpaid tax matters.  Many other petitions have been adjourned under temporary COVID directives so there could be an explosion of activity once UK starts getting back to a semblance of normality.

This may all appear to come across as negative but overall the UK economy has the strength to recover and the services provided will continue to be in demand worldwide.  The key messages readers should take from this are:

  1. Continue to monitor your cash flow without a “Salesman” eye. Be critical and challenge the numbers.
  2. Review your overhead structure to see where reductions and removals are available.
  3. Take early advice from your accountant, solicitor and, where appropriate, an insolvency practitioner. Best anticipate a problem rather than have to deal with problem that has arisen.
  4. Should you have an insolvency-related issue or a corporate dispute 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 garypettit@pbcbusinessrecovery.co.uk or access our website at pbcbusinessrecovery.co.uk


An alternative credit check?

Are you an SME who is contracted to supply (or are considering supplying) a large company? If so, how confident are you payment of your invoices will be paid in a timely manner, if at all?

Why it’s important to check your credit file

In recent times we have witnessed some large companies failing, including Connaught Construction, BHS and recently, Carillion.  With each failure there is a wake of debt owed to thousands of suppliers that will end up being written off.  Some of that debt was unpaid because the supplier was caught up in the contractual web of having to continue to supply or face the potential of being held in breach of contract.  Others may be apportioned to a “Relaxed” credit control.  After all, the biggest customer on your books is too big to fail, isn’t it?  The examples given answer that question!

However, those in charge of considering a supply line to large companies have a tool available to enable them to determine whether the prospect of working with a large company is the “Golden opportunity” or something where you politely say, “No thanks.”

The Small Business Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 (“SBEEA”) introduced a payment policy reporting obligation on all large companies. A “Large company” is defined as one that meets at least two of the following:

  • Annual turnover of at least £36 million.
  • Balance sheet value of £18 million.
  • At least 250 employees.


The reporting duties imposed by the SBEEA came into effect from 6 April 2017 so we should start seeing these payment reports very shortly as financial year ends will need to provide for this obligation.

The information required in this report must incorporate a narrative description of the business standard payments terms and include:

  1. The standard contractual length of time for payment.
  2. How suppliers have been notified (or consulted) on any changes in this policy within the financial year.
  3. Description of their policy for resolving disputes relating to payments.
  4. Statistics covering:
  • the average number of days to make payments.
  • The percentage of payments made within 30 days, 60 days and 61 days or longer.
  • The percentage of payments due within the reporting period that were not paid within the agreed payment period.


They will also have to reveal whether:

  • Suppliers are offered e-invoicing.
  • Supply chain finance.
  • The policies regarding deducting sums from payments due as a form of charge to remain on the suppliers’ list.
  • Whether they have deducted sums from payments due.
  • Whether they are a member of a payments code and, if so, name the code.


This report must be published on a web-based service provided by Government and within 30 days of the end of the reporting period covered. While it is still in its infancy this service should prove invaluable when you are considering working with a large company and should be part of your credit/sales practice before you sign on that dotted line.

A Round Up of Recent Insolvency Statistics and Perhaps More Trouble Ahead!

Last week The Insolvency Service released the insolvency statistics for the fourth quarter of 2017. Whenever these are published, the newspapers will always look for the story without going into the details.

So for example, the press reported that personal insolvencies in 2017 increased by 9% as compared to 2016, Of course that is correct, but they didn’t report that personal insolvencies fell by 11% in Q4 2017 as compared to Q3.

It is of course true that when inflation is higher than increases in wages then it will have an effect on individuals’ surplus income and in many cases (99,196 in 2017), will lead to personal insolvencies. In the short term this is expected to continue.

Another story that didn’t seem to hit the headlines was a 2.5% rise in corporate insolvencies in 2017 as compared to 2016. First this is a small increase in any event. However, it should also be noted that corporate insolvencies have been at a historically low number for a few years now, so a small increase on what is already a small number is not worth mentioning.

So this all seems like reasonably good news for the economy as a whole. On face value it does but at PBC we are starting to see growing signs of trouble ahead.  Over the last 3 months we have seen a growing number of enquiries and work.  It is fair to say that the retail sector (the high street in particular), is struggling, partially because of the reduction in personal incomes., and also businesses which deal with discretionary spend items (for example, new car sales are down).

At some stage we also expect fallout from the Carillion failure as subcontractors and those further down the chain come to terms with the lost income and future work.

It was also interesting to see that the FCA has started to address the issue of interest only mortgages. The FCA estimate there are 1.67 million full interest only and part capital repayment mortgages in the UK and the most of these will conclude in the next 10 to 14 years. Clearly as these come to a conclusion it will have an effect on those consumers and therefore the economy.  Only time will tell.

