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Understanding Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs)

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What is a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA)?

A Company Voluntary Arrangement – or CVA – is a formal insolvency process which functions as a legally-binding payment plan entered into by an indebted company and its creditors. CVAs typically last between 3-5 years, during which time the company will make a series of monthly repayments which will then be distributed amongst creditors on a proportional basis.

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What is a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA)? Advantages and Disadvantages Explained

A Company Voluntary Arrangement - often known as a CVA - is a legally-binding insolvency procedure which essentially functions as a formal payment plan between an indebted company and its outstanding creditors. A CVA allows for company debts to be paid back over an agreed period of time, typically 3-5 years, at a rate which is affordable to the company and agreeable to the creditors. Depending on how much the company can afford to repay, some debt may be wiped out completely.

While a CVA may look to be an appealing prospect, not all companies will qualify for one. This is because at least 75% (by value) of voting creditors must agree to the CVA being implemented before it is made legally-binding. A creditor is only likely to give their consent to such a process if they are confident that the company will be able to maintain the payments for the duration of the CVA period.

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A CVA can only be entered into under the guidance of a licensed insolvency practitioner who will act as the nominee and supervisor for the process. They will begin by formulating a payment proposal based on the company's ability to repay, and present this to creditors who will vote on whether or not they agree to the terms on offer.

When a struggling business appears to be viable with the prospect of becoming profitable again, and the directors are willing to continue, a CVA may be an ideal way to protect against legal actions taken by creditors. The terms of a CVA are likely to provide lower monthly outgoings for the indebted company and would produce a binding contract for all creditors increasing the likelihood of returns.

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The terms of a CVA proposal will specify the percentage of the debt that the creditors will be paid back during the period of the company voluntary arrangement. This will depend greatly on the level of debt owed by the company, weighed against its ability to make repayments based on current and/or future cash flow projections.

Is Your Company Eligible or Suitable for a CVA?

Before getting too excited about the benefits of using a CVA to facilitate a turnaround it is important to verify that your company is indeed eligible and/or suitable for the procedure. Here are some key points to consider:

  • The company must be insolvent or contingently insolvent (considered insolvent after contingent liabilities are factored in).
  • The directors and the appointed insolvency practitioner must be confident that the business has a viable future and a realistic prospect of recovery.
  • The business should have projected cash flow forecasts that indicate there will be enough capital to cover the agreed upon repayment amounts.

It is helpful if the company already has good financial accounting and reporting systems in place, as this documentation will help to streamline the process.

The Main Benefits of a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA)

Aside from the obvious advantages of a CVA, consider the following main benefits:

  • Halts pressure from creditors and HMRC while the arrangement is being prepared.
  • Protects your company from any legal actions taken by creditors while the CVA is active, as long as you adhere to the terms of the arrangement.
  • Centralises all of your creditors into a single monthly payment.
  • Company directors and shareholders stay in control of the business throughout the procedure and there is no need to make the public specifically aware by advertising in the London Gazette that you're in a Company Voluntary Arrangement, as would be the case with company administration.
  • Can stop a winding up petition from putting your company out of business. Keep in mind that the CVA will usually have to be proposed within 7 days of being served a winding up petition for this to be successful.
  • Improves cash flow.
  • Facilitates a mutually beneficial deal that works in the best interest of your creditors, as they get to have at least some (between 20%–100%) of the debt owed to them repaid in a reliable manner.
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The Steps Involved in the CVA Process

The following is a rough outline of the events that lead up to a successful CVA:

