A survey carried out in 2017 by Franchising New Zealand identified the fact that New Zealand had, at that time, the highest proportion of franchises per capita in the world. With around 630 franchise brands, it was estimated that they made up about 7% of the small businesses in New Zealand, employed over 124,000 people and contributed $27.6 billion to the New Zealand economy, plus an additional $11.1 billion in motor vehicle sales and $7.4 billion in fuel sales.
We could not find any more recent figures, but which ever way you look at it, franchises make up a significant portion of businesses in New Zealand.
As with other business models, there have been individual franchisees fail before Covid-19 came to our attention, with a number of Mad Butcher outlets failing in the last couple of years being one high profile group.
Many of the franchises are in the types of business that cannot open and operate normally under Covid-19 levels 3 or 4, such as those involved in the food and hospitality, fitness, and health & beauty industries. Some involved in property care and maintenance might be able to operate under level 3 but will have suffered, along with practically every other business’ under level 4.
These same franchised businesses are also the type that provide goods and service which, in most cases, would fall into the category of discretionary spending for customers and therefore will be a bit further down the priority list for spending once the economy starts to get back to something approaching normal.
The appointment of receivers for the New Zealand owners of the Burger King franchise is the 1st high profile Covid-19 franchise victim but it is unlikely to be the last. Burger King is slightly different in that the vast majority of its outlets are owned by the New Zealand franchisor, as opposed to individual franchisees, but it still affects the lives of more than 2,600 staff across the country. Hopefully, for all those involved, a successful sale of the business will be achieved and mean that those outlets can all reopen for business.
We believe there is likely to be more franchised businesses to close in the coming months, or fail to re-open at all, and the effects on the individuals involved may be compounded by the fact that they are party to a franchise agreement.
The agreements will not all be the same, but most will include some, or all, of the following terms, which are there to protect the rights of the franchisor:
• The requirement to pay on-going franchise fees, licence fees and a contribution for advertising.
• The franchisee does not own the intellectual property.
• The franchisee cannot assign the rights under franchise agreement without franchisor’s agreement.
• The agreement can be terminated by notice in writing by franchisor on the occurrence of various events, including failure to pay amounts owed to the franchisor, failure to pay rent (where the franchisee is a sub-lessee of the franchisor), liquidation or receivership.
• On termination, there is a restraint of trade within specified areas for specified periods.
• Where the agreement is terminated as a result of one of the defaults (such as those listed above), the franchisee can be required to sell fixture and fittings and equipment etc to the franchisor, or nominee, at the lower of fair market value or book value as recorded in latest accounts.
• The franchisee will have given a personal guarantee to the franchisor.
The extra franchise expenses, on top of the normal business payments of rent, insurance, finance interest and payments etc, if not deferred or reduced by the franchisor, impose a further burden on the businesses concerned that have already faced 4 weeks without income.
The ability for the franchisee to sell and recover the maximum value from the business assets may also be limited by the terms of the agreement, as outlined above, and leave their personal assets exposed to claims under the personal guarantee.
Without question, franchisees in many categories of industry will have suffered under level 4 and many will continue to suffer under level 3.
If they have not already done so, they should be talking to their accountants and bankers in relation to the support packages that may be available to them.
When considering their options, franchisees should also be consulting their legal advisors on the effect the terms of their agreement with the franchisor will have on their ability to deal with the assets of the franchise, and on their personal liability, before making final decisions on what to do.
If a franchisee is looking to exit due to hardship then talking to the franchisor may be the first option. A new franchisee to take over the lease obligation, to continue to trade and to protect the brand may be a win-win for all concerned. The ceased business can then look at winding up options.
With the upheaval being caused to many SMEs by the Covid-19 lockdown and the potential for many of those SMEs to fail, the risk to people who have provided personal guarantees (PG’s) for company debts increases.
The support packages for companies being provided by the Government and the major trading banks is good news for the employees, because of the 12-week wage subsidy package, and for those businesses that can meet bank lending requirements to access the business finance guarantee scheme or possibly can use the debt hibernation and tax packages.
