562,000 UK Business Facing Financial Distress in Q3 2021 with Dramatic Rise in Court Action Fuelling Insolvency Concerns

The latest red flag research for Q3 2021 from Begbies Traynor, which monitors the financial health of UK businesses has recorded 562,550 businesses in ‘significant financial distress1’, with a 139% uplift in CCJs2 in the past year.
Business Health Statistics

| October 29th 2021

More News by Ric Traynor

Date Published: 29th October 2021

562,000 UK Business Facing Financial Distress in Q3 2021 with Dramatic Rise in Court Action Fuelling Insolvency Concerns
  • 589,168 UK businesses reporting significant financial distress during final quarter of 2021, a 5% rise on the previous three months
  • Near-doubling of County Court Judgments (CCJs) compared with same period a year ago – a key early sign of future insolvencies as creditors are now actively using courts to recover debts
  • As Covid reliefs unwind, financially distressed companies brace for full force of debts to hit
  • Pressure ratcheting up almost across the board, with only one sector of the 22 covered by the “Red Flag Alert” (RFA) research showing an improved position
  • Situation even worse for companies already teetering on the brink of failure, with critical financial distress up 7% year-on-year in the final three months of 2021

Begbies Traynor’s “Red Flag Alert”, which has monitored the financial health of British companies for the past 15 years, now paints a particularly worrying picture for UK businesses with increasing numbers falling victim to pressures which have been building since coronavirus began piling up problems in the economy almost two years ago.

The latest data indicates that the debt storm which has been brewing for years, but had been held off by measures to provide breathing space for companies, could now be about to hit, sending shockwaves through many industries.

Julie Palmer, partner at Begbies Traynor, said: “Businesses that have bravely battled through the pandemic could now start to fail as the pressures they face become too much.

“Support from the Government such as furlough payments, tax reliefs and a moratorium on landlords being able to evict businesses due to rent arrears cannot go on forever.

“Without these measures in place to protect them, a rising number of companies will have no other option but to relinquish their business after two years of struggling on in the economic uncertainty that has been tempered by measures to combat the impact of coronavirus.

“The lag effect of the economic fallout from Covid, plus significantly higher inflation, has created a perfect economic storm for many companies, particularly the UK’s SME sector, which will undoubtedly drive insolvency rates even higher.”

According to Ms Palmer, inflation is now the greatest threat to the economy with the true rate potentially running far beyond the official 5.4% rate and possibly many multiples more than the Bank of England’s target of 2%. Today, rising wage, energy and materials costs mean the CPI figures are showing only part of the story in the UK and the subsequent impact on the public’s disposable income is expected to be far greater.

She continued: “The construction sector looks particularly vulnerable as raw material availability, combined with record inflation, has significantly reduced the margins for many SMEs. We are also seeing evidence of over-trading within construction as the sector’s boom post-lockdown has caused real cashflow issues that are now impacting on businesses.”

Although official Government support measures are unwinding, Ms Palmer says there are indications that the authorities are willing to help businesses which are trying to fight on.

She added: “Anecdotally, we are hearing stories about HMRC giving companies two or even three years to pay their tax bills.

“Extra leniency may not be an official policy, but it sends a signal that officials are trying to help businesses survive – even though it might only be delaying the inevitable.”

Top 10 Distressed Sectors*

  1. Support Services – 93,041
  2. Construction – 75,825
  3. Real Estate & Property Services – 75,052
  4. Professional Services – 41,129
  5. Telecommunications & IT – 36,307
  6. General Retailers – 35,962
  7. Health & Education – 32,583
  8. Media – 24,773
  9. Other Manufacturing – 21,369
  10. Bars & Restaurants – 20,846

Distressed Companies by Region*

  1. London – 159,476
  2. South East – 106,047
  3. Midlands – 69,129
  4. North West – 55,728
  5. South West – 41,372
  6. East of England – 40,558
  7. Yorkshire – 34,203
  8. Scotland – 29,902
  9. Wales – 17,227
  10. Uncoded - 15,479
  11. North East – 11,364
  12. Northern Ireland – 8,683

*Number of companies exhibiting significant financial distress.

Ric Traynor, Executive Chairman of Begbies Traynor Group plc, commented:

“The growth in significant financial distress is very concerning and provides further evidence of the pressure the current economic backdrop is placing on UK businesses. With nearly all sectors experiencing a deterioration of their financial position since the last quarter, the ongoing supply chain issues and a 30-year record for inflation are less than ideal for companies that have already been hard hit by the pandemic.

“This new data, combined with the recently published Government insolvency statistics which highlighted a 33pc rise in corporate insolvencies in December 2021 vs December 2019 demonstrates that 2022 is going to be very difficult for many SMEs.

“Aggressive creditor action is often seen as a leading indicator for insolvencies, and the 100%+ increase in CCJs demonstrates that companies are taking a tougher line on recovering debts, in many cases to ensure their own survival.

“Ultimately, these market dynamics, on top of the withdrawal of government support measures and protection, is likely to lead to a rapid acceleration in insolvency rates over the course of 2022 and beyond.”

About the author

Ric Traynor

Executive Chairman

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Ric qualified with Arthur Andersen in 1984 and founded Begbies Traynor in 1989. Ric specialises in practice management and has considerable experience in financial turnaround and dispute resolution within professional practices.

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