A Stark Lesson

How many readers find themselves looking at how much to pay in order to service personal debt every month after you have just been paid? In some cases that level reaches a point where it simply cannot be managed where you then start to notice those road-side signs that promise to write off 90% of your debt a little more.

Some will ignore those assurances and seek advice early. This could result in an application for your own bankruptcy where others will consult with an insolvency practitioner (“IP”) with a view to entering into an individual voluntary arrangement (“IVA”).  An IVA is, in laypersons’ terms, a deal with your creditors that is regulated and is a settlement in full and final satisfaction of your liabilities.  Indeed, over the past six years IVA have consistently outnumbered the number of bankruptcy orders, demonstrating more people are looking to resolve their debt burden.

However, a far greater majority of people look towards debt management plans (“DMP”) as their solution. While I have my own misgivings, for many people a DMP works and they get themselves back on a level footing.  Unfortunately, I have also seen many where it does not work and those people end up going bankrupt or, in some cases, enter into an IVA.

One issue that arises with companies who offer DMP is the lack of “Insolvency-like” regulation. Every IP has to be licensed through a professional body and are regulated by statute, their professional body and the Government through the Insolvency Service.  IPs also have professional guidelines to follow and are insured so there is recourse if things go wrong.  If you are wondering why you should take heed of this fundamental difference then you only have to look at the recently reported case of Gregson and Brooke Financial Services Limited and One Tick Limited.

Both Gregsons and One Tick offered a debt management service where clients would pay into a DMP. Clients complained to the Financial Conduct Authority (who governed both companies) that despite paying into their DMP their debt was increasing.  After some initial enquiries by the FCA both companies went into administration after which it was discovered the directors had withdrawn some £652,000 of client money for their own benefit.  While all four directors have been disqualified as directors, the true victims are the debt-ridden clients who now find they are in deeper financial trouble than before, despite making significant debt repayments; payments that would have been covered by IP insurance under a formal insolvency procedure.

The Association of Business Recovery Professionals have been so concerned with this (growing) problem they have published two guides:

“Don’t be misled by advice from an unlicensed advisor”

“My business is in financial difficulty”

These can be found on the Association’s website (www.r3.org.uk) or on our website at www.pbcbusinessrecovery.co.uk/Links/

In short, if you find yourself in a position where the ability to service your debt is getting to (or has reached) a point of no return seek professional advice from an IP. With most practices, the first consultation is free of charge and could save you a lot of stress, anguish and, like the poor victims of the above companies, expense.

Beware the Unregulated Insolvency Advisor!

Last year R3, The Association of Business Recovery Professionals, launched a campaign to warn about the risk of using unlicensed insolvency advisors and produced a very helpful guide which can be found here.

Business Pressure

The problem of unregulated advisors is not a new one but something that has grown over the last few years. The guide highlights some of the common marketing phrases these firms use, including:

  • We act for you, not your business’ creditors
  • Don’t take advice from an insolvency practitioner, as they only act for your creditors, whereas we act solely for you
  • We can offer you an alternative way to close down your company, leaving you free to launch a new business debt-free
  • We have a way to allow you to continue trading, keep your assets and yet benefit from writing off all your debts


Late last year we experienced one situation with a client and so we thought we would share the story as an example of the advice being given by the unregulated advisor.

Our client X Limited had contacted us via his accountant and after an initial meeting it was clear that the Company had in effect ceased to trade and was insolvent. The director wished to wind the Company up and we were instructed to place the Company into liquidation.

The director asked lots of questions about the process and wanted to ensure he was doing the right thing. The liquidation was explained in great depth and all questions were answered.

A new style decision process was called to place the company into liquidation and on the day of that meeting the director arrived very concerned because he had been contacted by an advisor and was now unsure whether the liquidation was right for him.

He provided me with copies of the correspondence he had exchanged with the ‘UK’s leading Unlicensed Insolvency Practitioners & Insolvent Business Acquisition Specialists’. He had discussed the situation on the phone with them and thought he may take on this firm and cancel the liquidation process.

However he was concerned about what they offered. So I reviewed the paperwork he had received. The unregulated advisor’s offer was as follows;

  • The advisor would buy the Company for a nominal £1.
  • The director would resign and the advisor replace him.
  • He would be free of his debts and free to get on with his life.
  • When we read further through the terms and conditions the actual fees would be £5,000 plus VAT or 10% of the liabilities remaining on acquisition whichever is the greater.


In this example the unsecured liabilities were £165,619 so a fee of £16,561, although the unregulated firm had agreed a discounted fee of £9,400 plus VAT.  However of those unsecured liabilities £45,000 related to a directors loan account and there were other creditors which the director had personally guaranteed in any event, so he would not be free of some of his debts, as we had already explained to him.

I also pointed out that within the terms that the advisor had provided, whilst the advisor would try to have the Company struck off, he reserved the right to put the Company into liquidation.

In the end the director agreed the liquidation was the best way forward and we were appointed as the liquidator on that day.

To conclude the story I then found out on 8 January of this year the unregulated advisor was placed into provisional liquidation by the Official Receiver to protect the public interest.

