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As home working became the enforced norm for millions, home shopping followed and home deliveries rocketed as a result. 

The haulage industry stepped up to keep supplies running while the warehouses worked with customary efficiency to get packages out as quickly as they were coming in.  

The postal and courier delivery services stepped up and became a nearly daily feature of our lives, accepting packages for neighbours if we weren’t expecting and receiving them ourselves.

It’s difficult to think of any goods transported in the UK that aren’t involved in road transport in some way.  

According to the Road Haulage Association (RHA) some 89% of goods are estimated to be directly moved by road and the 11% that aren’t will still require some road connection in their journeys between ports, airports and rail terminals. 

The sector is the UK’s fifth largest employer and 2.54 million workers alone keep the haulage and logistics businesses operating. 

But cruelly, just as the final government support measures are being withdrawn, transportation businesses are suffering. 

In the latest business insights bulletin from the Office of National Statistics, more transportation and shipping companies are likely to have paused trading or shut down altogether than any other sector with just 82% of them operating as normal. 

The report found that 9.1% of transport and storage firms have permanently ceased trading, while 8.5% are paused.  

The average across the wider UK economy is 3.4% of businesses have closed for good while 7% have closed temporarily.

It found that the high percentage of paused and not permanently ceased traders was partly driven by the freight transport by road industry and the unlicensed carriers industry which is experiencing a shortage of lorry drivers. 

The knock-on effect of these and other issues means the national supply chain is affected with 7% of UK businesses unable to get materials and staff in the last fortnight with others forced to switch suppliers or make alternative arrangements. 

Rod McKenzie of the RHA said that in the short term drivers’ pay is increasing to stimulate demand but: “This in turn is a cost that will need to be passed on, and given the tight profit margins of most haulage operators that means their rates to customers will have to go up.

“In turn, this may mean more of us paying higher prices for goods, services and shopping - including food prices - going forward.”


Who kept the show on the road?

According to the figures from March 2019 to February 2020 - there were 527 insolvencies involving businesses in the transportation sector. 

In the immediate 12 months afterwards from March 2020 when the first nationwide lockdowns were implemented to February 2021, there were 382 closures in the sector. 

Now, according to official statistics supplied by the Insolvency Service, there have been an additional 156 transportation sector insolvencies since March this year which takes the total number since lockdown to 538 - which is 33 a month or over eight a week pulling down their shutters for the final time. 

Ominously, 51 businesses in the sector became insolvent in June this year, the last month figures were available for, the largest monthly total recorded since March 2020.

Did bounce back loans soften the blow?

Many transportation companies took advantage of the support options available to them throughout the pandemic and recovery period. 

Many furloughed staff rather than making them redundant and others looked for government-backed borrowing sources such as bounce back loans or CBILS to help them through this unprecedented period. 

The number of bounce back loans taken out by UK transportation services was 77,920 with a total amount borrowed of £2 billion.

This is an average loan amount of £25,667 per company.  

Under the most conservative official estimates, it’s expected that 15% of the total lent to the industry would remain uncollected would be £300 million but if the default rate rose to even 40% then this figure would also grow to £1.2 billion. 


Companies with bounce back loan arrears can still close - find out how


Now the end of the line for the furlough scheme is in sight and while the temporary suspension on winding up petitions is being lifted to an extent, it will come with a £10,000 price tag until the end of March 2022 meaning some, but not all, creditors will stay their immediate legal attempts to force repayment. 

Of course this doesn’t apply to any bounce back loan arrears or other borrowing amounts which have yet to be repaid. Nor will it impact on owed VAT arrears or stop business rates being reapplied to companies with physical properties. 

Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with BusinessRescueExpert.co.uk thinks transportation businesses have a bumpy road to travel in the near future. He said: “Despite performing heroically during the pandemic and lockdown, the sector has been hit with a triple blow almost instantaneously. 

“An unlucky combination of Covid-19, Brexit red tape and personnel shortages means a lot of businesses in the sector are facing dire financial conditions just when they should be gearing up for the busy Christmas and new year period.

“Unfortunately the timing of these issues are hurting a lot of otherwise viable transportation firms. Bounce back loan and VAT arrears are building and the lenders will be taking more active steps to recover this debt.

“One thing transport and logistics businesses can do is move quickly when they need to and if they can arrange some professional advice and act on it, they might still be able to make the necessary changes and protection to get back to doing what they do best and keeping the country literally on the road to recovery.”


Any business owner or director of a transportation focused business will tell you that logistics only works when there are no blockages in the system. 

One hold-up can affect the whole network, impeding every channel until the problem is solved or removed. 

But once it’s cleared, the recovery is usually quick and normal productivity and services are functioning again swiftly.

So it is with business rescue and restructuring. Once the biggest problems are identified and solved, upward progress usually follows in short order. But only when they’re dealt with. 

We offer a free initial consultation to directors and business owners to identify what problems are holding their companies back and we’ll work with them quickly and efficiently to diagnose the most effective solutions. 

The remedies can often be put into practice immediately but they can only work if the management seizes the chance to take action before it’s finally too late to change. 