But the position for those companies that have other significant overheads and possibly were loss making startups or were already struggling, and for the individuals involved with those companies that have personally guaranteed some of the company obligations, the picture is not so bright.
It is expected that some creditors will make demand on individuals for payment of those company debts, pursuant to their PG’s, and, in the event the debt is not paid, proceed to bankrupt the individual concerned.
If the holders of PG’s or sole (unincorporated) traders end up being bankrupted, or declaring bankruptcy, due to the financial impact of the lockdowns largely through circumstances and decisions outside of their control, the current repercussions are, in our opinion, too harsh.
We would support a new personal insolvency regime that allows those bankrupted (say a Covid class) that can reasonably show the bankruptcy arose from Covid 19’s impact, be given a clean slate alongside an agreed reasonable repayment plan for the personal debts over time (potentially managed by responsible third parties) so that those people are:
- Not impacted further;
- Not consigned to the unemployment lines or pushed into the “black economy”;
- Able to access credit
- Able to open bank accounts
- Able to restart in business
Reducing the prospect of bankruptcy the below packages have been and remain available.
There are some companies who have applied for and received the 12-week wage subsidy for their staff that will not survive through the 12 week period and will be placed into liquidation.
The subsidy was provided so that staff could be retained to enable businesses to continue post lockdown. So, what happens if that doesn’t occur?
We understand that individual employees who received the wage subsidy payments will not be asked to pay any of those funds back, but what about the company and the directors involved who signed the declaration confirming employment for 12 weeks and best endeavours to provide ongoing employment? Will the directors be personally liable under the scheme for those funds?
MSD have advised that on liquidation, if the Liquidators cannot retain the staff, then they can use the subsidy to pay out employee entitlements (i.e. notice period) and any surplus funds should be returned to MSD. The wage subsidy cannot be used to pay out any redundancy obligations in an employee’s employment contract.
The wage subsidy, although providing some relief, doesn’t cover the other on-going expenses of the company that may be continuing whilst in lockdown such as rent, insurance, ACC payments, hire purchase payments and finance payments and interest.
Those amounts will continue to accrue, some with penalties being incurred for non-payment and many, such as rent, hire purchase and finance payments will in all likelihood, be covered by personal guarantees.
This provides for extra finance to be provided by the trading banks to eligible companies with the Government carrying 80% of the risk and the bank 20%. The bank will still be in the position of deciding whether or not a company is worth lending to but, with the bank carrying 20% of the risk it is to be expected that their lending criteria will continue to be enforced.
The loans have to be repaid in the normal manner, according to the terms agreed to and will, in all likelihood, be covered by a General Security over the company’s assets and either a pre-existing or new personal guarantee. So, what happens if the company fails before the loan is repaid?
Does the bank have to try and recover the full amount owing under the loan in the usual fashion – firstly from the company concerned and, if necessary, from the guarantors before it can call on the Government for its 80%? That appears to be the case.
An article published by Simon Thompson on Linkedin on 21 April 20 “How Does the NZ SME Loan Guarantee Scheme Measure Up To Others?” read here he comments “The simplistic property based focus will not be enough and their [the banks] blanket catch-all personal guarantees discourage applications.”
The article further suggests “An alternative model is to have a limited personal guarantee whereby the SME owners are only liable for the debt if there has been fraud or theft of funds from the business. The SMEs must pledge that the finance will be used exclusively for business purposes and that personal drawings will be no higher than in previous periods or as per a business plan.” And “The personal guarantee, if it is applied, should also be capped at 20% of the loss, as the UK model allows. The NZ Government already guarantees 80% of the risk under this scheme, while the bank takes 100% of the profit from the loans and has just 20% risk. Surely under that environment special conditions should apply.”
The following table developed by Mr Thompson compares the loan schemes in NZ, Australia and UK:
There are a wide range of proposed tax changes including;
• Depreciation on assets for some classes of assets
• Not charging UOMI on new debt
• Temporary loss carry back scheme
• Possible Permanent Removal of loss continuity provisions for the 20/21 period – discussion later in 2020, could be enacted before March 2021.
