August sees worrying rise in business insolvencies

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Date: 28 September 2021

A man closes his business as it becomes insolvent

The latest government figures show that there was a 71% increase in the number of company insolvencies in August compared to the same month last year.

A spike in the number of company insolvencies in August could be a sign of tough times ahead, business experts have warned. Figures released by the Insolvency Service show a 71% increase in corporate insolvencies in August this year compared to the same month last year (1,348 in August 2021 compared to 788 in August 2020).

Oliver Collinge from insolvency consultancy PKF GM said: "The surge in corporate insolvency numbers is not surprising. The last couple of months have seen the lifting of the final lockdown restrictions and many businesses … will now have to start making payments in relation to their BBLS and CBILS loans as well as deferred HMRC liabilities.

"We expect the numbers to continue to rise as furlough comes to an end this month, which will put further cashflow pressure on some companies. The government's moratorium on the use of winding up petitions is also being lifted at the end of September (albeit with some modest remaining protection designed to support smaller businesses) which will likely cause a substantial increase in creditors taking recovery action."

New government measures to restrict the use of winding up petitions when the moratorium ends will:

  • Raise the minimum debt level for a winding-up petition to £10,000 or more;
  • Require creditors to seek repayment proposals from debtor companies, allowing 21 days for a response before they can go ahead with a winding up petition.

Collinge is urging businesses to seek support if they face difficulties ahead. "It's critical businesses act early and seek advice if they are struggling now, or think cashflow may be squeezed in coming months. The earlier they act, the more options they'll have to continue trading and recover."

Meanwhile, research by accounting software provider FreeAgent suggests that over 168,000 small businesses could shut down in the next year. Its latest survey has found that three in five UK small business owners say their business has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Looking ahead, one in ten SME owners (9.7%) expect their business conditions to worsen and a worrying 2.9% say they might have to close.

The findings also show that 33% of small firm owners have leveraged government COVID grants, 25% have taken COVID loans from the government and 21% have taken out furlough payments. In addition, 20% of SME owners have gone to an accountant or bookkeeper for advice while 4% say they sought financial support through bank or private loans.

The UK small business commissioner Liz Barclay advises business owners to "never take your eye off the cashflow, even in good times". The Office of the Small Business Commissioner has so far helped small businesses to get back £7.9 million in unpaid invoices.

Liz Barclay said: "Today, thousands of small businesses are waiting for payments to arrive. You can't afford to wait too long. Make sure you have all the correct info on your invoices, they're sent to the right person, stating the PO number, due date and your bank details. Make it as easy as possible to be paid. And if the due date is approaching contact the payment department to check you will be paid on time. If the money isn't in your account chase it up immediately. Don't delay or you'll end up having to lose vital people, or not be able to pay your own suppliers. If you're already in trouble, contact us at the OSBC for free help on payments and Business Debtline for free debt advice."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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