 

There are still local spikes here and there all over the UK and as we enter the traditional winter flu season, there might be temporary measures deployed if coronavirus cases rise sufficiently.

The government has also declined to implement planned vaccination passports for people attending large events in England so individuals and businesses could now begin to plan their Autumn activities with more certainty. 

Against this backdrop it’s been confirmed that the various remaining pandemic support measures including the coronavirus job retention scheme or furlough will definitely end on September 30th along with a lifting of the ban on winding up petitions.

While it was expected that creditors would be able to seek winding up petitions once again, there’s been a sizable catch - so that now bringing a winding up petition is literally a £10,000 question. 

New legislation to be introduced in parliament shortly will:

These measures will remain in place until March 31 2022.

Business Minister Lord Callanan said: “The time is right to lift the insolvency restrictions that were needed during the pandemic. 

“At the same time, we know many smaller businesses are rebuilding their balance sheets and reserves, and some will need more time to get back on their feet. These new measures and protections will help them to do that.”

The minister said that businesses should pay their contractual rents where they’re able to do so and also confirmed that existing restrictions will remain in place on commercial landlords from pursuing winding up petitions against limited companies to repay commercial rent arrears built up during the pandemic.

Additionally commercial tenants will continue to be protected from eviction until March 31 2022 while a rent arbitration scheme to deal with commercial rent debts accrued during the pandemic is implemented.

One measure not time bound by restrictions are new legal powers given to the Insolvency Service which allow them to retrospectively investigate the conduct of directors of dissolved companies. 

If they can prove that directors were dishonest or culpable in behaviour which led to their company’s failure then as well as being made personally liable for any debts incurred, they can be disqualified from acting as a director for up to 15 years. 

This includes bounce back loans so obtaining professional advice is critical if you’re thinking of closing your business.

Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with BusinessRescueExpert.co.uk said: “The new £10,000 threshold for winding up petitions sounds like a big increase from the previous minimum level of £750.

"But in reality, due to the associated expense in issuing winding-up petitions, the vast majority of pre-COVID winding-up petitions were over the new level in any event.

“Eager creditors will examine their options carefully and look to use whatever leverage they have.

“Hopefully, many companies use the new 21 day period to negotiate sensible repayment plans. Seek expert help if in doubt about how best to approach this.

“Like the insolvency moratorium that’s automatically granted if a company goes into administration, this provides valuable breathing space and time for a business to come up with plans to deal with problematic debt.

“This includes outstanding bounce back loans or VAT arrears - they haven’t been suspended - and a business can still close down, even if a company has these debts but only if it’s done using the right method overseen by an insolvency professional.

“For example, If a business with unsustainable debt wanted to close and started the process in the next couple of weeks - it could probably be concluded before Christmas, leaving the directors or owners free to begin a new venture or career in 2022.”


Why you should pay to liquidate your business


Time is only an asset if it’s used effectively. 

The 21-day negotiation period of winding up petition restrictions and £10,000 floor is only useful if you take advantage and get professional advice now because it will, like all the others, cease eventually. 

We offer a free initial consultation to any business owner or director who wants to know the best way to close their company or if possible, restructure and keep it alive, even if it has debts.

Once we get a better understanding of the situation, we can come up with a tailored solution possibly with more options and choices than you thought you had. 

But this is only possible if you use your agency and get in touch.

 

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, more commonly known as furlough, was launched in March 2020 to support businesses and employees through the unprecedented disruption caused by the coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns. 

In our Year of Lockdowns report we found that one in three UK workers were in receipt of a furlough scheme payment at some point in 2020. 

The popularity of the scheme peaked in April 2020 when just under nine million workers were furloughed although this total has reduced to just over 1.9 million by the end of June 2021. 

According to the latest official figures, 11.9 million jobs had been placed on furlough by over 1.3 million employers at some stage during the previous 18 months at a total cost of £65.9 billion. 

This might seem expensive but it would be argued by supporters that it fulfilled one of its primary objectives by holding the unemployment rate at 5.1% at the end of 2020 which saw an additional 1.7 million people looking for work but without furlough. 

This figure has since reduced to 4.8% at the end of June 2021 and is currently only 0.9% higher than at the beginning of the pandemic. 


Why you should pay to liquidate your company


Since May 2021, the central contribution to employees wages from the government has reduced from a figure of 80% of the total wage up to a maximum of £2,500 down to 60% of the total to a maximum of £1,875. 

The employer continues to pay national insurance contributions (NICs) and pension contributions for staff as well as a 20% contribution to wages for hours not worked up to a maximum of £625.

Along with many other notable changes occurring at the end of the month, the one which is expected to have the most immediate effect is the final closure of the CJRS.

Chris Horner, insolvency director with BusinessRescueExpert.co.uk, thinks attention should be paid to the discrepancies between various sectors and mismatches between vacancies and employees when analysing the impact. 

One example is in the hospitality sector including both accommodation and food services.

The Office for National Statistics vacancy survey showed that 117,000 jobs were available between May and June but at the same time 337,800 staff remained on furlough during this period. 

Even if furloughed staff successfully reapplied for all those positions, there would still be over 220,000 workers left without positions. 