As always if you or your business is starting to struggle we would always recommend that you take advice at an early stage. Initial meetings with PBC are free and confidential.

The peril of working with a big company

How many times have you heard the story of a SME securing that “Life changing” contract with a big company?

While many can look back and say that really was a life changer, too many fall into an ever-decreasing financial circle. All is going well until the SME gets told the previously agreed unit price is being revised (usually down) while the double-whammy is the large company also dictates when and how much the SME will be paid. Others, such as those working for Carillion Plc, find they are increasing their exposure while the contractual terms oblige them to continue working (with no guarantee of payment) or face potential claims for (say) unilateral breach of contract.

The Government highlight the late payment interest legislation but their stance is based upon vote winning and not the hard reality of business where the larger corporations will simply ignore such demands with the threat you continue working under their preferred conditions or lose the contract entirely.

I mention Carillion but lest we forget others like British Home Stores, Habitat, Mark One, Toys “R” Us and 56 football clubs that have been subject to insolvency; some multiple times.

It is so easy to sit and write this but when an SME has that large corporation opportunity it can be like offering a starving person food. It takes a brave person indeed to turn down such a business opportunity.

The Achilles heel always seems to centre around the terms of contract. Large corporations will generally lay down their terms.  Our advice would be to consult your solicitor and ensure there are safeguards for the SME in that contract.  Okay, that may be a deal breaker but what do you prefer, a contract that benefits both parties and encourages success or to sit in front of an insolvency practitioner telling a tale of woe as your business ceases to trade because it could not trade under the conditions imposed?  Is that really a tough choice?

Should you need further convincing just think of the 30,000 businesses and the £1.5 billion of unpaid debt Carillion has left in its wake. One of those has already spoken to PBC and is wondering how his business will survive losing the £800,000 Carillion owe.  At PBC we are certain this business is not the first victim of Carillion where the owners now see the life changing experience being one of detriment and loss.

If you require any advice or assistance on mediation or probate matters, or any other insolvency-related issue, then please contact PBC Business Recovery & Insolvency to discuss and advise on your situation. Call Gary Pettit or Gavin Bates on 01604 212150 completely confidentially.

Blog written by Gary Pettit

What is insolvency and does it apply to me or my business?

Insolvency is a very simple situation that can need a very difficult and sometimes complex resolution. If you find yourself in a situation where you are potentially insolvent you will need to take a long, clear look at things and decide what is the best option. In this video, Kym Carvell looks at what insolvency means for a business or individual. With over 30 years of experience of insolvency, Kym is a respected member of our team who is able to explain financial situations with clarity, honesty and a sympathetic ear. If you think the situations described in this video may apply to you, or your accountant is flagging a potential issue, your best option is to contact us as soon as possible so we can begin working towards a resolution.


When do I need an Insolvency Practitioner?

Do have a dog but try to bark yourself? They (dogs) are pretty good at it and are certainly better than me so I tend to let them do what they are better at!

So, why is there an apparent reluctance to consult with an insolvency practitioner (“IP”) until the very last minute, if at all? I will say now I have a huge amount of respect for those who come to see me.  After all I am a stranger to them and they are being asked to reveal all of their issues on a point of trust I may steer them in the right direction.

Some of the subjects we have been approached to assist on include:

  • A customer has gone insolvent and the creditor is unaware of their rights or need guidance on the meaning of documents received.
  • A business is being handled by an administrator (or liquidator) and you are interested in the acquisition.
  • The IP is telling you that the goods you supplied are going to be sold for the benefit of creditors as a whole but what are your rights?
  • An IP is threatening me with all sorts of monetary claims.
  • My credit card and other domestic debts are out of control.
  • Our company is in financial difficulty.


The insolvency business is a highly specialised area with less than 1,100 appointment-taking IPs in the UK. The governing legislation provides some immense powers such as lifting the corporate veil and pursuing company officers personally for losses resulting from their conduct, the rights of landlords or suppliers can be controlled, or even prevented.  Contacting an IP at an early stage may make the necessary route you need to take smoother, it may even mean you have more than one option.  Leaving it until things are getting to a critical level often leads to a very costly and damaging outcome.

For those who need convincing, in a case I am looking at a gentleman tried to handle a bankruptcy petition that had been presented against him in person. Because he did not appreciate the court procedures he ended up being made bankrupt.  His asset value (home and land) is over double that of his principal debts but he is now facing the prospect of losing his home in order to clear the bankruptcy and the costs inherent with bankruptcy.  Had he taken timely advice this could have been avoided and the anticipated cost a fraction of what they are now going to be.