Tax payments arrangements can be modified by agreement if the taxpayer can show they have been significantly adversely affected and “income or revenue has reduced as a consequence of Covid-19 and as a result is unable to pay taxes in full on time. The key is to interact with IR as soon as practicable to agree to an arrangement to pay at the earliest opportunity.
The support packages provide somewhat of a life line for businesses that were viable before the Covid-19 lockdown and will be able to recover once “normal” (what ever that is like) trading resumes, but for those companies that were already struggling and cease operating, Covids impact and the support packages could become a millstone around the neck of the directors, and others, who have provided personal guarantees.
It is important that individuals who have provided personal guarantees and may be exposed to claims against their personal assets, seek independent advice from their professional advisors before taking any actions that might increase that risk and the level of exposure.
The regulation of insolvency practitioners has been welcomed by most, if not all, reputable insolvency practitioners and most of the matters covered in the Insolvency Practitioners Regulation Act 2019 relate directly to the practitioners.
The Insolvency Practitioners Regulation (Amendments) Act 2019 made amendments to various related legislation, including the Companies Act 1993 (“the Act”).
In this article we look at one particular amendment to the Act, which came into force on 1 September 2020 and has a direct impact on the ability of company shareholders to appoint a liquidator in specific circumstances.
Generally speaking, there are two sets of circumstances in which the shareholders appoint liquidators of an insolvent company –
• The company is insolvent, and the shareholders appoint a liquidator to wind the company up; or
• The company is insolvent, and a creditor makes an application to the High Court to wind the company up and appoint the creditor’s choice of liquidator. Within 10 working days of being served with the winding up proceedings, the shareholders can appoint the liquidator of their choice pursuant to Section 241AA of the Act.
The ability of the shareholders to appoint a liquidator of their choice has sometimes resulted in allegations of “friendly liquidators” being appointed to the detriment of creditors.
From 1 September 2020, the amendment to section 241AA took effect. In cases where a creditor has filed an application with the High Court for the company to be liquidated and has served a copy of those proceedings on the company, the shareholders will only be able to appoint their choice of liquidator with the approval of the applicant creditor.
While it could be argued that the regulation and licensing of insolvency practitioners should mean that there is no difference, in terms of the approach taken to the liquidation, between the liquidators chosen by the applicant creditor and those chosen by the shareholders, we think this amendment is a good one.
The amendment reinforces the need for directors and shareholders to take action early if their company is failing to meet its obligations to creditors.
If you would like to discuss the solvency of your company and the options that are available to you please contact one of the team at McDonald Vague.
There are many very small companies in New Zealand, where the sole director and shareholder is also the sole employee, or a couple are the directors and shareholders and one is the sole employee.
These companies don’t have some of the issues faced by bigger companies in the normal course of business, such as dealing with employees and paying wages, but do have to deal with suppliers and clients and maintain workflow and profitability.
In this article, we look at a couple of the issues facing very small companies and how the Covid-19 lockdown period could provide a chance for review.
One of the problems for the directors of these very small companies is that they can get so involved in the operation that they can’t see the forest for the trees. Their time and energy is put into the day to day operation and they don’t take the time to stand back and look objectively at what they are doing, how they are doing it, and whether it could be done better to achieve what they want.
One possible upside of the lockdown period imposed in response to Covid-19 is that it could provide the opportunity for that objective review.
It is likely that the business has suffered as a result of the lockdown – being unable to trade means little to no income for the people involved and no money coming in from which to pay mortgages, business loans, rent etc – so the director is likely to be looking closely at the business anyway.
Various support packages are available from the Government and the trading banks but before going to the bank to borrow money to support the company through the lockdown, the director needs to look closely at the financial position of the company. If the company was insolvent, or marginal, prior to the lockdown, the bank may not agree to a further loan.