He said: “When you have a mismatch between the sectors that people are on furlough from and the sectors that are actively recruiting then there will naturally be an imbalance that has to be carefully managed - both in terms of the personnel and the support given to businesses in those areas. 

“Some skills will be transferable but not every position is. 

“Sales assistants and hospitality staff might not want to take pay cuts to move into the care industry or spend time retraining as a delivery driver or production operative for instance.

“This could clearly have implications for businesses and unemployment in the short term at least.

“For small business owners and directors, who are already juggling with bounce back loan repayments, VAT arrears, the return of creditor actions including winding up petitions and business rates, a staffing crisis will be the last thing they need.”


Bounce back loan arrears affect sole traders and partnerships too


If you think the school holidays and summer went quickly, you won’t believe how soon the end of September will arrive. 

There is still just enough time to get in touch with us and arrange a free initial consultation with one of our expert advisors.

If you’re worried or already having problems repaying debts like bounce back loans or VAT arrears then we can help advise you on what your options are. 

The sooner you take action, the more time and leeway you’ll have to use - because sadly, time and choices will eventually run out.  

Everybody who does paid work considers themselves a professional to some extent - whether it’s building homes, serving food or writing blogs so what makes “professional services” different and special? 

The official title of the standard industrial classification (SIC) grouping is for professional, scientific and technical activities which specifies the activities of these businesses a little more clearly. 

The sector includes sole traders, partnerships and limited liability companies that work in fields such as legal, accountancy, architecture, scientific research, advertising, management consultants and even veterinary services are included.

While the nature of their businesses might vary greatly, they will all have faced similar challenges to overcome in the previous 18 months. 

So how are professional services faring in the post covid economy?

While the construction, hospitality and retail industries took a lot of oxygen and headlines about how the pandemic was affecting them - professional services businesses were also fighting their own battles to stay afloat too. 

Since the first UK-wide lockdowns and enforced trading suspensions were implemented in March 2020, 1,351 professional services businesses have become insolvent (537 in 2021 alone) - which is more than 25 every week.  

To put this in context, that’s nearly as many as the hospitality (1,378) and retail (1,355) industries without any of the associated attention of publicity.

One reason why is because the nature of the businesses are so disparate, it’s hard for the sector to speak with a unified voice. 

Takeaways and fine dining restaurants have a lot of differences and cater for different clientele and markets but their interests can be effectively lobbied for by the same influential groups such as UKHospitality.  

A marketing agency and a vets surgery will have their own representation but are unable to combine their funding, focus and forces to raise as formidable defence as the retail and hospitality sectors defenders did. 

One area where professional service providers were able to compete on an equal footing with other sectors was when it came to accessing coronavirus support measures such as bounce back loans and being able to avoid making staff redundant by furloughing them instead as part of the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS). 

When it came to bounce back loan borrowing, the professional services sector took out the third highest number of loans - nearly 160,000 - and after the retail and construction sectors, collectively borrowed the third highest total of £4.5 billion in support finance. 

This works out at an average of £28,252 for every professional services business who was approved to access a bounce back loan. 

Our research showed that under the various repayment scenarios it’s estimated that between £675 million and £2.7 billion might remain unpaid from this amount depending on the various circumstances facing the borrowers.  


You can still close your professional services company even if it has bounce back loan arrears


Now as accountants, business coaches and PR professionals begin to make up for lost time and hope to recover the ground lost during the previous 18 months, another potential problem looms on the horizon

The end of September sees a confluence of rule changes coming together to spell trouble for unprepared professional service business owners and directors: 

Employers with staff on furlough have already begun paying a greater contribution to their wages in August and September already but the entire scheme is ending on September 30th leaving businesses with potential tough decisions to make regarding staffing, rehiring and potential redundancies.

Bounce back loan and CBILS repayments will already have begun for the majority of borrowers but those that obtained a six month delay to the repayments will see it end this month meaning that these debts will now come due. Additionally any VAT arrears incurred in 2020 are also due now.

Creditors have legally been restrained from seeking redress for owed debts since March 2020 meaning that statutory demands and winding up petitions for debts incurred during and as a result of the pandemic have been unable to be granted or enforced. 
This ends on September 30th as does the suspension on termination clauses, which guarantee supplies to businesses and stop suppliers from asking for additional security or extra payments from businesses that enter administration or other restructuring procedures. 


Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with BusinessRescueExpert.co.uk thinks that professional service businesses such as marketing firms and architectural practices have a significant advantage that other sectors lack. 

He said: “The entrepreneurial nature of the sector - whether it’s a design studio or established partnership - means that these businesses tend to be more agile than companies in other industries. 

“This means that they can make decisions quicker and more importantly implement them to take advantage of changing circumstances that could affect them significantly. 

“The various changes coming in at the end of the month will have serious repercussions for a lot of companies that don’t realise what’s about to happen or are unable to get impartial and professional advice to make the necessary choices and changes required. 

“It’s the latter that will be best able to adapt to a potentially unfavourable outlook and protect their employees’ livelihoods as well as themselves.  


One of the sad ironies that most professional service businesses understand is that when times get tough for their clients, they tend to be seen as some of the first expenditure that should be cut while they tighten their belts. 

