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"HMRC (or another creditor) has threatened a winding up petition. What can we do about it? What is a winding up order procedure?"

What is a winding up petition?

carThere is a lot of information on this page but I do suggest you read it as it may show you how to save your business!

A winding up petition (WUP) is by far the most serious action that can be taken against your company. So what can be done about it? Often the company has broken any trust the creditor had, payment deals have failed, cheques bounced and generally the directors have not kept their word to pay. Even though your company may have tried very hard to meet payment deadlines, your customers have been slow to pay, or sales have been lower than planned. If you are creditor please visit our - How can I issue a winding up petition page?

So the creditor reacts with the "nuclear" option. Of course, sometimes its not as simple as that; in some cases we have seen creditors issue malicious petitions as a means of trying to settle disputes. We can advise how to deal with this. In Scotland, a threat of a winding up petition is even more dangerous to a company, so read our page on the procedural differences.

If a creditor moves to wind your company up, they are usually serious in their intent to recover the money it is owed and or put the company out of business. Read our case studies of how we have managed to stop a winding up petition by proposing a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) and/or seeking an adjournment.

There may still be time for a company voluntary arrangement if you act quickly - it could save your business.

Generally a winding up petition (WUP) costs between £400 and £800 to issue, PLUS £1,250 court deposit, and the filing fee of £280, so it is a serious step to take. Click on the link for an example of what a winding up petition looks like.

Process of issuing a winding up petition: Typically a creditor asks a solicitor to "wind the debtor company up" to recover debts, or to stop the company making its debts worse. This can be any creditor with debts over £750.

An application is made to the high court (PETITION) to ask the court to wind the company up. The process is a very legal and technical one but the main thing to remember is you must act as directors when this threat or petition is received. YOU MUST ACT quickly. Or you could face possible personal liability for the debts.

The Court will grant a hearing date to "hear" the petition. If the company does not respond, or if no defence is mounted, then it is usually a matter of the judge issuing a WINDING UP ORDER.

Important Notice!  In September 2015 - 332 petitions were advertised. Don't let this happen to you. So call us now on 0800 970 0539. If the matter is really urgent call a director on 07833 240747 or email our advisors on help@ksagroup.co.uk.

What can I do if we receive a winding up petition? What should I do?

Once your company receives a petition there are now fewer options available;

It is almost impossible to put the company into creditors voluntary liquidation.

You CANNOT sell the company or the assets, as this sale may be reversed by the Court

Other than paying up there are only a few other options. There may still be time to propose a Company Voluntary Arrangement if you act FAST.... Other options include taking legal advice on defending the petition. For instance if the debt is not an agreed.

If the business IS VIABLE and has a good future, then administration is a very powerful means to defend your company against the petition.

But now that your company faces winding up, an expensive court process is required. The Court will need to consider the needs of all creditors and the petitioner, before granting an Administration Order.

An Administration Order, if granted by the court, will "stay" or stop the winding up petition and prevent a winding up order being made and any other legal action (except with leave of court).

The administrator may propose a Company Voluntary Arrangement to protect the business and allow a repayment of debts for up to 5 years. Alternatively, it may be sold to a new company or buyers (including you as directors). See the administration guide pages here.

If you decide to pay the debt, remember it will have increased because of the costs of the plaintiff (creditor). The petitioner will want those costs paid too.

What if we do not agree with the debt, or owe the debt claimed?

If the action is clearly unfair or an "abuse of court process" then you MUST take legal advice immediately. You may be able to legally prevent the petition from being advertised and indeed have it rescinded if it is considered an "abuse". We can provide advice on this and our legal partners can assist you rapidly to STOP the Gazette advert by seeking, in rare cases, an injunction to restrain advertisement or by way of formal negotiation with the petitioner as appropriate. Otherwise, in due course the petition hearing will be advertised in the London Gazette and the hearing will be heard in the High Court of Justice (Companies Court).

If the petition has already been advertised then you could seek an adjournment of the hearing. However, in order to do this you will need sound reason(s). We have a good working relationship with expert lawyers who can analyse your situation and help you to obtain an adjournment where appropriate prices start at just £495. Call us on 0800 9700539. 

What is a petition advertisement?

The creditor must allow 7 clear days after the serving of the petition on your registered office, before the petition can be advertised. It must be advertised 7 days before the petition hearing date. It is possible to stop the advert if you act fast.