We are aware that these advisors commonly chase directors who have received a CCJ and so are aware that the Company may be having cash flow problems.  PBC receives the same data and where possible we contact the accountant to make them aware of the situation so they can explain to the client that they may receive this sort of approach.

I hope this provides a clear example of the benefits of advising clients to seek professional help from a licensed insolvency practitioner.  PBC offer initial meetings which are free of charge and confidential.

Blog written by Gavin Bates

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.


So what went wrong?

The most common reasons why businesses fail

“If you fail to plan then plan to fail”. A well-known phrase that everyone in business should have hanging in a prominent place as a reminder that operating a business carries risk as well as reward.

Nobody takes that brave leap into being self-employed thinking their business will fail within the first two years. However, many start-ups find themselves in difficulties within this time frame, generally as a direct result of a failure to plan.  I appreciate I will not win many friends by saying this but the business acumen in this country is poor and the general knowledge required absent.  If I had a pound for every time a director referred to the assets of a limited company as his assets when they are actually company property………

Putting it another way, if you build a house on poor foundations then you can expect that house to fall down eventually. Similarly, if you do not start a business on sound footing from the outset you are promoting failure.

This article could dominate several pages if I were to go into any real detail but, generally speaking common areas leading to difficulties in the near future of a start-up include:

  • No business plan (including cash flow forecasts) from the outset. If you have a business idea then putting that down in writing should inform you if that idea is viable and what is likely to be the requirements. It also supports any application for third party funding, such as from banks.
  • Choosing the wrong trading vehicle (e.g. limited company, partnership etc.).
  • Over-borrowing from the outset, leaving start-up costs creating a financial commitment that eventually becomes a burden too great.
  • Not registering for VAT or PAYE. In one case I handled the company had been over the VAT threshold requirements for three years yet was not VAT registered. It was one of the grounds for him receiving a custodial sentence!
  • Not accounting for receipts and payments properly.
  • Entering into contractual obligations without fully understanding the implications.
  • No trading terms and conditions upon which to fall upon when things go wrong.
  • Not monitoring cash flow. Most business failures have reached a stage where cash is exhausted so they cannot pay the bills.


The advice to any would-be new business owner is to take advice. Speak to an accountant who can help you determine what the appropriate trading vehicle for your business is, assist with VAT registration and guide you through how to ensure your day-to-day accounting is correct.  Equally, a commercial solicitor can draw up your terms of trade that maximise protecting your business interests and can steer you with regards to any agreements you are asked to sign.  Finally, do not overlook the role of commercial banks as they can assist in the most appropriate form of funding the business, both at start up and going forward.

I use a phrase, “You do not have a dog and yet bark yourself.” Unfortunately, all too often business people come to me and it is clear they have not grasped that concept.

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

What is mediation?

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a very successful method of resolving financial and other business issues before they reach the stage of court action. In fact, the courts will often expect you to have tried ADR and may look unfavourably on you if you have not attempted to resolve your issues prior to legal action. One of the most common forms of ADR is to see an independent mediator who could resolve the problem at an earlier stage and save a considerable sum in legal fees and lost time. In this video, Gary Pettit, our in-house CEDR Accredited Mediator, explains more fully how mediation works, what the advantages are and how you could benefit from working with us to resolve your dispute.


What is the difference between Corporate and Personal Insolvency?

When you realise you are potentially in a position where you or your company is insolvent you will need to take action as soon as possible. It is sadly not uncommon for corporate and personal insolvency to be bedfellows, but they are different so you will need to make sure you are approaching it from the right perspective. One of the very early discussions we often need to have with our clients is the difference between their personal and corporate financial responsibilities. Kym Carvell explains how to answer the question ‘what is personal insolvency’ and the difference between that and corporate insolvency in this video. She also discusses some of the confusion surrounding the liability status of sole traders and the common reasons why some companies can become insolvent.

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.

‘Living beyond means’ – a leading cause of bankruptcy

‘Living beyond means’ – a leading cause of bankruptcyRecent statistics released by the government showed the leading causes of bankruptcy in 2015 were living beyond means, relationships breakdowns and reduced levels of income. The data also highlighted differences in the reasons why men and women go bankrupt.

Gavin Bates, Insolvency Practitioner at PBC, said: “These figures are similar in some respects to the statistics we discussed in our blog last year, however, a particular point of interest is that ‘living beyond means’ is the most common reason why both men and women go bankrupt. This certainly correlates with our experience at PBC where we are seeing an increasing number of people who are in financial difficulty because they are spending more money than they can afford.”

The research also ties into the increases in household debt that have been making the headlines recently.  Official figures from the Bank of England showed that personal debt, including credit cards, overdrafts and loans, has risen to its highest level since December 2008, leading debt charities to call for greater assistance for those that are struggling.

Gavin Bates continued: “People seeking credit may be doing so simply so they can afford essential items and cover day-to-day living costs, while others do so to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’ Taking on additional debt may be in some circumstances unavoidable, and works if you can manage to make the minimum payments. It would be better to review all your finances, reduce or cut outgoings and not borrow in the first place. All too often we see people who have suffered a reduction in, or loss of, income, or a period of ill health which make the position unmanageable very quickly.”

Individuals who find themselves with spiralling debts should seek advice as soon as possible so they can take action to get their finances back into shape.