This often proves counterproductive because it’s the expertise and knowledge that they were hired for that would give the client a significant edge over competitors who would also look to cut back and grant them a competitive advantage at the very moment it’s most needed. 

Every business in the professional services sector will have stories about clients acting in haste and repenting at leisure - so they should be able to take their own advice and act quickly and decisively when the circumstances demand action. 

A business with bounce back loan and VAT arrears, CBILS or other borrowing might be able to sustain them today but this situation will change in less than four weeks. 

That’s why we offer a free, initial consultation to any business owner or director who wants advice on how they can best protect their business.

We will listen and learn what challenges they’re facing and be able to provide options they can deploy, some immediately, that will either buy them valuable time to act or allow them to efficiently and properly begin to close an unviable business - even one with bounce back loans or other unmanageable debts.  

The main finding is that the collective debt of independent retailers - hairdressers, nail bars and smaller shops - has jumped five times in just over a year from £500 million to £2.3 billion. 

Amongst the report’s recommendations is the suggestion that the government should write off a proportion of the debt as without any other help or assistance the report predicts there will be a UK-wide wave of store closures and job losses occurring in the Autumn. 

Bill Grimsey said: “Our high street independents have experienced a new-found appreciation during lockdown but they’ve also been forced to take on government backed loans, which they would not have normally been able to get because their balance sheets wouldn’t allow it. 

“Now they’re struggling to manage a mountain of debt and need help. 

“Many are teetering on the brink as a result and urgent support is required to stop a tsunami of closures coming.

“These businesses are the backbone of local communities who often put local people before making money - there is a really human side to this.

“People want their town centres and high streets to be places where they want to go for a reason that is unique and an element of that is independent businesses that provide that uniqueness. 

He added: “Britain is at a crossroads and the pandemic has brought about sweeping changes that will make a decisive break with a traditional high street model. 

“But we can’t build our way out of trouble. To unlock the potential of our high streets, we need to focus on people, partnerships and communities as well.

“That means protecting small businesses. It means supporting a new breed of digitally savvy entrepreneurs and making high streets a testbed for new thinking and it means promoting high standards and regulating key sectors such as hair and beauty.

“Britain needs a social recovery to lock in an economic one and our high streets should lead by example.”


Can you be pursued for bounce back loan debt - even if your business is closed down?


The report found that smaller independent hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons were among the hardest hit with collective debts equal to £300 million - approximately six times more than before the pandemic. 

The authors reviewed the published accounts of every UK independent business across the retail, services and hospitality sectors with total assets of £250,000 or less. 

They estimated that at least a third of the businesses that qualified as small independents were facing defaults.

They projected that 49,000 of the 145,941 independent businesses in the study were at risk of default from not being able to pay off their bounce back loan scheme borrowing. 

Bill Grimsey said: “The French government is already working on a debt write-off policy to save their small businesses from being crushed by debt and we need to do the same to save thousands.”

This proposed debt write-off solution would be funded by the £2 billion that large retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and B&M had returned to the government when they handed back their business rates relief. 

With the first repayments for bounce back loans and CBILS beginning last month and furlough payments also beginning to reduce, trading is also being hampered by increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases and self isolation for customers and staff alike. 

Other measures of support suggested by the report include giving small businesses classed as “non-essential” a business rates holiday until April 2022 and to allow them to further defer their VAT, PAYE and national insurance contributions in order to help their survival chances. 


Independent retailers, shops and hospitality businesses are indicative of the rest of the economy. 

Individually they might not generate as much turnover or income as bigger businesses but collectively they combine to form a major piece of the UK’s economic lifeblood as well as being anchors within their own community. 

If they’re in distress then the damage affects not only the business owners and directors but also their local area and their sector. 

The warnings from experts like Bill Grimsey not only match our own findings from earlier this year about the threat that bounce back loan debt defaults pose but also underline how important it is for businesses to act if they’re under pressure. 

There is a narrowing window of opportunity for companies to act before the end of September when various changes occur that will make the environment from October onwards far trickier to make the essential and necessary changes they need to give themselves the best chance of revival and renewal. 

Get in touch with us to arrange a free initial consultation with an expert advisor who will be able to let you know which options are available to you - right now. 

Firstly, as we’ve written previously, the furlough scheme introduced under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will begin to be phased out from July 1st. 

This means that businesses' contributions to their furloughed staff’s wages will increase from 5% to 14% to include a greater share of the national insurance and pension costs. 

Businesses that successfully obtained a VAT deferral on payments from 2020 will now have to begin repaying them, while many companies that took out borrowing under the bounce back loan scheme or CBILS will see their repayments come due for the first time if they arrange to defer them six months. 

It’s worse news for businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors too as they lose their business rates exemptions, even while some of them remain closed and unable to trade until July 19th at the very earliest. 

The government confirmed that winding up petitions will still be temporarily suspended until September 30th but interestingly, wrongful trading suspensions will resume. 


What is the difference between wrongful trading and fraudulent trading?


Wrongful trading, or trading while insolvent, should be a concern for directors because as well as disqualification, they could also be held personally liable for any debts the business incurs during this period. 

