Business

Personal insolvencies at highest level in three years - but companies get their house in order

The number of people who've gone insolvent in Northern Ireland in the last three months was at its highest since mid-2014, official figures show
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE number of people who've gone insolvent in Northern Ireland between April and June rose to its highest level in three years, official figures show.

According to the Insolvency Service, 839 adults became insolvent during the quarter.

That was up more than 100 when measured against 713 who fell under the burden of debt in the first three months of this year.

It's also well up on the second-quarter total for last year (752), and is the highest quarterly figure recorded since the July-September period in 2014, when 975 people in Northern Ireland became insolvent.

Personal insolvencies consist of bankruptcies, individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs) and debt relief orders (DROs).

The second quarter breakdown in Northern Ireland was: 208 bankruptcies, 167 IVAs and 464 DROs.

Meanwhile there has been a marked decline in the number of companies in the north getting into financial difficulties, with only 60 reported insolvencies in the second quarter - the lowest three-month total since records began

This was made up of 35 compulsory liquidations, 19 creditors' voluntary liquidations and six company voluntary arrangements.

There were no administrations or administrative receiverships over the period, according to the government data.

In the UK as a whole, the number of people going insolvent between April and June eased back from record highs last year, while the number of businesses entering insolvency rose 12.6 per cent in contrast to the first quarter.

This rise was underpinned by a "one off event", which saw 1,131 connected personal service companies (PSCs) enter creditors' voluntary liquidation (CVL) in response to changes to claimable expense rules.

Stripping out the impact of the PSCs, company insolvencies dropped by 15.4 per cent over the period to a 17-year low.

Richard Tett, London head of restructuring and insolvency at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, said: "For now, lending conditions remain strong and default and insolvency rates and UK profit warnings are all very low - indeed, the underlying company insolvency rate is the lowest on record - but for how much longer will these benign conditions last, and when conditions do change, will there be a bump?

"The level and terms of the debt currently being taken on by companies are seen by some as concerning, with European leveraged debt issuance almost three times greater for the first half of 2017 than for 2016 over the same period.

"Separately, the markets are worried about signs of complacency around mounting consumer debt."

Brian Johnson, insolvency partner at chartered accountants HW Fisher & Company, said the low interest rate had "continued to flatter" the individual insolvency figures.

He said: "Though number of people tipping into insolvency continues to fall, the insolvency rate has barely budged. At 0.2 per cent of the population, it remains over double the level it was at for the two decades leading up to 2005.

"People unable to clear their debts now have a greater range of options open to them, but the fact remains that years of cheap credit have led thousands of people to rack up debts that they will quickly find unmanageable when, not if, interest rates rise.

"For now the sky appears clear but even a slight increase in interest rates could cause the debt storm to break."

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