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I’m the director of a company. What should I think about before accepting any of the funding that has recently become available?

Directors of a company that is in, or potentially facing, financial difficulty have a duty to act in the best interests of creditors as a whole. Failure to comply with that duty can have consequences for directors (including personal liability and disqualification if directors get it wrong).

The duty to act in the best interests of creditors as a whole begins when the company is (or in some cases is potentially or at risk of becoming) insolvent i.e. its assets are worth less than its liabilities and/or the business is unable to pay its liabilities as and when they fall due. However, just because a company is insolvent doesn’t always necessarily mean than an insolvency process is inevitable. Sometimes, the insolvency might just be caused by a temporary cashflow problem or perhaps wider problems in the business that can be overcome by making changes to the business itself.

In addition to that, the potential liability of directors ramps up even further when the company reaches the stage that the directors have concluded (or ought to have concluded) that there was no reasonable prospect of the business avoiding liquidation or administration. If the business reaches that stage, in addition to having to act in the best interests of creditors as a whole, directors can find themselves personally liable unless, from the time the directors ought to have reached that conclusion, they took every step that they ought to have done to minimise the loss to creditors. This is known as wrongful trading.

On the 25th June 2020, the government introduced new legislation – the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 – which includes measures to temporarily relax the rules around wrongful trading with the proposed changes to take effect retrospectively from the 1st March 2020. Essentially, the changes say that any court looking at a potential wrongful trading claim against a director is to assume that the director is not responsible for worsening the company’s financial position between 1st March 2020 and the 30th September 2020. Whilst the wrongful trading rules have relaxed, directors still need to proceed with caution if the business is potentially insolvent as the new Act does alter other potential pitfalls for directors, like the risk of breaching their duties or allowing the company to enter into transactions that can potentially be challenged.

The support being offered by the government is potentially a lifeline for businesses under pressure through no fault of their own, but notwithstanding the recent changes to the wrongful trading rules it is still likely to be important for the board to carefully consider whether it is appropriate to make use of the loans, grants and tax forbearance that are on offer.

Exactly what the board should consider will vary from business to business and getting it right can sometimes involve balancing several different (and at times conflicting) priorities, challenges and concerns.

Related FAQs

Can I move house during the coronavirus pandemic?

Yes unless you are self-isolating, infected with Covid-19 or within a vulnerable group.

The Government has issued updated guidance on 13 May providing comprehensive advice to reflect the move to relax lock down restrictions and encourage house sales. The advice can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak

Key points to note

Unless you are self-isolating, infected with covid 19 or vulnerable, the guidance states that you can move house, provided you comply with social distancing measures at every stage, whether visiting a seller’s house or accepting visitors or professional for viewings, surveys and removals.

All businesses such as surveyors, estate agents and removals, linked to the housing market may now operate, provided that social distancing measures are observed and safe working procedures (see link below) are followed.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/homes

House viewing should be conducted virtually wherever possible, and open-house viewings should not be conducted. Houses should be cleaned before and after visitors come, and home owners should vacate during viewings and surveys to minimise the chance of contact. Doors and windows should be left open, and sinks made available for hand washing.

Agents can supervise, provided they maintain social distancing.

New homes show houses should be operated on an appointment basis, and cleaned between viewings, with hand washing facilities made available. Staff should adopt safe working procedures. Housebuilder sale-staff, tradespeople, fitters and NHBC inspectors can all attend to facilitate viewings, fit out, commission equipment and inspect completed homes.

Solicitors and Estate Agents remain unable to open their premises to members of the public, for the time being. Government guidance advises that solicitors adopt special covid 19 clauses to permit flexibility on completion dates where parties become unable to move or complete for reasons connected with the pandemic.

The Law Society in conjunction with other trade and professional bodies in the sector, has published links to pan-industry guidance on the re-opening of the housing market:

https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/press-releases/industry-issues-guidance-kickstart-housing-market/

Will there be further measures for self-employed announced?

The Government assured parity for the self-employed but it has since accepted that this would be difficult to achieve. The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) has worked closely with the Government on implementing the current self-employment income support scheme. IPSE has confirmed that it will continue to work on helping to extend measures to all freelancers in need as a result of Covid-19.

The Government announced an extension to the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme from 1 November 2020.

 

What are the current planning restrictions on supermarkets, food retailers and distribution centres concerning deliveries?

On 13 March 2020 the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government issued a Written Statement in respect of delivery restrictions.

In this respect, many supermarkets, food retailers and distribution centres in England operate under planning restrictions (conditions and/or obligations) which limit the time and number of deliveries from lorries and other delivery vehicles which can take place particularly at night primarily to protect the residential amenity of nearby residential property.

Key points in the Statement include;

  • Given the exceptional challenges facing the UK from the coronavirus, it is vital that deliveries of food, sanitary and other essential products over the coming weeks can be made as quickly and safely as possible, minimising disruption to the supply chains. The likely pressures on driver capacity mean additional flexibility is needed so that retailers can accept deliveries throughout the day and night where necessary.
  • That planning enforcement is discretionary and that local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control.
  • That local planning authorities should not seek to undertake planning enforcement action which would result in unnecessarily restricting deliveries of food and other essential deliveries during this period having regard to their legal obligations.

The Statement acknowledges that the increased frequency of deliveries particularly at night could have a temporary impact on residents. It therefore concludes that the Government will review the need for the flexibility outlined in the Statement after the pressure from the coronavirus has reduced and that it is the intention to withdraw it once the immediate urgency has subsided.

A link to the Written Statement is below.

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2020-03-13/HCWS159/

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 is the NHS coronavirus Test and Trace scheme and how does it work?

The NHS Test and Trace service is operated by the NHS in England to track and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Where an individual displays symptoms of coronavirus they can be tested to determine whether or not they have the disease. Those with the disease will then be contacted by NHS contact tracers and asked who they have come into close contract with.
Close contact is defined as:

  • Face to face (within 1 metre)
  • Spent more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of another person
  • Travelled in a car or on a plane with another person

The contact tracer will then contact those people with whom the individual has come into close contact and tell them to self-isolate for 14 days.