The leeway this suspension granted directors has now disappeared and if a business can’t pay its debts when they come due or if their liabilities exceed total assets then they run the risk of wrongful trading and the potential penalties it carries. 

Another temporary measure being allowed to lapse involves termination clauses. 

This has stopped suppliers from ceasing their supply or asking for any additional payments or security from a business that is undergoing a restructuring or administration process. 

All of this might indicate a looming crisis for some companies but Chris Horner, insolvency director with Business Rescue Expert, thinks it can be the perfect window of opportunity, if they move quickly enough to take advantage. 

He said: “Directors and business owners have approximately 12 weeks until September 30th when they can take a positive decision to secure the best chance of future prosperity of their companies.

“They will have to move quickly before winding up petitions and other threats such as HMRC enforcement actions and visits from bailiffs become a possibility but they will have a range of options available to them depending on the individual circumstances they’re facing. 

“Whether they ultimately decide to close the business through a liquidation process or if an administration or a CVA are more appropriate, all are able to accommodate businesses with PAYE or other tax arrears, bounce back loan or CBILS debt and other unmanageable corporate debt. 

“This also applies to businesses that could be at threat from termination clauses being invoked. Construction companies for example that rely on the guaranteed availability of materials could quickly find themselves in difficulties if suppliers start to use their newly restored rights. 

“Otherwise profitable businesses could find themselves trading while insolvent through no fault of their own but due to the actions of a supplier. If this happened within this 12 week window of opportunity, they would be able to use the circumstances to their advantage to come up with the best recovery strategy.”

If there’s one lesson the past 18 months have taught us, it’s that things can change very quickly. 

As the coronavirus support measures begin to be withdrawn, it provides possibly the last opportunity for business owners and directors to get active in their own rescue and make decisions before they’re forced to, under less favourable circumstances. 

Start by getting in touch with us. 

We’ll arrange a free, initial consultation where, once we get a better understanding of your situation, we can outline your options and begin working with you on a plan to implement them quickly, efficiently and effectively. 

Then you might be able to finally enjoy the summer. 

2020 Year of Lockdowns

It’s nearly been 365 days since the UK went into its first national lockdown as it faced its first major public pandemic in over 100 years.

From March 23rd 2020, companies in every sector closed by order and we all had to work, educate and shop from home to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Nothing has really been the same since - especially for businesses.   

We’ve spent the past 12 months helping firms that have fallen into financial difficulties to restructure and pay off their debts under new arrangements or allow them to efficiently close so their owners can move onto new challenges when the lockdown is gradually lifted completely. 

Alongside our business rescue and recovery work, we’ve also spent a year observing, collating and analysing data from various sources to compile a comprehensive and wide-ranging report of what happened to our country and its companies.

The “Year of Lockdowns” story shows what effect restrictions have had on the various industrial sectors, geographic regions and on the individual businesses and employees that make them up.  

This is the story of 2020 - a "Year of Lockdowns”. 


COVID-19 caused more economic damage to the UK than Napoleon, Hitler and The Kaiser 

Napoleon
In an already historic year, we should start with the news about history being made.  

The Office of National Statistics reported that 2020 saw UK official GDP shrink by 9.9% in the previous 12 months - the largest annual fall in over 300 years since the Great Frost of 1709. 

The collapse is even greater than any previously recorded including during the Napoleonic wars; World Wars One and Two; the great depression of the 1920s and the great recession of the late 2000s.  

The economy regained some ground in the second half of the year as some lockdowns were eased and the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme attracted more people to support their local pubs and restaurants.

Despite these positive factors, the economy was still 6.3% smaller than it was in February, the last full trading month before the first lockdown was implemented. 

This was the biggest fall among all the G7 nations with USA GDP down 3.5%; Germany down 5% and Japan down 5.6% by comparison.


One in three UK workers were furloughed as unemployment rose to a six year high

Furloughed

Since the beginning of the lockdown and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) being rolled out, 11.2 million workers have been furloughed in the previous 12 months. 

With 32.6 million people employed in the UK, this means that one in three workers was in receipt of furlough pay at some point in 2020. 

The UK unemployment rate also rose by 1.1% to 5.1% by the end of 2020 with 1,744,000 additional people looking for work. This is the highest recorded level since 2015. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended the furlough scheme until the end of September 2021 in the recent budget with employers expected to contribute 10% of furloughed employees wages from July, rising to 20% for August and September.  

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimates that £73.6 billion had already been spent on employment support schemes such as CJRS and others by November 2020 so this will add to this already striking figure. 

While economic and employment activity are expected to rise, greatly, in the next six months as lockdown is gradually lifted, the end of the furlough and other schemes will still create a moment of hazard for businesses and their employees if they can’t find a way to begin to trade profitably by then. 


Construction bore the brunt of insolvencies by industrial sector

Scaffolding

The Insolvency Service reported that since March 2020 there were 8,205 company insolvencies up to and including the end of January 2021. 

Broken down by individual industrial sector they were :

The halting of various building projects, both large and small scale, have badly damaged the construction industry over the previous 12 months. 