While doing that assessment, directors should take the opportunity to go back to basics and look at why they are in business, what they are doing, and how they are doing it. Some things to consider are:
Another issue that is particularly relevant to very small companies is the blurring of the line between what is company business and what is the director/shareholder’s personal business.
It is not uncommon in small businesses for the director to take drawings from the company rather than paying a regular salary and deducting and paying PAYE, etc. Sometimes, the mortgage over the family home is paid from the company’s bank account and the company vehicle is paid for by the company and used for both business and private travel.
If the company remains solvent, the merging of the private and business assets and activities won’t cause any issue but, if the company becomes insolvent and is placed into liquidation, the director’s actions and the shareholder’s current account will come under scrutiny.
The shareholder’s current account records the funds introduced into the company and the amounts taken out in drawings by the shareholder. If more is taken out than is introduced, then the difference is a debt owed by the shareholder to the company and it is repayable on demand.
During an objective review of the company, directors and shareholders should look at whether they are creditors or debtors of the company and how the money they are taking from the company is being treated such as:
Are drawings being taken instead of or in addition to a salary?
Directors and shareholders also need to consider whether the amount that they are taking from the company is fair to the company, when looked at objectively. When salaries are taken by director/shareholders, section 161 of the Companies Act 1993 requires that the company’s board (which would be the director or directors):
If the company fails and the section 161 requirements were not met or they were met but it was not reasonable for the directors to believe that the authorised remuneration was fair to the company, the directors can be held personally liable for the remuneration paid to the director. While there is some limited relief available to the directors if they can show that the remuneration and/or benefits paid were fair to the company at the time it was given or paid, any payments above what was fair at the time will need to be repaid.
The issues faced by very small businesses can sometimes be overlooked by the directors involved in the day to day operation, but the issues are still there.
Take the opportunity to look at those issues and discuss them with your accountants or other professional business advisors.
The Government is introducing legislation to change the Companies Act to help businesses facing insolvency due to COVID-19 to remain viable, with the aim of keeping New Zealanders in jobs.
The temporary changes are outlined here
A safe harbour is granted to directors of solvent companies, who in good faith consider they will more than likely be able to pay its debts that fall due within 18 months. This would rely on trading conditions improving and/or an agreed compromise with creditors. It essentially provides certainty to third parties of an exemption from the Insolvent transaction regime.
The changes allow directors to retain control and encourage directors to talk to their creditors and will if needed enable businesses which satisfy some minimum criteria to enter into a debt hibernation scheme with the consent of creditors.
The following article on the Company Law changes released by Martelli McKegg provides more detail read here
Directors considering trading on their company need to be careful and cautious and should have their decisions supported by accounts as at 31 December 2019 (as a minimum), and reliable cashflow projections. Companies that cannot satisfy the solvency test at 31 December 2019 or pre Covid-19 impacts should not be advancing a debt hibernation scheme and directors of those companies will not have protection from S135 and S136 claims.
Insolvent companies that are now facing further financial harm as a result of the lockdown should be seriously considering ceasing to trade and entering into either a formal company compromise under Part XIV of the Companies Act 1993, liquidation, or in some cases voluntary administration. The options depend on the viability of the business.
We consider directors of companies on the brink of insolvency should seek independent advice on whether the company meets the debt hibernation criteria and as a minimum we would recommend that financial accounts are being prepared now to 31 December 2019 along with forward looking cashflow projections to support the decision to trade. We expect creditors being asked to vote will require that sort of information to be available. We urge directors to get their Chartered Accountants involved.
Directors need to be aware that the safe harbour provisions may not protect you. For example, if your company has not been able to meet a statutory demand immediately pre-covid, then your company may be deemed insolvent.
The McDonald Vague team offer the following services as a cost-effective and efficient form of employer assistance in these challenging times.
It has been widely predicted that the effect of Covid-19 on businesses, and the individuals involved with those businesses as owners and employees, is going to be widespread. Despite the Government support rolled out to date, many are worried about possible redundancies and the predicted failure of many businesses.
