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What Is A Transaction At An Undervalue?

6th April, 2023
Keith Steven

Written ByKeith Steven

Managing Director


07879 555349

Keith is the author of the content on this comprehensive rescue, turnaround and insolvency website. He has expert knowledge on the company voluntary arrangement (CVA) mechanism

Keith Steven
  • Definition of a transaction at an undervalue
  • What are the consequences for directors if they sell assets at an undervalue?
  • So how do we sell or move assets?
  • What if we cannot afford to buy the assets?

What if we sell the company’s assets to another company, then knock the insolvent company over?

Definition of a transaction at an undervalue

A transaction at an undervalue is when an asset is transferred for no payment or sold at below their true value.  The transaction becomes a problem if the company is insolvent, as any transfer at an undervalue is, in effect, depriving the creditors of money owed to them.  This is outlined in s238 of The Insolvency Act 1986.

So how does it happen?

If the company is no longer viable, and the directors believe that the company has no future, it may be tempting to “move” or sell some of the assets across to another trading company or partnership or individual.

Examples of a transaction at an undervalue include

  • Transferring an asset, such as a machine, from one company to another without any payment
  • Granting access to a company database or client list to another company for free
  • Allowing a connected party to use brands, Intellectual property for no charge.
  • Selling any asset for significantly below market value.
  • Transferring company vehicles to individuals without payment.

The first warning is think carefully before doing anything similar to the above!

If the company has assets that actually belong to say a bank or Hire Purchase company, then these assets must not be sold or transferred without their explicit written approval.

s238 of The Insolvency Act 1986 applies in the case of a company where –

(a) the company enters administration or (b) the company goes into liquidation and “the office-holder” means the administrator or the liquidator, as the case may be.

Where the company has at a relevant time (typically 2 years if a connected party and 6 months if an unconnected party) entered into a transaction with any person at an undervalue, the office-holder may apply to the court for an order under this section, the court shall, make such order as it thinks fit for restoring the position to what it would have been if the company had not entered into that transaction. So the Court can reverse that sale or movement of assets.

What are the consequences for directors if they sell assets at an undervalue?

Following an investigation by an insolvency practitioner a director/s may face;

  • Disqualification
  • Personal liability for the company debt if the asset’s true value cannot be recovered.
  • Fines

So how do we sell or move assets?

Properly! If there is a plan to sell any asset, then the safest policy is to get the asset(s) independently valued, make sure that the valuation has going concern and forced sale values. Typically you should use a RICS qualified valuer or surveyor to perform this task. Then we suggest that the assets are sold at or about forced sale values and the consideration banked to maximise the interests of the company’s creditors.

Keep careful records of such transactions and it’s probably best if a board meeting minutes the transactions as being formally approved by the board.

What if we cannot afford to buy the assets?

We suggest that you liquidate the company and then offer to buy the assets over time (deferred consideration) from the liquidator. DO NOT remove the assets thinking that there is no harm. Remember the directors may be made personally liable for the company debts if they have been wrongfully trading!

What if we hive across the assets or the business to another company?

This is a complex area of law that requires more details than a simple “what if” question, however the basic principles above apply. Hive across assets ONLY after proper legal advice and values have been established and a consideration paid by the other company.

See our guide to CVA plus Hive Down here.

Summary:

It is vital that you take all reasonable steps to protect the assets of the business, to conform with the law and act in the best interests of the company’s creditors. Remember, if you have any doubts or questions about the above brief guide please contact us on 0800 9700539

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What Is A Winding Up Petition By HMRC or Other Creditor

A winding up petition is a legal notice put forward to the court by a creditor. The creditor petitions to the court if they are owed more than £750 and it has not been paid for more than 21 days. The application, in effect, asks the court to liquidate the company as they believe the company is insolvent.

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What Is A Winding Up Petition By HMRC or Other Creditor
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Notice of Intention To Appoint Administrators

A notice of intention to appoint administrators is when the company files a document to the court to outline that it intends to go into administration if a solution cannot be found to its immediate financial problems. It can be used as part of the pre-pack administration process as well as used to restructure a failing business to avoid its liquidation.

