COVID-19 – Information for insolvency practitioners (NI/UK)

Apr 02, 2020

This page was last updated on: 2 July 2020

The below commentary should not be taken as advice or as a comprehensive analysis of all aspects.  This is a rapidly evolving situation.  When reading information below, due care should be taken of the date of issue and any developments in the interim that may not be reflected in the material published.

Northern Ireland

The Department of Justice has advised that Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service (NICTS) will move forward to full business recovery following the initial peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. An update is available on their website.

The Northern Ireland Insolvency Service are working remotely and are hoping to bring more of their staff online in the coming weeks. 

We understand that The Law Society of Northern Ireland is advising solicitors to advise clients not to enter into contract for property transactions.  You will likely see a slow down on transactional property completions.

Land and Property Services offices remain closed however some phone lines reopened on 18 May. The Land Registration helpline reopened on 26 May. Online applications are being accepted but the register will not be updated for any electronic filings until Land Registry has reopened. 

UK

The Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Act) received Royal Assent on 25 June 2020 and came into effect on 26 June 2020. The Act has introduced various reforms to the UK’s insolvency framework as well as a series of temporary changes to the corporate governance requirements for companies and other entities. The Act can be viewed in full here.

The Insolvency Service a final version of its guidance for monitors ‘Insolvency Act 1986 part A1: moratorium - guidance for monitors’ which is intended to assist insolvency practitioners by setting out the principal duties and actions required of the monitor.  A link to Companies House guidance regarding notification requirements can be found hereHMRC are likely to be a creditor where a moratorium is sought and has set up a specific team to handle such notifications and subsequent contact.

The Insolvency Service took a number of specific actions to keep its services running which included:

  • publishing a new directory of guidance to enable people to self-serve and provide answers to frequently asked questions about redundancy, personal insolvency and Official Receiver functions.
  • changing processes to allow the use of electronic signatures on requisitions and accepting electronic payments for IVA arrangement fees.
  • replacing physical correspondence with email or messaging via the Gov.uk notify service
  • working with the Individual Voluntary Arrangement Standing Committee to provide guidance for IVA supervisors on the flexibility they should show when an individual affected by the Covid-19 pandemic experiences a change in their circumstances.
  • supporting the insolvency profession with regular updates to Dear IP and issuing a Temporary Insolvency Practice Direction to provide guidance for court hearings.

The Insolvency Service advise that insolvency practitioners should continue to take all possible steps to locate and secure the records whilst keeping a detailed record of the action taken.  They should also keep a record of their communications with directors regarding books and records, whilst the current restrictions are in place.

HMRC has paused the majority of all insolvency activity for now. That means HMRC will not petition for bankruptcy and winding up orders unless it is deemed to be essential, i.e. fraud, criminal activity.

HMRC will continue to deal with new company voluntary arrangement (CVA), administration, individual voluntary arrangement (IVA) and trust deed (TD) proposals to allow those businesses who need financial support, to get access to the appropriate insolvency regime.

HMRC will consider fresh CVA, IVA, administration and TD proposals but will continue to exercise discretion on proposals.  Where a supervisor or trustee representing a business or individual consider that clients are unable to maintain their IVA, CVA or TD payments, HMRC will support a variation to allow a three-month break from contributions.

After the deferral period, from 1 July 2020, the supervisor or trustee representing a business or individual should be able to resume payments per the terms of any IVA, CVA and Trust Deed or they can contact Enforcement and Insolvency Service (EIS) to discuss a recovery Time to Pay arrangement depending on the circumstances.

HMRC has suspended face to face visits to customers during this period.

Companies House will now accept the filing of statutory insolvency documents via emailed PDF attachments. The Companies House forms are available on their website. Companies House has also temporarily paused the strike off process to prevent companies being dissolved as they deal with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

In light of the current situation and recent changes to court procedures, Companies House has changed its requirements in relation to the filing of a Declaration of Solvency.  As such, there is no longer a requirement to file the original with an emailed PDF copy being accepted. The Companies House will also accept a Declaration of Solvency sworn via video.

ICAEW and the IPA issued a joint statement regarding measures to support insolvency practitioners in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ICAEW published an article on its Talk Insolvency blog entitled “The use of ‘light touch’ administration” (17 April).