In this article we look at what can be done to survive the lockdown, what effect the lockdown could have on new insolvency appointments during the lockdown period, and what the flow on effects could be, once the lockdown ends. We will also consider the opportunities available to businesses so that they survive the lockdown.
The Government and banks have provided avenues of financial support for individuals and companies to help get through this initial lockdown period.
The government packages are primarily designed to assist businesses to be able to maintain contact with staff by payment of a level of wages to staff, who would otherwise be made redundant, and keep those employees available so that the business can continue once the lockdown ends. If you are considering staff redundancies to reduce your outgoings over the lockdown period, we strongly urge you to speak to your lawyers before taking any restructuring steps, especially if the business has received the Government Wage Subsidy. The government has been very clear that it expects all of the wage subsidy to be passed to employees. The only exception is when an employee’s normal weekly wage exceeds the wage subsidy in which case the normal wage should be paid.
Other Government measures put in place include tax relief in relation to provisional tax and depreciation allowances.
The retail banks have also agreed to a six-month principal and interest payment holiday for mortgage holders and small business customers whose incomes have been affected.
The Government and banks have also put a business finance guarantee scheme in place for small and medium sized business (annual revenue between $250k and $18 million) to further protect jobs, cashflow and support the economy. The Government will take 80% of the risk on this lending and banks the other 20%. These loans are available to business that, but for the effects of Covid-19, were solvent and viable businesses. The banks retain the ability to decide who will be able to get the loans under the system.
Business owners also need to talk to their bankers and financial advisors to see what options are available to them, both in relation to taking out new loans and taking advantage of refinancing options and repayment holidays on existing business and personal lending.
Now is the important time for business owners to look closely at cashflow and the on-going costs their business faces during the lockdown period to see what, if any, reductions can be made. For example, some leases include “no access” provisions, which provide for the tenant to pay a fair proportion of the rent and outgoings during the no access period. We have also seen instances where landlords have agreed to reduced rental payments in leases without a “no access” clause. If your business cannot use its premises and have not already spoken to your landlord, we suggest that you speak to your landlord. The Government signalled on 1 April 2020 it was considering intervening, and that an announcement could be a couple of days away.
We have noted that many debtors and creditors and contracting parties have between themselves been reaching pragmatic arrangements around payments. Negotiating these sorts of arrangements is encouraged. Please be sure that when they are being negotiated that you allow yourselves enough time and money after the lockdown to be able to meet critical obligations and to start up, as it could easily be months after lockdown before business returns to normal. The arrangements agreed need to be documented.
Please also be certain that you haven’t overcommitted, or, committed the same money to many parties.
Now more than ever working with your advisers around cashflow and any other issues is important.
Try also to use this time to try to resolve the disputes and niggly issues that sit around (sometimes in the background) in all businesses. Having those out of the way will assist you with focussing on the restart when it occurs.
And look after yourselves. Talk things through. Get some advice. You could find you remove some stress from this very difficult period. Get some rest. Smile once in a while.
If, despite the support available, you doubt your business will survive, or restart, give your adviser, or us a call to discuss your options.
If what you need is time to pay your creditors, a formal compromise or putting the company into Voluntary Administration (VA) might help your business make it through the lockdown.
Compromises with company creditors allows creditors to agree to accept payment of their outstanding debt in part or in full, usually over a period of time, on the basis that they will receive more under the compromise than they would if the company was liquidated.
For some businesses, Voluntary Administration (VA) might be a better option. The aim of the VA is to maximise the chances of the company, or its business, continuing in existence with the help of the administrators and so provide a better return to creditors and shareholders than from an immediate liquidation.
If a compromise or VA are not realistic options for your company, we can talk to you about putting your company into liquidation by shareholder resolution. If your business does not carry out an essential service, appointing liquidators could help alleviate your immediate stress. While some steps can be taken by the liquidators immediately, we anticipate that any asset recoveries will not occur until after the lockdown restrictions are eased.
These need to be managed along with business obligations. For many small businesses the two go hand in hand.