This might seem surprising given the historic damage experienced by the hospitality and retail industries but these have been well publicised and several were more visible to the public as an empty shop unit will be more noticeable than an empty building site.

There was also £453.4 million in redundancy pay and other support benefits paid out in 2020 which was the highest amount in ten years and an increase of 31% from 2019.

Another government agency, the Redundancy Payments Service, will make financial payments to employees whose former employers have gone into insolvency and cannot pay any legally due claims. 


Yorkshire and Humber businesses were most likely to become insolvent in 2020

Whitby
With the help of the Office of National Statistics and The Insolvency Service, we looked deeper into the regional insolvency statistics for 2020 and produced a comparative figure - the Corporate Insolvency Ratio - showing the likelihood of insolvency based on the numbers of active businesses in a region/nation and the number of business insolvencies recorded there. 

The table shows the number of businesses registered in each UK nation and English region, the total number of business insolvencies and the Corporate Insolvency Ratio for each.

[ninja_tables id="12447"]

Because of certain statistical caveats, the figures are an approximation based on available data rather than a complete and official record. 

On this matrix, the figures show that a business in the Yorkshire and Humber region of England was statistically most likely to undergo an insolvency event than in any other region (1 in 115) while a company based in Northern Ireland would be least likely (1 in 506). 

Additionally, businesses in the North East, North West and West Midlands of England along with London were at greater risk compared to the national average (1 in 207) while Scotland, Wales and every other English region was less likely than the average. 


Why corporate insolvencies went down in 2020

high street

Given all the news and information we already know about the year of lockdowns, it might be surprising to learn that the total number of corporate insolvencies actually fell in 2020. 

They went down to their lowest recorded levels since 2007. 

So what’s going on? The main reasons can be surmised as follows:-

With the exception of the insolvency moratorium, all of these measures are temporary and will be withdrawn by Autumn this year. 

Ironically, 2021 could have many more corporate insolvencies than 2020 had. 

Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with Business Rescue Expert said: “Ominously, even with restrictions being lifted and economic activity rising, 2021 will be a worse year for insolvencies in several industries than the year of lockdowns was, 

“Government support in the form of backed loans, furloughs and the temporary ban on winding-up petitions and other creditors actions are all expected to end sometime in 2021. 

“Bounce Back Loan repayments and others will begin to come due, businesses will have to decide if they can re employ or redeploy their furloughed workers and creditors that have been under severe financial pressure themselves will finally have the ability to look for repayments that might be critical to their own survival.”


Not on the High Street - Anymore

Topshop

The previous 12 months has seen the demise of some of the most storied companies in Britain. 

Debenhams was formally wound-up in the High Court with BooHoo buying its online brands and trademarks to relaunch as an online-only retailer. 

The Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge brands of the Arcadia group were bought by ASOS with BooHoo returning to purchase the remaining Wallis, Burton and Dorothy Perkins brands. 

No physical properties were included in any of the deals. 

BrightHouse, the UK’s largest rent-to-own retailer went into administration in April along with Laura Ashley while fitness retailer DW Sports announced it would not reopen in August. 

Regional UK airline FlyBe went into administration in March where it remains until a buyer is found. With other carriers unable to operate a regular, reliable UK-wide service yet, 2021 is another year that might have historical consequences.

Research from the Local Data Company shows how devastating the year of lockdowns was for the retail industry. 

They estimated that 17,532 chain store outlets located in high streets, retail parks and shopping centres closed last year - an average of 48 per day. This is compared to an overall total of 7,655 openings to replace them, or 21 per day.   

The net loss of nearly 3,500 locations was a third higher than in 2019. 

“The rise of online shopping and home delivery which provided a shot in the arm for the hospitality industry, might be a more mixed blessing for retail” said Chris Horner, Business Rescue Expert’s Insolvency Director. 

“We won’t know for some time how many new habits and shopping methods we adopted in 2020 will stick in 2021 and become permanent or how many will revert to the previous physical model. 

“Some companies might bet big one way or another and hope to reap the benefits of being a successful early mover. Others might hedge their bets and hold back investing, redeployment and retraining which could prove more sensible in the medium and long term but would impact negatively in the immediate future in terms of investment and activity.” 


We still don’t know how 2021 will unfold as many businesses are still unable to open their doors and trade freely and some won’t until we get into the Summer at the earliest. 

For others, even when they do return, they’ll find that customer behaviour, retail trends and other changes will mean that they will have to recalibrate their own offerings if they want to make up lost ground. 

One thing we can guarantee this year, maybe the only thing that can be, is that Business Rescue Expert will continue to be here to help advise and guide any business that is having financial issues or doesn’t know what their next professional step should be. 

We offer free virtual consultations for any company that needs to clarify its position and understand what options are open to it. 

The benefit of acting first is that you usually find you have more choices and strategies available than whoever acts second. 

Get in touch and find out what they are for your business - today.

While his main earnings come from the one-off purses for his fights, he also has lucrative sponsorship deals with the likes of Under Armour, Jaguar Land Rover, Beats, Sky Sports and Hugo Boss.

