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I have recently bought or sold a business. How will earn outs and deferred consideration be affected by coronavirus?

A common feature of corporate acquisitions is that part of the consideration is paid on deferred terms or by way of earn out over a period of years following completion. Where deferred consideration is payable, this is either on the basis that outstanding payments will be made on scheduled dates or, less usually, subject to certain agreed (typically financial) objectives being met. These objectives almost always relate to a period before completion of the deal and are dealt with as part of a completion accounts mechanism.

Related FAQs

Is there a cap on the number of employees on Flexible Furlough?

Be careful, there is now a cap on the number of employees you can have on furlough at one time.

The number of employees you can claim for in any claim period starting from 1 July cannot exceed the maximum number of employees you claimed for under any claim ending by 30 June 2020. So this cap is going to be specific to each employer.

It may catch out, in particular, employers who had been rotating employees on furlough.

Can I use my Business Interruption insurance to make a claim?

The FCA’s test case in the Supreme Court ruled overwhelmingly in favour of policyholders.  However, business interruption cover generally has the prerequisite of physical damage or loss to the property (or in some circumstances, the presence of a notifiable disease at the property or within a certain radius of it), to recover losses caused by the interruption to your business. The onus is on insurers to re-assess those claims which are impacted by the Supreme Court’s judgment and to make contact with the policyholders regarding next steps. If you have not already made a claim, in the first instance the terms of any policy should be checked carefully to see whether business interruption cover is provided.

Does the introduction of CLBILS assist private equity-backed businesses?

Under CBILS, for the purposes of calculating the applicant’s annual turnover, approved lenders have been aggregating turnover across the whole of the private equity investor’s portfolio meaning they failed to qualify for the scheme as they were deemed to exceed the £45 million threshold.

For private equity-backed businesses, the removal of the upper limit on annual turnover criteria for CLBILS seemingly avoids the issue of turnover aggregation across investment portfolios seen with the CBILS, potentially enabling more private equity sponsor portfolio companies to be able to access the CLBILS funding.

What will be the impact of the proposals on suppliers?

The change in the law has the potential to place much greater financial risks on suppliers, making it more difficult to exit a contract with a customer of doubtful solvency.  This will place increased emphasis on appropriate financial due diligence and credit checking before entering into supply contracts.

In addition to the obvious issues around financial risk, suppliers will also need to think carefully about how their contracts are drafted.  For example, any form of right that is drafted so as to be triggered on customer insolvency will clearly be problematic.  These could include:

  • Retention of Title provisions, which are commonly drafted so that the right to enter premises and retake possession of the goods is triggered on insolvency;
  • Provisions for brand protection, which seek to control how goods are dealt with on termination of the contract.

This is potentially a very significant development for many businesses.  We would strongly recommend specialist advice be obtained so that:

  • businesses understand the potential increased risks faced; and
  • where possible, contracts are updated so that appropriate protections are maintained.
What if you want to terminate the contract completely?

If changed circumstances mean that a business wants to exit from a contractual arrangement, then before trying to terminate it, a careful review should be carried out to see whether a right to terminate actually exists. For example:

  • Not every contract for the sale of goods contains the right for the buyer to terminate in circumstances where the supplier hasn’t done anything wrong. If a business has entered into a contract on the supplier’s standard terms, it is unlikely to contain any such provision
  • A contract for the provision of services is unlikely, if drafted by the customer, to contain a provision that allows the supplier to walk away from the arrangement at short notice, or perhaps at all

If a party tries to terminate a contract when it doesn’t have the right to do so, the other party will likely claim breach of contract and could sue for damages. In the case of a long term or high-value contract, this could amount to a very significant liability.

Even if the right to terminate the contract does exist, there might be particular rules about the following:

  • How much notice has to be given
  • How such notice has to be served (for example, it might have to be in writing to a particular address)
  • When the notice can be served (perhaps on an anniversary of the start of the contract)
  • How much a party has to pay if it cancels (for example, for raw materials, for work done to date, or even the whole contract price)

All of these factors must be taken into account, and any contractual processes for termination are followed.