It hasn't been that long since subscribers to the NTI newsroom bulletins were gnashing their teeth and rending garments over the horror of HMRC receiving preferential status. How could they? What will happen to CVAs as a result? This is worse than al-Assad's Syria. Life will never be the same.
Now it appears the poachers are due to become the protectors as they answer the call of business leaders to use their key creditor status for good, not evil. Our old friend, the alliterative Kwasi Kwarteng, wrote to business groups this week promising that HMRC would take: "... a cautious approach to enforcement of debt owed to the Government that will have accrued during the pandemic" (but not necessarily due to it, eh Kwasi?).
It seems that HMRC are putting away the clubs and tasers, chaining the German Shepherds and peeling off their leather trousers in an updated approach to the enforcement of debt owed to them by companies who thought 'bounceback' was an anagram for 'gift' and 'CIBL' meant 'Charitable Injection of Bunce and Lolly'. As we all know HMRC are not known for their beneficence during insolvency proceedings and this new soft and cuddly approach would represent a major shift in position, but Kwasi insisted it would happen. He said that HMRC enforcement “during this critical period will be largely driven by a lack of engagement by companies with it, rather than just their inability to pay and that using insolvency to enforce payment will remain a last resort”.
This is happening just in time, as this week was the deadline for businesses to join a VAT deferral payment scheme that allows arrears to be paid in eight monthly instalments. If you are a small business that hasn't done so it appears that you will face penalty payments if the arrears are not paid by the end of June. Now, what happened to that fifty grand?
"How is this happening?" an NTI newsroom reporter asked Clubber Charlie from HMRC, "Normally you like to employ a little gonad-squeezing to make your point."
"Protecting livelihoods and keeping people in work remains our priority, as it has been throughout the pandemic. We will always work constructively with customers to avoid the need for insolvency and will only take action if a customer does not respond or engage with us,” said Clubber.
"No, seriously?" our reporter said, "what's happening?"
"We are serious, sir," Clubber said, lowering the top part of his black mask and twiddling with his baton, "we have always had the community at large in our sights when ... enforcing Her Majesty's law."
So, life as we know it has changed. Once more we Insolvency Practitioners will have been foiled by the namby-pambiness of this Government. Just when it looked as if our phones were about to get busy, in steps HMRC, showing their nice side. But can it last?