Insolvency items in the news: bankruptcy from legal fees, no win no fee and some alleged misconduct

There are some interesting items in the news which have insolvency related themes. The Daily Telegraph is reporting that a magistrate who was recently acquitted of serious sexual assault is now facing bankruptcy as a result of his legal costs. Elsewhere, the BBC are reporting that bankruptcy costs are to rise. The story notes: 

"The rise in the cost of going bankrupt could discourage people with financial problems from seeking a solution, debt experts are warning.

The fee for petitioning for bankruptcy rose by £75 to £525 at the start of the month. With the court fee added on, the total upfront cost is £700.

The Insolvency Service said the increase was needed to cover the cost of administration.

The charges, including court fees, have gone up by 37% since March last year.

Insolvency practitioner Mark Sands, from RSM Tenon, has warned that the increase would put extra pressure on individuals who were likely to be under stress or depressed.

"So many people flounder around and do not see a way out," he said.

"They are going to be put off exploring bankruptcy as a solution."

The £525 charge is a deposit to cover the cost of managing a bankruptcy, which allows the bankrupt person to throw off the burden of debt and make a fresh start.

The Insolvency Service recovers a full administration fee of £1,715, less the deposit, from the bankrupt's assets or surplus income at a later stage. This sum is not being increased.

The Insolvency Service has seen its income squeezed because of the falling value of homes and other assets which are recovered from bankrupts.

Currently, the £1,715 fee is never fully paid in half of bankruptcies.

There has been some criticism of the rising cost.

"It is unfair to families who are struggling but I felt that any money I had was going to be taken anyway," said a recent bankrupt who spoke to BBC News,

Jon Elwes, from the Money Advice Trust, said: "This increase in the cost of going bankrupt is likely to swell the numbers of people falling through the net of the current insolvency regime.

"Our advisers at National Debtline speak to people everyday for whom bankruptcy would be the best solution to their debt problem, but for the fact they cannot afford the associated fees."

Lower cost
There is now a cheaper and easier alternative, the Debt Relief Order (DRO), which costs £90.

We have to strike a balance between giving bankrupts debt relief and a fresh start, and the need to provide some return to creditors”

...In the first quarter of this year there were 6,788 DROs, a 20% rise on the previous year.

However, people can only ask for a DRO if their debts are less than £15,000 and savings and assets are less than £300.

"What if you have £16,000 of debt?", said Mark Sands of RSM Tenon.

"You are faced with that barrier of hundreds of pounds before you can opt for bankruptcy to resolve your difficulties."

Una Farrell, from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, said: "It is a very steep rise. We already have to do a lot of work helping our clients to get the money together to pay the fees."

But Mr Horne said the Insolvency Service was obliged by Parliament to break even, a task which had become increasingly difficult.

"It has always been our policy that if bankrupts can pay something towards their debts then they should," he said.

"We have to strike a balance between giving bankrupts debt relief and a fresh start, and the need to provide some return to creditors."

Elsewhere, The Guardian and Accountancy Age are both reporting on the no win no fee issues surrounding IPs and the recently mooted reforms to legal aid. The Guardian story notes:

"But the move to restrict the use of conditional fee arrangements applies not just to personal injury cases but also to a range of other legal disputes, including insolvency situations. The plans have raised fears that insolvency practitioners may find it harder to pursue fraudulent company directors to recover cash for creditors. HMRC would be the biggest loser, with its losses due to insolvencies and fraud running into billions of pounds every year."

"Frances Coulson, president of R3,said: "Under these proposals it will be harder for insolvency practitioners to recoup money from dodgy directors, so creditors such as the business community and HMRC could be left with nothing. It is essential that insolvency is exempt from these proposals so that businesses and HMRC are not left out of pocket and wrongdoing is not seen to be excused. Every penny left in the pocket of a director in a carousel fraud case is likely to fund another fraud."

Finally, a sometime BCCI and Madoff estate legal advisor is also under investigation for alleged expenses irregularities

Picture Credit: BCCI