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Notice of Intention To Appoint Administrators
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What Does Going Into Administration Mean?

Going into administration is when a company becomes insolvent and is put under the control of Licensed Insolvency Practitioners.  The directors and the secured lenders can appoint administrators through a court process in order to protect the company and their position as much as possible. Going Into Administration - A Simple Guide Administration is a very powerful process for gaining control when a company has serious cashflow problems, is insolvent and facing serious threats from creditors. The Court may appoint a licensed insolvency practitioner as administrator. This places a moratorium around the company and stops all legal actions.The administration must have a purpose and the Government encourages the use of company rescue mechanisms after administration. The 3 purposes (or objectives) of Administration Rescuing the company as a going concern. (Note: this purpose is to rescue the Company as opposed to rescuing the business undertaken by the Company.)Company rescue as a going concern – this is usually a  company voluntary arrangement. The company enters protective administration and is then restructured before entering into a CVA. The CVA would set out proposals for repayment of debts to secured, preferential and unsecured creditors. When the company has its CVA approved by creditors, then the administration process comes to an end after 28 days. Achieving a better result for the company's creditors This is as a whole than would be likely if the company was to be wound up (liquidation) See the differences between Administration and Liquidation.  This better result is usually obtained by selling the BUSINESS as a going concern to one or more buyers. The company and the debts are “left behind”. The better result may include securing transfer or employees under TUPE, as well as selling goodwill, intellectual property and assets. Controlling and then selling property/debtors. This is called realising assets. Then the administrator makes a distribution to one or more secured or preferential creditors, in order of creditors priority. Usually the business ceases trading and employees are made redundant.Only if the first two options are deemed unattainable, can the administrator use this third option.Under the administration option, it is possible for the company and its directors (or a creditor like the bank) to apply to the court to put the company into administration through a streamlined process.However, the law requires that any finance provider (like a bank or lender), with the appropriate security, is contacted and the aims of the administration be discussed and approved. The finance provider must have a fixed and floating charge (usually under a debenture) and the charge holder will need to give permission for the process to go ahead. Five days clear notice is required.  Be aware, though, that a secured lender can appoint administrators over a company without notice if it thinks its money is at risk.  So communication with the secured lender is essential.  

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What Does Going Into Administration Mean?

What is Receivership?

in What is …? What is receivership?