He’s CEO of his own company - AJBXNG group - which he formed in 2015 which oversees his sponsorship deals, his own fight promotion and negotiations, his own clothing range and other merchandise and is actively signing and promoting the interests of other boxers and sports stars which will give the business longevity beyond his own athletic career. 

After his latest fight on Saturday with dangerous Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev, he will be straight back in the office working on his next deals for 2021 - probably including a huge unification fight with Tyson Fury. 

The analogies between boxing and running a business run deep. 

The mental strength required to begin and continue through adversity, the stamina to work long hours, the intellect to work out what’s working, what’s not and adapt accordingly. 

To have long term plans and other alternatives if plan A doesn’t work out and possibly the most important - not only to be able to absorb the blows you know are coming but be sufficiently stable not to fall when hit by those you don’t see until they connect.

Joshua will watch hours of his opponents' fights to prepare for their attacks so consider this blog something of a training session because whether you know it or not, businesses need to be ready for the fight of their lives in 2021. 

In a heavyweight bout, an unseen punch can be absolutely devastating but more often than not it’s the cumulative damage caused by a combination of blows landing accurately in quick succession that will knock a fighter off their feet and into next week. 


In March and April next year, there’s a four punch combination coming that could lay out any unprepared business.

If you know it’s coming you can take action either by getting out of the way or putting your defences up in time. Time to begin your training session...

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is ending on March 31st 2021
The CJRS has probably been the most noteworthy success from the range of coronavirus support measures the government rolled out to support the economy and will have been operating for nearly a year when time is finally called. 

But it is being called as the government, despite twice extending the scheme, have announced that the scheme will be withdrawn at the end of March and workers on furlough will have to be reemployed or made redundant. 

As part of the recent Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act becoming law, there was a restriction placed on the issuing of statutory demands and winding-up petitions which has also been extended temporarily until March 31st 2021. 

Bailiffs are still able to operate in the meantime in the pursuit of outstanding Council Tax arrears but will also be able to be invoked for other outstanding business debts certified by a court within 14 weeks.

Once the embargo is lifted and it’s assumed that courts are operating at close to full capacity, expect a deluge of winding-up petitions and statutory demands to be issued and granted in the Spring. 

Additionally, a temporary removal of the threat of personal liability for wrongful trading for directors is being lifted on April 30th 2021. 

As Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with Business Rescue Expert already said when the first suspensions were announced: “These rules are not a get-out-of-jail-free card. 

“The rules on preferential payments and transactions at undervalue will still apply and wrongful trading will still apply if the business had already reached the point of no return prior to March 2020. 

“It remains important to take advice if you still expect solvency issues, regardless of the government assistance.”

As well as March being the first anniversary of the first UK-wide lockdown, it’s also going to be when the first repayments come due for a host of temporary government support measures. 

Anybody who took out Bounce Back Loans (BBL) or Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) early will have to make their first repayments in April if they haven't repaid the amount already. 

The standard length of these loans was six years but companies will have the option to extend the repayment term to ten years if required.  They will also be able to ask for a six-month window when they will make interest-only repayments (up to three times during the loan term) or ask for a six-month repayment holiday (only if they have made at least six repayments).

A potentially bigger problem also crystalises in March when any deferred VAT payments for 2020 come due. 

Businesses who took the opportunity to defer their VAT until then will have the option to pay their owed amount in full by March 31st 2020.

They can also opt in to a new VAT deferral payment scheme that will allow them to pay the delinquent amounts over a year until March 2022, although this just covers the 2020 deferral, 2021’s amount will also have to be paid. 

The final option is to approach HMRC for a Time To Pay arrangement. 

The latest temporary measure announced this week is that landlords are forbidden from evicting business tenants until the end of March 2021

Announcing the measure the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP said: “I am extending protections from the threat of eviction for businesses unable to pay their rent until March 2021, taking the length of these measures to one year. 

“This support is for the businesses struggling the most during the pandemic, such as those in hospitality - however, those that are able to pay their rent should do so.

“We are witnessing a profound adjustment in commercial property. It is critical that landlords and tenants across the country use the coming months to reach agreements on rent wherever possible and enable viable businesses to continue to operate.”

Some businesses have found meeting their commitments a stretch this year but others have taken advantage of the situation and actively withheld rent even if they’ve been able to pay. 

Others still have used insolvency tools such as CVAs to their advantage and secured lower rents or exited expensive leases as part of the process.


Regardless of previous relationships, March and April 2021 will see gloves coming off all over the economy as aggrieved and frustrated creditors finally get to unleash their pent-up frustrations and seek repayment and possibly revenge. 

Of course not every business has acted badly during this time but in the wave of recovery action unleashed as the restrictions expire, it will be hard to separate the goodies from the baddies. 

The only sure way of making sure that your business is spared from aggressive creditors is to get professional advice now on what you need to do in the meantime. 

You can get in touch with us right now to arrange your free initial consultation

We’ll work with you to better understand where you could be vulnerable and produce a plan to shore up these weaknesses and make the overall business strong enough to survive whatever 2021 might throw at you.

Furloughed


A report this week from the National Audit Office indicating that up to £26 billion might not be repaid from the Bounce Back Loan scheme because of inability to pay or outright fraud has poured petrol onto the bonfire. 
 
