Press release

Company involved in multi-million pound business rates avoidance closed down

A Manchester-based company that operated a business rates mitigation scheme for clients has finally been wound-up after it withdrew an appeal to close the business in the public interest.

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The High Court in Manchester ordered the winding up of PAG Management Services Ltd on 9 October 2015 after it was found to have operated a scheme that relied on an abuse of insolvency legislation. The order was suspended pending an appeal lodged by the company, but that appeal was formally dismissed on 15 November 2016 at the company’s request.

Two associated companies, complicit in the operation of the scheme, Ashburton Solutions Ltd and Beacon Property Solutions Ltd, were also wound-up in the public interest.

The scheme operated by PAG Management Services Ltd worked as follows:

  • special purpose vehicle companies, such as Ashburton Solutions Ltd and Beacon Property Solutions Ltd, were formed and controlled by PAG Management Services Ltd
  • each special vehicle company would sign a number of leases, typically 20, relating to empty commercial properties. Each lease was for a nominal rent and contained a clause that enabled the property owner to terminate the lease on 7-days notice
  • immediately after signing the leases, the special vehicle company would be placed into members’ voluntary liquidation with the result that the properties leased to the special vehicle company became exempt from business rates otherwise payable
  • the terms of the lease enabled the owner of the property to remove the property from the scheme in the event that a genuine, rent-paying tenant was subsequently found, at which point the new tenant would become liable for the business rates

PAG Management Services generated substantial income by charging its clients - the owners of the empty commercial properties - a proportion of the business rates saved whilst the property remained in the scheme. The investigation found that, during the 18-month period to March 2013, PAG Management Services Ltd generated fee income of £1.8 million from its clients and that, during the same period, business rates totaling £6.4 million were avoided by property owners as a consequence of the scheme’s operation.

During the trial of the winding up petition, the Court heard evidence that the scheme operated by PAG Management Services Ltd continued to expand beyond March 2013 and that, by March 2015, the business rates being avoided by use of the scheme were estimated to be in the region of £12 million per year.

After a full trial of the winding up petition, the Court found the true objective of the voluntary liquidations engineered by PAG Management Services Ltd was to act as a shelter for the leases that were created so PAG Management Services Ltd could earn fees as a result and that this was a misuse of the insolvency legislation.

In his judgement, the Vice Chancellor Mr Justice Norris held that:

…there is a clear public interest in ensuring that the purpose of liquidations is not subverted, as I consider it is by treating a company in liquidation as a shelter (and seeking to prolong its continuation as such). This misuse of the insolvency legislation demonstrates a lack of commercial probity. In its own way it also “subvert[s] the proper functioning of the law and procedures of bankruptcy.

Commenting on the case, Colin Cronin, Investigation Supervisor at the Inslvency Service, said:

The Court has found unacceptable schemes such as that operated by PAG Management Services Ltd which seek to use the insolvency legislation for purposes other than the collection, realisation and distribution of assets..

These proceedings show that the Insolvency Service will act robustly to ensure that the UK’s insolvency regime functions properly and that action is taken against companies which seek to subvert that proper functioning of the legislation.

Notes to editors

PAG Management Services Ltd – company registration number 07752013 – was incorporated on 24 August 2011. The company’s registered office is at Alliance House, Westpoint Enterprise Park, Clarence Avenue, Trafford Park, Manchester, M17 1QS.

Ashburton Solutions Ltd – company registration number 07702721 – was incorporated on 13 July 2011. The company was placed into Members’ Voluntary Liquidation on 13 December 2011 and the liquidation was subsequently converted to a Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation on 3 May 2013. The joint liquidators of the company are Gemma Louise Roberts and Lisa Jane Hogg of Wilson Field Ltd and the company’s registered office is at The Manor House, 260 Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield, S11 9PS.

Beacon Property Solutions Ltd – company registration number 07794158 – was incorporated on 3 October 2011. The company was placed into Members’ Voluntary Liquidation on 3 April 2012 and the liquidation was subsequently converted to a Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation on 3 May 2013. The joint liquidators of the company are Gemma Louise Roberts and Lisa Jane Hogg of Wilson Field Ltd and the company’s registered office is at The Manor House, 260 Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield, S11 9PS.

The Petitions to wind-up PAG Management Service Ltd, Ashburton Solutions Ltd and Beacon Property Solutions Ltd were presented under s124A of the Insolvency Act 1986 on 12 December 2013. Following a contested trial between 10 and 17 March 2015, judgement was given on 9 August 2015 and the companies were wound up on 9 October 2015. The effect of the winding up order in relation to PAG Management Services Ltd was stayed pending the outcome of an appeal which was subsequently dismissed by consent on 15 November 2016. The Official Receiver has been appointed as liquidator of all three companies.

Company Investigations, part of the Insolvency Service, uses powers under the Companies Act 1985 to conduct confidential fact-finding investigations into the activities of live limited companies in the UK on behalf of the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Further information about live company investigations is available.

The Insolvency Service, an executive agency sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), administers the insolvency regime, and aims to deliver and promote a range of investigation and enforcement activities both civil and criminal in nature, to support fair and open markets. We do this by effectively enforcing the statutory company and insolvency regimes, maintaining public confidence in those regimes and reducing the harm caused to victims of fraudulent activity and to the business community, including dealing with the disqualification of directors in corporate failures.

BEIS’ mission is to build a dynamic and competitive UK economy that works for all, in particular by creating the conditions for business success and promoting an open global economy. The Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions team contributes to this aim by taking action to deter fraud and to regulate the market. They investigate and prosecute a range of offences, primarily relating to personal or company insolvencies. The agency also authorises and regulates the insolvency profession, assesses and pays statutory entitlement to redundancy payments when an employer cannot or will not pay employees, provides banking and investment services for bankruptcy and liquidation estate funds and advises ministers and other government departments on insolvency law and practice.

Further information about the work of the Insolvency Service, and how to complain about financial misconduct, is available.

All public enquiries concerning the affairs of the company should be made to: The Official Receiver, Public Interest Unit, 2nd Floor, 3 Piccadilly Place, London Road, Manchester, M1 3BN. Tel: 0161 234 8531 Email: piu.north@insolvency.gsi.gov.uk.

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Published 14 December 2016