Court winds up £12m insolvency scam

A Manchester-based company that operated a business rates mitigation scheme for clients, resulting in some £12m of payments being avoided by abuse of insolvency legislation, has been wound-up

The High Court in Manchester originally ordered the winding up of PAG Management Services Ltd in 2015, but the order was suspended pending an appeal lodged by the company. This has now been formally dismissed 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.

Under the scheme operated by PAG Management Services Ltd 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 seven-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.

An Insolvency Service investigation found that, during the 18-month period to March 2013, PAG Management Services Ltd generated fee income of £1.8m from its clients and that, during the same period, business rates totaling £6.4m 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 £12m 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.

Colin Cronin, investigation supervisor at the Insolvency 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.’

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