  1. The Initial Assessment  - To begin the CVA process you would need to contact an insolvency practitioner. The IP will determine whether a CVA is the best course of action for your company and its creditors.
  2. Appointing an IP to Draft the CVA - If a company voluntary arrangement is recommended and you would like to proceed then you would appoint the IP to draft a CVA proposal for your creditors.   
  3. Directors consider the CVA draft proposal - After the IP has drafted a CVA proposal it will be examined by your company's directors and revisions will be made if needed. If director's do not feel that their company will be able to adhere to the terms of the CVA and a realistic draft cannot be devised then the IP may recommend a creditors' voluntary liquidation instead.  The insolvency practitioner must be confident that the CVA has a realistic prospect of success in order to act as the nominee.
  4. The CVA is Filed with the Court - The final draft of the CVA is filed at the Court, given a legal originating number, and then signed copies of the proposal are sent to all creditors. The CVA must be sent at least 3 weeks before the creditors' meeting is held. 
  5. Creditors' and Shareholders' Meetings are Held - The appointed IP convenes a meeting of all of the company's unsecured creditors. It is not uncommon for the creditors themselves to be absent at this meeting, as they may send a representative to act on their behalf or merely post or fax their proxy forms to accept or reject the CVA proposal. During the meeting the CVA will be proposed to creditors by the IP and creditors (or their representatives) are given the opportunity to question or request revisions or amendments to the proposal. At the same time a meeting of the company's shareholders will take place. 
  6. Creditors and Shareholders Vote On Whether to Approve the Proposal - During the creditors' meeting a vote will be held and if an amount of creditors responsible for 75% or more of the company's unsecured debt vote in favour of the CVA then it is approved. If modifications to the proposal are requested then the same rule of 75% majority approval applies. This is the part of the process that most directors are worried about. However, if care is taken to draft a thorough and detailed CVA, and to communicate with creditors leading up to the meeting, then there should be no problem in obtaining approval in most cases. Regarding the shareholders' meeting – at least 50% of shareholders must vote in favour of the proposal for it to be approved. 
  7. Meeting Chairman Issues Report - if both of the meetings result in the approval of the proposal then the chairman (the appointed IP) will need to issue a report to all of the company's creditors and the Court, within 4 days of the meeting. This report will provide an overview of what happened during the meeting, who was present, and how each party voted.  
  8. Any Legal Actions Against Your Company are Stayed – Once the CVA is approved any legal actions being taken against your company are frozen and no further actions can be taken unless the CVA is defaulted on. 
  9. Regular Contributions are Made to a Trust Account – Finally, once the CVA is in effect your company will be expected to make the projected contributions to a trust account. As long as these contributions are met then the business will continue operating without the threat of being put out of business. If, however, contributions are not met then the likely result will be compulsory liquidation.    Bear in mind that if the company breaches the terms of its' Company Voluntary Arrangement the supervisor of the arrangement will  almost certainly have to petition to wind the company up by means of a compulsory liquidation.

What is the role of HMRC in a CVA?

For the vast majority of companies struggling with mounting financial pressure, money owed to HMRC for tax arrears is likely to form part of the problem. When it comes to the CVA process, HMRC are classed as a preferential creditor; as such, they will be given the opportunity to vote at the creditors meeting which determines whether the CVA is approved. Remember that a CVA can only be entered into with the agreement of at least 75% (by value) of your creditors – including HMRC.

While HMRC may only be one of a number of creditors your company has, it may well be the case that you owe them a disproportionally large amount of money meaning that HMRC can, in some cases, essentially have the deciding vote on whether or not the CVA is approved.

Although this may be a daunting prospect, HMRC are more accommodating than you may think. The thing working in your favour is that not only do the government want to get paid the tax they are owed, but they also recognise the value of keeping UK businesses afloat for the greater good of the wider economy.

When you consider that the likely alternative to a CVA is the company going into liquidation, as long as you can present a convincing argument for the CVA which shows your company’s ongoing viability, HMRC are likely to be open to accepting the proposal.

What is the role of shareholders in a CVA?

Should creditor approval be given for the CVA, the proposal will then be put in front of shareholders who will be asked to vote on it. A CVA requires the approval of more than 50% of shareholders in order to be passed.

In a company with two shareholders both must therefore agree to the CVA. For companies with a larger number of shareholders, however, this rule means that a CVA can be passed without the support of all shareholders, so long as the majority are in agreement that doing so is in the best interests of the company and its creditors.

If fewer than 50% of shareholders give their support to the proposed CVA then it will be rejected and neither party will be held to its terms. Shareholders will then have to find another way of dealing with the outstanding debts of the company. This may involve an alternative insolvency procedure such as placing the company into administration, or else coming to a more informal arrangement with creditors.

On the other hand, shareholders may vote to reject the CVA if they do not believe the company has a viable future, or if they are not interested in saving the business. In this instance, the company may then choose to enter a formal liquidation procedure such as a Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation (CVL) which would bring about the end of the company. 

