March saw the highest monthly corporate insolvency figures for three years.
Spring is here – the month of new beginnings and the beginning of a new financial year so it’s usually a time for looking ahead positively at the rest of the year.
But then you glance at the latest set of monthly insolvency statistics that have been released by The Insolvency Service and you do an involuntary double-take.
The overall figures for March are the highest recorded in over three years with lots more details to explore and explain too.
The total number of business insolvencies recorded last month in England and Wales was 2,457.
To give some context – last March’s total of 2,120 was the previous highest monthly total since January 2019. This figure is 16% higher than that one.
It’s also up 27% on the previous month’s total of 1,783 and 50% higher than the last pre-pandemic month of March 2020.
Inevitably this was the 23rd consecutive month when the number of officially recorded corporate insolvencies was both over 1,000 and was also higher than the corresponding monthly figure from 12 months previously.
Of the 2,457 insolvency cases recorded last month, the vast majority are Creditor Voluntary Liquidations (CVLs) with 2,011. This is 82% of the total number, a 2% reduction on the overall ratio from a month ago but an increase of over 500.
This total of CVLs is also the highest monthly total recorded since January 2019 and is a 9% increase on the figure from a year ago – but a 25% increase from February.
This is the clearest evidence yet that HMRC and other creditors reduced forbearance and are being more aggressive in their attempts to recover debts than since before the pandemic period; they will seek to close businesses down to get a partial return through the disposal of assets rather than let a company trade on and repay their arrears.
There were 145 administrations recorded in March – up 26% from last month and up 12% from last month’s total.
There were 13 Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) (up from 12) but was a 44% increase on the total from a year ago showing that some directors are looking to find a workable solution to their debt issues rather than going for a full closure instead.
There were no receivership appointments recorded last month and no increase in the 42 insolvency moratoriums recorded with Companies House since 2020 but eight more companies had their restructuring plans approved by courts last month taking the total to 20.
The huge number of liquidations compared to an increasing but still relatively low number of administrations and CVAs continues to indicate that many directors are choosing to take the step of liquidation, closing the business and seeing their unsecured debts written off rather than looking to restructure and rebuild them.
In Scotland there were 104 company insolvencies registered in March which is a 21% increase on the number from March 2022 and a monthly increase of 22%.
This total consisted of 61 CVLs (up from 57); 40 compulsory liquidations (up from 21); , 61 CVLs, two administrations (down one) and one receivership appointment. There were no CVAs recorded last month.
Historically compulsory liquidations have driven insolvencies in Scotland but since April 2020 there have been nearly three times as many CVLs recorded.
There were 12 company insolvencies in Northern Ireland in March which was an increase on the nine from February 2023. This was 40% lower than the number recorded in March 2022.
Due to the number of cases being relatively lower in Northern Ireland than in Scotland or England & Wales, the percentages can vary wildly given that one or two cases could be the equivalent of a 10% or more movement.
The monthly total was eight CVLs (up from six last month); two compulsory liquidations (up from one); and two administrations (up from zero). There were no CVAs or receivership appointments recorded.
The total number of company insolvencies for the whole of the UK in March 2023 then is 2,573 – an increase of 700.
“Businesses across Britain are struggling at the moment”
Christina Fitzgerald, President of R3, the insolvency and restructuring trade body said: “The rise in corporate insolvencies – to the highest levels for more than three years – have been driven by increasing numbers of Creditors Voluntary Liquidations (CVLs) which are also at a three-year high.
“Business owners have spent three years trading through a pandemic and economic uncertainty, and an increasing number are choosing to shut their businesses before that choice is taken away from them and as the turbulent trading climate proves too much.
“Businesses across Britain are struggling at the moment.
“Costs continue to rise at a time when consumers are cutting back on discretionary spending, and when staff are requesting pay rises to cover their bills.
“With the Government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme ending at the end of March, many businesses will be facing further increases in costs at a time when they can ill-afford them.
“Directors need to be vigilant about the signs of financial distress and seek advice as soon as they spot issues with their business or begin to worry about its finances.
“If stock is starting to pile up, cashflow is an issue, or the business is having problems paying rent, staff or suppliers, now is the time to seek advice rather than further down the line when these issues have evolved into problems.”
One of the most interesting things about the monthly insolvency statistics is that they are published in the next month.
Last month a lot of directors might have been waiting to see what help was coming from the Spring Budget before deciding whether to get any advice on what options are available to help their business.
In the meantime corporation tax has increased, inflation remains in double digits and interest rates have also risen once more.
We wrote about the myriad of rising costs for businesses this month and there is still no sign of relief in site for small and medium sized businesses.
Directors can always make the decision to get some advice by getting in touch to arrange a free initial consultation with us.
Then they will be able to have a clearer idea of what options are available to them and what could be the most effective for them depending on what their business goals are.
If they want to trade their way back to profitability then an administration or a CVA could be the best method to work out the finer details of their path back.
Alternatively, and this is the key takeaway from this set of figures, a relatively quick, efficient and stress free liquidation is the best way to close a business and free directors to move onto their next career venture.
Every business is different and there are a range of solutions and strategies that can be followed but not until they use the time they have wisely and get active in their own rescue by getting in touch first.