So, the message is clear. IPs are not monsters and are there to bark for you when the highly specialised subject of insolvency comes looming.

If you require any advice or assistance on any insolvency-related matter then please contact Gary Pettit or Gavin Bates at PBC Business Recovery & Insolvency on (01604) 212150.

Personal Insolvency Rates – Women Overtake Men


Every quarter the Insolvency Service produce statistics which confirm how many businesses fail, broken down by insolvency type:, liquidations (whether they are compulsory or voluntary) administration or company voluntary arrangements (CVAs).

At the same time similar statistics are released for individuals, divided into bankruptcies, debt relief orders or individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs). There are very few details about the number of debt management plans.

When these are released, the details will always make that day’s news and as is normal with the media they focus on the worst points.

In general terms, corporate insolvency appointments have been failing from their recent highs reached during the financial crash in 2007/08 (although failures were much higher in the early 1990’s). Personal insolvency appointments have also been falling, although in the last year there has seen a steady rise. Historically men have always had higher rates of insolvency than women but since 2014, women have overtaken men.

Once a year the Insolvency Service produce more detailed personal insolvency statistics. The main headlines are:

  • The total insolvency rate increased for the first time since 2009, and increased in all regions of England and Wales between 2015 and 2016.
  • The North East continued to have the highest insolvency rates, while London had the lowest.
  • Nine out of ten local authorities with the lowest insolvency rates were in London or the South East, whilst seven out of the ten areas with the highest rates were located in coastal areas.
  • Insolvency rates increased for all age groups except 55 and over, with those aged between 18-44 showed the biggest rises.


When I review these figures I am always interested in the details. For example Corby has been in the top 10 of the worst local authority areas in terms of personal insolvency rates.  As mentioned above the majority are seaside towns which have their own issues due to the seasonal economies in which they operate.  Being based in Northampton we are aware that Corby still has elements of poor families struggling to make ends meet in low paid jobs.  In our experience these will often be cases in which credits cards and loans have been built up, possibly in a period when there has been a loss of income or ill health or just simple overspending.  Commonly once the debt has been built up they find it almost impossible to repay the debt because of the low income and so a downward spiral begins.

So what can the individual do?

The first thing required is to be honest with yourself and the situation. Sit down and summarise who you owe money to and how much.  Next produce a budget detailing your income and necessary spending.  Hopefully this should leave a surplus and you can then plan how to reduce your debt using this surplus.

You may find you need additional help and PBC have always offered help to individuals and will outline all the options open to them from refinancing, a debt management plan, IVA’s and bankruptcy, alone with many others. Our advice is simple: take action as soon as possible rather than leaving it too late.

Initial meeting are free of charge and confidential. We hope to understand your position, answer your questions and lay out the options available to you in order for you to consider which is the best way forward for you.

Ever Decreasing Circles

‘Living beyond means’ – a leading cause of bankruptcy

When you think of Ali Campbell you think of UB40, Shane Filan, Westlife and Martine McCutcheon may bring back memories of “Eastenders”. What they all have in common is being made bankrupt, which goes to prove cash is king.

There is an old joke about the husband who did not report his wife’s card stolen because the thief was spending less than she did. Excluding mortgages, household borrowing in the UK rose to £198 billion and with car financing increasing by 15% and credit card debt by 10% this represents the fastest growth in debt levels since 2005.  Statisticians suggest the average household could last just 32 days without any income and that more than 22% have savings below £500.

This depressing picture is indicative of how austerity has impacted on the general public. However, it does not reflect the true picture because the reports on personal debt do not include “Hidden” liabilities such as personal guarantees for third party borrowing or directors over-drawing on their loan accounts.  The worst case I have seen so far was a former partner of a failed legal practice whose Christmas present in 2014 were demands amounting to £11 million.  Try explaining that to your spouse!

At PBC we see people with personal debts ranging from less than £10,000 up to the poor sole mentioned above. Regardless of the quantum of debt they all endure the same; demand letters, High Court Enforcement Officers, threats of bankruptcy etc.  Admittedly, there are some who consult PBC where bankruptcy is the best option for that individual due to the overall circumstances.  Others, like our client with the unwanted Christmas present, entering into an individual voluntary arrangement (“IVA”) provided certainty and protected his career.

As implied, an IVA is not right for everyone. It is a deal with your creditors; a balanced compromise where there are benefits for both the client and their creditors and demonstrates being more beneficial than bankruptcy.  The key component from the client perspective is you must have something to offer, whether that is an income contribution or tangible offers, or a combination of both.

The principle message has (and will always be) take advice early. The longer you leave debt-related problems the more antagonised your creditors will become, the more cumbersome the debt and the less creditors will be persuaded to support any form of compromise you may wish to put forward.