UK & US

Race to overhaul insolvency laws amid coronavirus crisis

The government is racing to overhaul insolvency laws as the coronavirus pandemic threatens to unleash a deluge of corporate and individual bankruptcies across the UK.

Sky News has learnt that the Insolvency Service, which sits within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), has begun canvassing views among restructuring professionals about urgent changes to company legislation.

The reforms, which would be implemented through emergency laws, could include a moratorium on winding-up petitions against companies, and suspending rules on wrongful trading in order to afford more protections for directors, according to industry sources.

Coronavirus: Govt to enforce business rules through police

"The government is also considering what emergency legislation could be introduced to help struggling businesses, and we are very grateful to our stakeholders that have taken time to get in touch and propose possible measures", the Insolvency Service said in a notice to the profession.

"We are also working closely with other government departments on what measures short of legislation might help."

Advertisement

The German government has already introduced emergency laws to ban winding-up petitions during the COVID-19 crisis.

Insiders said that business groups including the CBI and Institute of Directors were among those pressing for urgent reforms in the UK.

More from Business

A degree of pressure on company directors to call in administrators has been lifted by government measures announced in the last few days, including the deferral of VAT payments and a moratorium on commercial property evictions for non-payment of rent.

One insolvency practitioner said there was unlikely to be an immediate deluge of companies collapsing into administration while they had the option of 'furloughing' staff and having their wages paid by the yet-to-be-launched Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme.

Nevertheless, he added, there was a need for imminent reform of laws to provide companies with more clarity as they navigate one of the most tumultuous periods in economic history.

In a paper submitted to the Insolvency Service by the insolvency law committee of the City of London Law Society – a copy of which has been seen by Sky News – the government was urged to remove creditors' ability to present winding-up petitions, with the introduction instead of a 90-day grace period triggered by directors "stating that the company is facing temporary liquidity or operational challenges as a result of circumstances related to Covid-19".

Self-employed fear for their future

The paper also suggested that the existing ten-day moratorium period within which company directors file a notice of intention to appoint administrators should be extended.

"A reasonable period within which to put measures in place to overcome the temporary liquidity problem which [would] be less than the 90 day period of protection under the proposals madeRead More – Source