Understanding Receivership: Receivership, also known as administrative receivership, is a legally sanctioned procedure where an entity, typically a lender like a bank, appoints a receiver. The primary role of this receiver is to "receive" and liquidate the company's assets, if necessary, to repay the lender. This process is particularly beneficial to creditors as it aids in the recovery of defaulted funds, potentially preventing the company from facing liquidation The introduction of a receivership simplifies the lender's task of securing owed funds in cases of borrower default.Receivership should not be confused with administration and a receiver can only be appointed by a holder of a qualifying floating charge created before September 2003. Changes to this procedure were brought in by The Enterprise Act 2002 which promoted company rescue and saving struggling businesses. Why would a company go into receivership?The company requires finance for its activities and borrows from a bank (or other secured lender). In consideration for providing the loan, the bank requires security. Normally the company will sign a debenture with a fixed and floating charge. This offers the bank security over the assets of the company. If the terms of the agreement are breached or the company does not conform to the bank's wishes, the charge holder can:Appoint investigating accountants to ascertain how secure or not the bank's debt is and determine the best route forward (not always receivership). Demand formal repayment of the loans without notice. Appoint a receiver to administer and receive the company's assets.The receiver has a duty to collect the bank's debts only,they are not generally concerned with the other unsecured creditors or shareholders' exposure.Receivership - A typical appointment Having borrowed against a business plan that has not worked, a company finds that it is suffering cashflow problems. In an effort to survive, the company reports its problems to the bank and the bank asks for more information on the problems the company faces. Struggling with the problems of firefighting, the directors find it difficult to produce the information. Often the accountancy and reporting systems are not robust and a lot of time is needed to work out where the company is going, what the depth of the problems is and the necessary reporting to the bank is delayed.As time goes by, the company's overdraft is constantly at its limit, because monies don't come in fast enough from customers. Clearly this should set alarm bells ringing at the company - it most certainly does at the bank. They call this ceiling borrowing, and take it as a sign that the directors are losing control.  When this happens the bank will review the account and will typically take some or all of the following steps: What the Bank will doThe bank will ask for a reduction in its exposure. It will ask for increased security from the directors or shareholders. Usually this takes the form of personal guarantees to support the security that the company has given through the debenture. It may ask for new capital to be introduced by the shareholders. Problem is though, occasionally, this only has the effect of reducing the bank exposure as the bank takes this cash to reduce the borrowing. It can ask for a new business plan from the directors, along with regular reporting. It may ask for the company to consider receivables finance (factoring) to remove its borrowing and move to a factor. Often the bank's own factoring company. If they are still not satisfied that the directors are in control and if the bank is concerned about its exposure it will ask for investigating accountants (or reporting accountants) to look at the business. Normally this is a large firm of accountants who send an insolvency practitioner (IP) into the business to ascertain:Is the business viable? Is the company stable? Does it have a long term future if the present difficulties can be overcome? Is the bank's exposure sufficiently covered in the event of a failure? In this report the IP calculates what the assets of the business are worth on a going-concern basis and in a forced sale scenario (or closure basis). Investigating accountants often recommend that the bank sticks with the business, but that the bank should limit any further borrowing to the fully secured variety - in other words the directors must secure it personally against property for example. If the IP thinks that the company is in serious risk of failure and that the banks may lose money in that event, he/she will usually recommend to the bank that they appoint a receiver or administrator. Usually the bank (bizarrely) requires the directors to "request the bank to appoint a receiver". This is face-saving, and designed to deflect criticism from the bank to the directors.At Company Rescue, we believe that it is wrong that the insolvency practitioner that carries out the investigation could also be the receiver - We think it is essential that his/her role as investigating accountant is limited to just that. However, fortunately most banks now agree that this is not a good approach. Once they are appointed what is the receiver's role and powers?A receiver will quickly ascertain what the prospects for business are and decide whether to sell some or all of the assets, the business as a whole, or to continue to trade whilst a better deal can be achieved. Because of the rules and case law, he may wish to get rid of the assets and staff as soon as possible. (They will have to adopt employment contracts 14 days after the appointment). They may remove directors and employees without impunity. They ultimately decides the way forward and will (often) not take advice from the directors. They must pay the preferential debts (employees claims for arrears of pay and holiday pay) first from any floating charge collections. If a deal is to be done with directors the receiver must first advertise the business and its assets for sale. They must conform to the tight rules and regulations governing receivership and report to the DBEIS. A receiver must investigate the conduct of the directors of the business and file a report with the DBEIS.Disadvantages of Receivership The company is rarely saved in its existing form. Its assets will be subject to "meltdown" ( most people know that in receivership or liquidation assets are sold at a knock down price), often jobs and economic activity are lost.The directors will typically lose their employment and any monies the company is due to them, and the company may cease to trade. In addition the director's conduct is investigated.From the creditors' perspective, it is unlikely that any unsecured creditors will receive any of their money back and often they lose a valuable customer. Clearly the cost of receivership can be very high and the bank has to underwrite the receiver's costs. Advantages of Receivership The bank can take control where directors have maybe lost control. The receiver also has power to act to save the business quickly. The bank can ensure that its exposure is (at least) not increased and hopefully recover all of its money. For directors, the advantages are that it mitigates the risk of wrongful trading and may crystallise a very difficult position allowing them to get on with their lives.Preferential creditors may see their debts repaid by the receiver.Still got questions? Click here for Receivership FAQs. If there are still unanswered questions contact us by email or call 08009700539.If your business is in trouble and the relationship with the bank is breaking down, we suggest that you look carefully at the guides in this site. Receivership may be an option. Work out the viability of the business - can you trim costs? Work out the problems, set out the position and have a meeting of directors. Decide if the business can continue but needs to be restructured or if just not viable then consider administration or if the company's lenders have a debenture pre-dating 2003 then receivership.Please call us on 020 7887 2667 (London) or 08009700539 to talk to an expert turnaround advisor if you would like to talk through your company's options.

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What is Receivership?

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