Case study, winding up petition

Directors of a media company came to us, after it had been served a winding up petition. They did not realise the significance of the advertisement of the petition being a public event and within 24 hours their bank account was frozen and so they could not trade. In conjunction with our lawyers, we had to seek a validation order to unfreeze the bank account. In order to do this we had to produce, very quickly, a draft CVA along with forecasts. The order was granted and the petitioners were persuaded to support the CVA and withdraw the petition. The company has now entered a CVA with a return of 55p in the £1 to creditors whereas the expected recovery in liquidation was less than 5p.

After the petition advertisement.

At this stage the bank will find out and they will generally FREEZE the company's bank account to prevent any "disposition" or sale of assets at undervalue or other illegal acts by the directors. This can paralyse the company and stop it trading. Actually it is not legally necessary for the bank to freeze the bank account, but most banks tend to do this. Important Note: Recently the banks have been employing agents to search the court register for companies that have had winding up petitions. This means that they can find out BEFORE the petition is advertised! Either way if you receive a petition you must ACT.

  1. Freezing of Company Bank Accounts and Assets
    Why do bank's freeze accounts? Well the technical answer is under section 127(1) of the Insolvency Act 1986, if a company is wound up, any sale of the company's property, any transfer of shares made after the commencement of the winding-up is void, unless otherwise ordered by the court. This means that it is very difficult for a company to continue to trade after a winding up petition is advertised. Banks therefore assume that they have to freeze the accounts to stop assets being dispositioned. It is a safe step in their eyes.

  2. Investigation of Directors
    Once a company has been ordered to be wound up by the court, the Official Receiver or the appointed liquidator must investigate the activities of the company directors to ensure that they have acted properly and according to their legal and "fiduciary" duties. If the liquidator believes that the directors are guilty of wrongful trading (see guide by clicking link) they may recommend that the directors are banned from all current and future directorships for a period of time up to 15 years; However this is quite a rare occurence.

  3. Directors potential personal liability for company debts
    If company directors are found guilty of continuing to allow a business to trade while they KNEW it was insolvent, they may become personally liable for the debts incurred by the company from the time they knew the business was insolvent.

    Paying the debt and then obtaining a "Validation Order" is generally the only way to get a new account opened and have the assets released by the bank. We can advise on this process but it requires an application to court and obviously not insubstantial legal fees. If you need advice on a validation order contact us.

    We have a very aggressive law firm ready to help your company.

If the petition is advertised and the company does not pay the debt, this will generally lead to the Official Receiver (OR) or a court appointed liquidator taking over to wind the company up. If the company has assets then an insolvency practitioner may be appointed by the OR.

How do I protect myself from personal liability if the company is wound up?

Read our guides for wrongful trading here. Director's disqualification here and compulsory liquidation here.

Make sure that all board and management actions have been carefully noted and the assets of the business have not been disposed of. DO THIS FROM AN EARLY STAGE OF INSOLVENCY.

Make sure all management accounts, company books and records and bank statements are available and protected. Act sensibly and promptly. Don't leave it too late to get help, the sooner you act, the more KSA Group can do to help your company.

If the business is wound up by the Court, you MUST respond to any requests for information and records by the Official Receiver or an appointed liquidator. Failure to do so, is a criminal offence.

Stopping a Winding up petition

To find out more about how KSA Group can stop a petition, please read our case studies:
Winding up petition case study.
More details on the winding up order process

Latest high profile winding up petitions: 

Northampton Town FC issued with winding up petition

Yesterday, the football club failed to reach its deadline of repaying a £10.25 million to the local council. According to BBC reports, the club also owes HMRC thousands of pounds which has led to a winding up petition against the football club. Chairman, David Cardoza, has stated he&rsq..
Read More

Lotus F1's winding up petition being heard today

Renault has signed a letter of intent to take over the Lotus F1 team which should mark the end of its long running battle with HMRC over its unpaid tax bill of some £2.7m. The winding up petition is being heard this morning so it is completely last minute. At the last F1 race the..
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Kids Company to be wound up

The trustees have applied to have the (now closed) Kids Company wound up in the High Court. This means that there is no chance for the firm to be resurrected by the founder Camilla Batmanghelidjh. The company is being investigated by the charity commission for alleged financial mismanagement. ..
Read More

HMRC issued 3,000 winding up petitions last year

Out of the 3,000 petitions, 1,887 firms were closed last year due to unpaid tax bills, according to the Business Finance website, Funding Options. It is a 4% rise from the year before. The research comes ahead of the 31st July deadline for small businesses. SMEs must pay their self-assessment ..
Read More

See a full list of all the recent winding up petitions

Author: Keith Steven

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