This would equate to a staggering 60% of recipients of the scheme which, to date, has loaned some £38 billion to 1.3 million applicants. 
 
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “Government will need to ensure that robust debt collection and fraud investigation arrangements are in place to minimise the impact of these potential losses to the public purse. 
 
“It should also take this opportunity to consider now the controls it would put in place to protect against the abuse of any future such schemes.”
 
The BBLS in particular has been hailed as a success precisely because of the positive lending criteria which has been less stringent than regular business finance applications.
 
The critical time pressure to get the scheme online along with genuine criticism from businesses who struggled to access funding in the first phase of coronavirus business support meant that the usual affordability and credit checks were replaced with self-certification measures and also backed with government guarantees.
 
So if they remain unpaid for whatever reason, then the public purse would make up the shortfall to the lenders. 
 
The loans are not due to begin being repaid until May 2021 when the full picture will start to emerge but the fact the NAO are drawing attention to these potential discrepancies now is a significant warning on how seriously any non-payment of Covid-19 related financing will be treated. 
 
The report comes in the same week that HMRC are giving businesses a final reminder to thoroughly check their CJRS claims for inaccuracies before the cut-off date of October 20th 2020. 
 
The main errors they will look for in submitted claims include claiming for employees that weren’t eligible for the scheme and using wrong calculation or reference figures when determining furlough pay. 
 
Self-declarations made after this date are “potentially subject to penalties and even prosecution in the most severe cases.”
 
If you’ve received a warning letter from HMRC then there are some precautions you can take right now that might be useful further down the line.
 

 
If we were to use one word to describe HMRC’s approach to debt recovery then it would be relentless. 
 
There are no grey areas - if you owe them then sooner or later, they will find out and pursue you without rest until you pay or make alternative arrangements. 
 
But they are also fairer and more reasonable than you’d think if you are straight and honest with them from the beginning. 
 
If you do owe them or if you believe you might have inadvertently contravened any of the CJRS’s many rules and stipulations then get in touch with us today
 
We constantly help clients with HMRC arrears to work through them to a conclusion - find out how we can help you reach one too.

 
HMRC
 
People will complete applications in a rush and not accurately assess or answer all of the questions leading to overpayments or payments they might not otherwise be entitled to.
 
And shocking as it may seem, some dishonest people will deliberately set out to defraud the system by claiming funds they aren’t supposed to get, or asking workers to continue in their posts while taking furlough payments that are meant to go to them in the meantime.
 
We’ve previously written that HMRC were beginning to investigate and act on cases of overpayment and outright fraud but new figures released show that they’ve decided that there’s no more Mr Nice Guy and woe betide any businesses that have tried to take advantage of the situation.
 
HMRC Permanent Secretary Jim Harra told the House of Commons Public Affairs Committee that £3.5 billion or 5-10% of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) budget had been wrongly allocated.
 
This was in addition to a total of £30 billion lost in 2019 to taxpayer error and fraud.
 
Harra said: “We made an assumption for the purposes of our planning that the error and fraud rate of the scheme could be between 5% and 10%.
 
“What we have said in our risk assessment is we are not going to set out to try to find employers who have made legitimate mistakes in compiling their claims, because this is obviously something new that everybody had to get to grips with in a very difficult time.
 
“Although we will expect employers to check their claims and repay any excess amount, what we will be focusing on is tackling abuse and fraud.”
 
HMRC’s own fraud telephone hotline set up to allow employees to report concerns of potential fraud has received over 8,000 calls. They confirmed that they are looking into 27,000 “high risk” cases where they believe a serious error has been made in the amount an employer has claimed.
 
The three main reported types of furlough fraud included asking employees to work while they’ve been furloughed; claiming furlough pay for when they were actually working and companies not paying workers what they’re legally entitled to.
 
Harra reiterated: “While we can’t get involved in any relationship between the employee and employer, we can certainly reclaim any grant that the employer is not entitled to, which includes grants that have not passed on in wages to their employees.”
 
Of particular focus, HMRC have confirmed that anyone who has failed to pay across the PAYE element of the furlough grant, will be deemed to have misused the scheme and will be required to repay the full balance of furlough grants received.
 
With the end of CJRS in sight and HMRC flexing their muscles we are definitely into the next phase of the Covid-19 story.
 
While innocent mistakes and errors will be treated with an element of understanding, HMRC will be looking to make examples out of fraudulent applications and payments and will be in no mood to hear any mitigation if they find them.
 
If you think you owe HMRC or might have accidentally contravened the rules of CJRS then get in touch with us as soon as you can. 
 
We have worked with hundreds of businesses who have had HMRC issues so have the experience and knowledge to help you present the best case to avoid an unnecessarily harsh punishment in an environment when HMRC is looking to dish them out.

Business Rescue Expert is part of Robson Scott Associates Limited, a limited company registered in England and Wales No. 05331812, a leading independent insolvency practice, specialising in business rescue advice. The company holds professional indemnity insurance and complies with the EU Services Directive. Christopher Horner (IP no 16150) is licenced by the Insolvency Practitioners Association

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