What Does a CVA Proposal Contain?

The contents of the CVA proposal are required by law to meet the guidelines of The Insolvency Rules 1986 – Rule 1.3. A typical CVA will contain basic information about the insolvent business and the appointed nominee who must be a licensed insolvency practitioner (i.e. - names, addresses, and contact details). There will be an in-depth introduction to the company's affairs, including information about employees, profits, and significant transactions or events.

The insolvency practitioner you appoint as nominee will work with your company's directors to make this section as accurate and detailed as possible. After the introduction will be the main proposals, followed by information about the company's creditors and debts. Keep in mind that you will need to be prepared to provide documentation and facts about your company during the drafting of the CVA.

How Long Does a CVA Proposal Take to Complete?

Usually about one month will pass between when you appoint the insolvency practitioner to produce the CVA and when it is posted to creditors. After that, about 3 weeks later the creditors' meeting should be held. So altogether the process tends to take about 6-8 weeks to complete on average. However, keep in mind that after this you'll be required to make regular contributions to the designated trust account for up to 5 years (depending on the length of the CVA).

When Can a CVA Be Proposed?

A Company Voluntary Arrangement can be proposed at any time up until a winding up order is granted against your company. If you have already been served a winding up petition, or your creditors are threatening to issue one then you still have time to set up a CVA and save your business if you act quickly! Once the winding up order is granted compulsory liquidation will commence and at this point the possibility of facilitating a recovery through any means is unlikely.

If your company enters into administration, the administrator may propose a CVA during the course of the procedure as a way to bring about a turnaround. Likewise, a liquidator may propose a CVA if it is thought that the arrangement would be more beneficial to creditors than to liquidate the company's assets.  Likewise a company in a CVA can also enter into liquidation.

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How Much Does a CVA Cost to Propose?

The main expense you'll have to cover when setting up the arrangement is the cost of instructing an insolvency practitioner to formulate and present the CVA proposal on your behalf. This is known as the nominees fee and will vary depending on the amount of work involved, the particulars of your case, and the insolvency firm you choose to deal with. However, on average the nominee fees will be  between £5000 and £10000 and the cost of supervising the arrangement will be decided by the creditors.  As these fees come out of the money paid to the creditors it is the creditors who agree the fees of the insolvency practitioners. 

What happens after a CVA? Can companies survive?

The primary motivation behind entering a company into a CVA is to save to the business and allow it to continue trading long into the future. In fact, a CVA will not be permitted if the business is not deemed to be a viable prospect going forwards. With that in mind, the overarching purpose of a CVA is exactly this - to give the company the opportunity to survive.

Once the CVA ends, any remaining debts which were including in the CVA proposal are typically written off. This should put the company in an advantageous position going forward and those companies who successfully complete a CVA stand as good a chance as any of long-term survival.

Unfortunately, not all CVAs are successful. For those companies which fail to complete a CVA – perhaps through missed payments – the future is not always so promising. The CVA may be able to be modified to allow the company to get back on track, however, in many instances this is simply not possible.

It should be remembered that a CVA is a legal agreement, so should one party break this, e.g. by failing to make the requirement payments on time, the creditor is then able to pursue the debt and take legal action if necessary. This may take the form of a Winding Up Petition which could see the company forced into compulsory liquidation.

CVAs can be particularly effective solutions for companies that need to retain certain certifications or contracts which cannot be transferred to another company.  It must be remembered that there are some down sides to CVAs, a CVA will affect a company's credit score and sometimes companies will find it difficult to receive their normal supplies.  

At Real Business Rescue our insolvency practitioners have extensive experience constructing CVAs that have a very high rate of approval and long-term success. For a free consultation send us an email or call us on 01708 933266.

Still have questions about Company Voluntary Arrangements? View our CVA - FAQs for more answers. 

Real Business Rescue provide director advice online, over the phone, or in-person at one of our 100+ UK offices or a place of your convenience.

Frequently Asked Questions about CVAs

What is the purpose of a company voluntary arrangement?

How does a CVA affect employees?

Will creditors accept a CVA?

Do CVAs often lead to administration?

What happens if CVA proposals are rejected?

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