Administration – the pros and cons

My role as an insolvency practitioner entails me working with directors to identify and then implement the least worst option for their insolvent company.  I say ‘least worst’ because we do not live in a perfect world, no insolvency process ticks all the boxes, there is always a ‘hangover’.  And all processes have a hangover for any buyer of the business. 

Administration is a common ‘solution’ for large retail insolvencies.  The House of Fraser administration has given us the opportunity to remind ourselves of what’s good and what’s bad about administration generally, and I shall also draw out some of the difficulties House of Fraser’s new owners could be having going forward as a result of the process that’s been followed.  Here are the main Pros and Cons: 


  • Administration is a good way of writing off creditor debts that a company cannot ever hope to repay.  Creditors are held back, their actions stayed, then later on their debts are written off.  The appointment of the administrator can buy time to formulate a plan for reconstructing the business and/or freeing it of its debt burden.  Typically this is achieved by the administrator selling on the business and assets, debt free, sometimes after some ‘pruning’ of costs / employee numbers.  The additional debts created by such cost cutting by the administrator is written off as an additional unsecured debt, along with the other unsecured debts, rather than having to be met out of the company’s limited cash.
  • The administrator has immense powers, he can do virtually what he wants with the company’s assets, including those owned by third parties, for example assets subject to hp, lease and reservation of title.  I’ve already mentioned the potential sale of the business and assets as an option.  This can be conducted after a period of trading (generally unlikely, this is discussed below) or as in House of Fraser’s case, through a pre-pack – a sale conducted immediately following the administrators’ appointment- done to enable the assets to be sold quickly and without the unsecured debt burden.
  • Although the buyer of the insolvent company’s business takes on employee contacts ‘as is’ under TUPER, it does not assume responsibility for the company’s pension scheme deficit.  In the House of Fraser’s case, right now the deficit is estimated at £170m, two times what Ashley paid for the business and assets.
  • The combination of several of the above pros means that some jobs can often be saved.


  • Without a period under the management of the administrator, often the problems that led to the company’s failure are not resolved, they remain.  Any buyer of the business and assets still has a good amount of work to do to turn the business around.
  • Landlords cannot, unless the buyer’s covenant is good, be forced to take an assignment of the insolvent company’s leases over to the buyer.  Often – particularly in the case of retail insolvencies – the buyer would like to renegotiate completely new terms.  The problem is he does not have the best negotiating position – it’s just a case of ‘mutually assured destruction’ should negotiations fail.  That’s to say mere administration – if not conducted after a CVA – does not solve the problems caused by a company suffering from excessive property costs.  In the House of Fraser’s case, the new owner will have to conduct a good many tough negotiations with landlords as they try to agree cheaper property costs.  If those negotiations prove to be unsuccessful – there might be no business worth saving.
  • As employees are typically transferred under TUPER, the buyer has to take on many of their existing terms.  In those cases where the failed company has been overly generous, the buyer either has to renegotiate or terminate – whatever he chooses to do, it will be costly for him.
  • The buyer of the business cannot force people to deal with them.  Suppliers are hurting, they have lost money, they want payment for stocks the business is holding.  They might want to charge the buyer more for supplies going forward, or refuse to offer payment terms.  The buyer will have to carry out lengthy negotiations with key suppliers.  The viability of the business in its new form might be in question unless those negotiations prove to be successful.
  • As administration is a complex procedure, it is always a costly process.  Always upwards of £20,000 for even the smallest business, administration is not an appropriate solution for small insolvencies for costs reasons, even if there are commercial reasons making it so.
  • Like all insolvency processes, some business value is lost.  In the House of Fraser’s case, the banks and bondholders (who hold security) are going to lose three quarters of their money, and unsecured trade creditors and landlords will get virtually nothing back.  It can take a buyer years to rebuild that value, the company’s reputation.
  • It can be difficult, if not impossible, for an administrator to trade the company on under his control.  Suppliers and bankers cannot be forced to extend more credit, administrators won’t give any guarantees to lenders, customers can be difficult.  If it’s not possible to trade on and administration is still the most appropriate option, the only option may be a prepack.

The thing that you need to go away is administration deals only with some of the problems of a business, it does not deal with them all, any buyer has a good many of things it has to get right for the ‘new business’ to succeed.

Another (small) screw in the coffin of smaller community credit unions

A good many small community based credit unions have had a torrid time in recent years and probably right now aren’t seeing much of an improvement.  The Co-Op Bank’s decision to cut the interest it pays on its community bank accounts – such s their Community Directplus, Co-Operatives Directplu and Social Enterprise Directplus accounts – will prove to be another, small and slow, but certain turn on the screw in the coffin of already beleagured credit unions.

Small community based credit unions are really struggling – at best, they have seen flat income levels, at worst they’ve seen their income fall away, especially from grants and interest receipts.   Yet there is often little opportunity for them to reduce their overheads in line with the fall in income.  Trying to increase income by growing the loan book can often carry a disproportionate risk of bad debts so for some they have a stark choice – grow or merge or die a death of a thousand cuts.  The Co-Op decision will prove to be just another cut…

Let’s look at what the Co-Op is doing…

Interest rates paid on customer balances have never been lower, certainly not in my lifetime.  Until June the Co-Op will be paying a tiered rate of interest – Nil% on balances up to £1,999; 0.12%  on balances £2,000 to £9,999; 0.15% on balances £10,000 to £24,999; 0.18% on balances £25,000 to £99,999; 0.21% on balances £100,000 to £249,999; and 0.25% on balances over £250,000.

That’s to say the most the Co-Op will ever pay any credit union right now is one quarter of one per cent per annum… peanuts.

Yet those peanuts are being crushed!

The new rates from June 2015 will be: balances up to £24,999 Nothing, yes absolutely nothing – the Co-Op will get to keep your money for free!; £25,000 to £99,999 0.06% – a third of the already derisory amount it had paid previously; £100,000 to £249,000 0.09% – less than half it had previously paid; £250,000 to £499,000 0.18% – a cut of one third from the rate it had paid previously; over £500,000 0.25%, no change.

The message is clear… the Co-Op isn’t interested in supporting small organisations, it’s using you, the small credit union, to extract itself from its own financial difficulties … it doesn’t have the cohonas to abuse bigger organisations in the same way as they’re prepared to abuse you.

So it’s you, the smaller community based credit unions, and organisations just like you who will feel the brunt of this decision… it will be another straw on the camel’s back…

You see, right now, because you’re getting virtually nothing on the money you are sitting on and with additional grant income difficult to come by, the only way you can meet the regulator’s solvency targets might be by increasing the interest you receive on your loan book.  As you’re limited by law as to the maximum interest rate you can charge on the loans you make, this means you need to grow your loan volumes – the number of loans you put out and the amount you loan out.

The issue is you need to do this without increasing your bad debts.  Desperate people will go to any lengths – you will be lied to, some applications will be pure fabrication. How robust are your application procedures throughout your credit union?  You might get credit reports on potential new lending, but how reliable are those reports? – they are not as accurate as you’d hope!  And you probably can’t always rely on your longstanding members’ past savings history as an indication of their ability to repay any new loans – because people have so many ways nowadays of avoiding repaying their debts – not just the formal insolvency processes of bankruptcy, DRO, and IVA, and informal debt solutions such as DMP and DRO, but also pleading poverty in any debt collection process passing through the courts, and even disappearing.

It’s easy to see the situation whereby a credit union that’s already struggling with the the regulator could be forced into administration and then closure because of its bad debt experience and low level of bank interest income.