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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

I pay child maintenance and half of my children's private school fees to my ex-partner but I have been placed on Furlough, with no top-up from my employer, so my income has dropped significantly. Is there anything I can do?

a. You should first try and discuss this with your ex-partner, either directly or through a Solicitor, to see whether an amicable agreement can be reached.

If you contribute to private school fees voluntarily, it is a matter for you and your ex-partner to resolve the issue with the school, depending whose name is on the bills. You may need to speak to the children’s school to see whether they can offer any reductions or remedies in relation to those payments. If you contribute to the school fees as part of a Court Order, you will need to ensure you do not breach the Order and you may need to consider applying for a variation of the Order if you can no longer afford the payments or reach a compromise agreement with your ex-partner.

You can use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) calculator (https://www.gov.uk/calculate-child-maintenance) to recalculate your child maintenance obligations using your amended income. This recalculation can then be used in your discussions and you can formally instruct the CMS to verify that calculation if you and your ex-partner cannot reach an agreement about it. If you have already formally involved the CMS, they do carry out an annual review of child maintenance payments, however, they will also recalculate payments outside of the review period where there has been a change in income of 25% or more. We expect the CMS will be experiencing a high volume of enquiries at the present time so anticipate there may be delays in them assisting.

The position on child maintenance payments included in a Court Order are slightly more complicated and how you approach this will depend on how much time has passed since the date of the Order.

What are the changes to the law?

On 25th June 2020, the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act, among other things, introduced new restrictions on suppliers of goods and services to terminate the contract in the event that the customer enters an insolvency process.  This has very important consequences for many businesses as it could expose them to greater financial risks.

Is it legally enforceable?

The guidance is non-statutory and is not binding on business. However, businesses should be aware that there might be reputational consequences if they do not follow the guidance; we have already seen in the context of taking advantage of furlough funding that not being in breach of the law is no protection against negative publicity. Further to the extent a contract expressly requires parties to act reasonably, it could be expected that this guidance is one of the factors a court would consider in determining what is reasonable.

Are there steps to ensure they will have access to an open register (BSR) & building safety assessments etc?

The Act should make it easier for residents to obtain relevant information. It includes an obligation for the Principal Accountable Person to prepare a strategy for promoting the participation of residents, including the information to be provided to them and consultations about relevant decisions. The strategy must be provided to residents, and there will be provision for residents to be able to request information and copies of documents from the Principal Accountable Person. The type of information and the form in which it is to be provided will be set out in secondary legislation in due course, but the explanatory notes anticipate that it will include:

  • Full current and historical fire risk assessments•Planned maintenance and repair schedules
  • The outcome of building safety inspection checks
  • Information on how assets in the building are managed
  • Details of preventative measures
  • Details of fire protection measures and the fire strategy for the building
  • Information on the maintenance of fire safety systems
  • Structural assessments
  • Planned and historical changes to the building