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What is available to stop creditors taking action against the company to recover debts during the current crisis?

The government has announced a number of measures to try to protect businesses during the current period of uncertainty. However there is no outright ban on creditors being able to take legal action to recover money they are owed, though there are temporary restrictions on some forms of legal action, like winding up petitions.

However, it is important to note that these measures only relate to winding up proceedings. Creditors will still be free to commence county court claims.

The new Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 brings in a new “moratorium” procedure. Businesses in financial difficulty that are viable and can be rescued will now be able to work with an insolvency practitioner to obtain at least 20 business days’ breathing space from creditors to allow the business to formulate a plan to deal with its financial problems.

For more information on the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act, click here

As part of the raft of measures put forward by the government over recent months, there are also restrictions on landlords taking action to evict commercial tenants who miss rent payments. Various payment holidays and forbearance have been put in place in respect of certain tax liabilities and some business rates.

If your business is going to go into an insolvency process like administration or a company voluntary arrangement, there is the ability to obtain a freeze on creditors taking action whilst those procedures are put in place. However, these sorts of moratoriums will not be available to everyone and in any event not unless an insolvency process is being instigated.

Regardless of whether a business has formal protection from creditors or not, engagement with creditors and trying to reach agreement with them to deal with the debt is therefore vital. Much of the protection measures that the Government has introduced like curbing the ability of landlords to evict a commercial tenant, do not wipe out the debt. They simply prevent action being taken or a payment becoming due for a short time. All businesses should use that time to consider how those debts can be dealt with and engage with the relevant stakeholders sooner rather than later.

Related FAQs

Given the recent decline in financial performance, the business is now in breach of its covenants with the bank. Should we be concerned?

That will depend on the terms of your facility and the stance taken by your bank.

Banking facilities often place obligations on businesses to stick to certain financial criteria. For example, an obligation to keep turnover or profit above certain levels or a commitment to keep the bank’s exposure within an agreed percentage of the value of the company’s assets (known as loan to value ratio).

The consequences of breaching those covenants will depend on the terms of your facility, but normally this amounts to an event of default. Events of default can result in the loan (or whatever form the facility takes) becoming repayable and could give the bank certain powers to take action to recover the money that they are owed.

Whether the bank will take action during these unprecedented times is another matter, particularly given the extent of support being offered to businesses via mainstream lenders and the political desire to keep viable businesses up and running. Lenders themselves will no doubt wish to remain supportive where possible. The underlying performance of the business (and whether but for the effects of Covid-19 it would have been in a healthy financial position), the relationship you have with the bank and your history with them will no doubt be relevant to the approach taken by the bank. However, early engagement with your bank (as well as other key stakeholders in the business) will be important.

What type of matters are the Courts still dealing with?

Civil Court listing priorities, last updated by HMCTS on 24 April 2020, categorise the Court’s work into the following:

Priority 1 – work that must be done: this includes any applications in cases listed for trial in the next 3 months, any applications where there is a substantial hearing listed in the next month, all multi-track hearings where parties agree that it is urgent (subject to triage).

Priority 2 – work that could be done: Infant and Protected Party approvals, Applications for interim payments in multi-track / personal injury / clinical negligence cases, Applications to set aside Judgment in default, Preliminary Assessment of costs.

The full guidance can be found at:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/881019/Civil_court_listing_priorities_24_April_2020.pdf

What funding is the Government providing specifically for charities?

The Government has announced a £750 million funding package for charities to ensure they can continue their vital work during the coronavirus outbreak.  This is for a 3 month period and further specific funding may be made available.

Charities which are businesses can also access the Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) – Please see our Funding and Finance FAQ’s.

How does Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme operate?
  • Certain workers will become “furloughed workers”.
  • Furloughed workers cannot carry out any work for their employer while designated as furloughed, or a linked or associated organisation but they can do voluntary work as long as they are not providing services for or generating revenue for the employer or a linked or associated organisation.
  • A furloughed worker can be furloughed part time and work the rest of the time.
  • The furlough period begins when the employee stops work, not when agreement is reached.
  • If furloughed employees are expected to do online training while furloughed they must receive the National Living Wage/National Minimum Wage for the time spent training.
  • Workers must be told of and agree to this change in writing. This written agreement must be kept for five years as part of the scheme. The guidance has confirmed that collective agreement reached between an employer and a trade union on furloughing staff is acceptable for the purposes of making a claim under the scheme.
  • However it should also be noted that this is a change in status and pay (if pay is not being topped up) and therefore subject to the usual employment law rules on changing terms and conditions.
  • Changes to the contract must be made by agreement with the worker and the government guidance is clear that to be eligible for the subsidy employers must document their communication with the employee on being furloughed.
  • You must confirm in writing that an employee has been furloughed, but that the employee does not need to provide a written response. Please note that this is for the purposes of making a claim under the scheme. Any reduction in pay must be agreed in writing under normal employment law principles and failure to do so may result in Employment Tribunal claims. You should not rely on a term in the employment contract to effect this change. We can advise you on how to document this properly.
  • Employers must also keep a record of the agreement for at least 5 years.
  • If employers have collective bargaining arrangements in place, they must agree this change with the union in the usual way.
  • Collective consultation obligations may be triggered if there are 20 or more employees that are proposed to be dismissed and re-engaged in order to effect the change to terms to be furloughed. You should take advice if you think this may apply.
Were any measures sector specific?

All of the measures announced above are aimed at all employers in the UK and are not sector specific. However, over and above these measures the Chancellor also announced a number of financial measures that he hopes will save jobs in the hospitality industry such as the reduction of VAT on food and drink and the “eat out to help out” scheme which has already taken place. The Job Support Scheme is designed to support businesses who face lower demand due to the pandemic, and so is designed to have an impact on those sectors most badly hit.