Just as company compromises are possible, personal compromises are also an option for those that have the ability to pay their creditors over time but need some immediate breathing room. If your company is struggling, you are personally exposed if your company fails because you have given personal guarantees, and you have funds or access to funds that would not be available if you were made bankrupt, you can put forward a compromise to creditors under Part 5 Subpart 2 of the Insolvency Act 2006. This is an alternative to bankruptcy that aims to provide your creditors with a better result than bankruptcy and, if the proposal succeeds, you and your creditors will be bound by the proposal.
At McDonald Vague, we hope that the message of “we are all in it together” will send that message of providing support and kindness in this difficult time.
Court Appointments and Process
We do not expect that there will be Court appointed liquidations during the lockdown period, except in exceptional circumstances, as the Courts are now restricted in the types of cases they can hear to those that affect the liberty of the individual, the personal safety and wellbeing of citizens, and/or where resolution of issues raised by proceedings is time critical.
We anticipate that some unpaid suppliers may feel obliged to put pressure on customers during the lockdown because they are under pressure (the domino effect). If you are under pressure and are considering issuing a statutory demand to a customer, we urge you to speak to your lawyers, as validly serving the statutory demand may be an issue. As the Court Registry is still open, we expect that creditors will still be able to file liquidation proceedings relying on statutory demands served prior to the lockdown (provided those proceedings are filed within 30 working days of the statutory demand expiring).
Meetings During Lockdown
The Companies Act 1993 provides that creditors’ meetings can be held by audio, or audio visual communication, as long as all creditors participating can simultaneously hear each other throughout the meeting. While the Act requires written notice of the meeting to be given to creditors, we anticipate that, in most instances, all creditors will be able to be notified of any creditors’ meeting by email. In most cases, we anticipate that, with some additional effort, creditors’ meetings could still be notified to creditors and held during the lockdown period.
Risks to Directors
In the event of a company failure, regardless of when it occurs, the actions of the directors are reviewed by the company’s liquidators. Directors who breach their directors’ duties, including in relation to insolvent or reckless trading, could face claims against them if the company’s directors ignored the company’s dire financial position or they did not act quickly enough to stop the company’s indebtedness to creditors increasing after the company became insolvent.
We consider that any review of a director’s recent actions, taken since Covid-19 impacted the business, would need to be taken into account but directors could still be held accountable for breaching their duties if they have not exercised the care, diligence and skill that a reasonable director would exercise in the same circumstances.
The initial Level 4 lockdown period of 4 weeks could be extended further. When the lockdown level decreases, it is unlikely that business will return to our previous “normal” quickly. Some economic consultants are suggesting that it could take 18 to 24 months to recover but it could be quicker or slower than that depending on the success or otherwise of the lockdown action.
As we emerge to our “new normal”, there will be new challenges. We are here to assist, as and where we can.
The start-up period could be as difficult as the close down. Cash flow is almost certainly going to be tight for the first weeks and months after restart. The ability to meet rent and employee obligations is going to be tested in many businesses unless you have used the time and options to get cashflow in order.
If you don’t think your pre-Covid-19 business can survive the effects of Covid-19, give us a call to discuss your options. There may steps you can take now that will allow you to reinvent your business after the lockdown ends.
As always, there will also be new business opportunities that come out of the lockdown. If you are looking at starting a new business, talk to us. We can suggest a few simple steps that you can take when setting up your new business to protect your investment into the future.
Covid-19 means that business owners and employees are facing unprecedented challenges at the moment.
The Government and retail banks are providing a range of financial assistance packages to try to ease the current burden and allow businesses to survive and, hopefully, prosper when things get back to normal. Unfortunately, even with those packages and, hopefully, the goodwill of New Zealanders, significant business failures and job losses are still predicted.
Business owners need to be reviewing their business models, talking to their banks, industry organisations, key debtors and creditors, and trusted advisors about how they can best survive the turmoil or, if they do not believe that they have the ability to carry on, to an Accredited Insolvency Practitioner about the options available to them. If you need help, call us on 0800 30 30 34 or 027 359 0823 or reach out to one of our team.