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

Apr 02, 2020

This page was last updated on: 22 May 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 courts are not hearing routine applications at present and Judges/Masters will only sit for urgent matters.   There is updated guidance on their website. For administration extension applications, the instructed solicitor should send an email to the Master directly and ask her to grant the extension on the papers only as extensions will need to be obtained prior to expiry of the period of the administration.

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 will reopen on 18 May. The Land Registration helpline will reopen 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 UK Government published the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill which, once it has been made law, will introduce 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 Bill, which has now been laid in parliament ahead of being formally debated in the coming weeks, can be viewed in full here.

On 23 April, further measures were announced in relation to winding-up petitions. Any petition that claims that the company is unable to pay its debts must be reviewed by the court to determine why. The law will not permit petitions to be presented, or winding-up orders made, where the company’s inability to pay is the result of COVID-19.

The new legislation to protect tenants will be in force until 30 June and can be extended in line with the moratorium on commercial lease forfeiture.  Legislation will also be brought forward to prevent landlords using commercial rent arrears recovery unless 90 days or more of unpaid rent is owed.

The Insolvency Service published an article which provides useful information about change to the delivery of its services during the coronavirus pandemic.  It was also recently confirmed that the Insolvency Service will accept electronic signatures on requisitions along with the acceptance of payment requisitions electronically.

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).