The Insolvency Service will be given powers to investigate directors of companies that have been dissolved, closing a legal loophole and acting as a strong deterrent against the misuse of the dissolution process.

The process will no longer be able to be used as a method of fraudulently avoiding repayment of Government-backed loans given to businesses to support them during the Coronavirus pandemic

Extension of the power to investigate also includes the relevant sanctions such as disqualification from acting as a company director for up to 15 years. These powers will be exercised by the Insolvency Service on behalf of the Business Secretary.

At present, the Insolvency Service has powers to investigate directors of live companies or those entering a form of insolvency. If wrongdoing or malpractice is found, directors can face sanctions including a ban of up to 15 years.

The measure will also help to prevent directors of dissolved companies from setting up a near-identical business after the dissolution, often leaving customers and other creditors, such as suppliers or HMRC, unpaid.

The measures included in the Ratings (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill are retrospective and will enable the Insolvency Service to also tackle Directors who have inappropriately wound up companies that have benefited from Bounce Back Loans.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said “As we build back better from the pandemic, we need to restore business confidence, but also people’s confidence in business – which is why we will not hesitate to disqualify directors who deliberately leave employees and the British taxpayer out of pocket.”

“We are determined that the UK should be the best place in the world to do business. Extending powers to investigate directors of dissolved companies means those who have previously been able to avoid their responsibilities will be held to account.”

Dr Roger Barker, Director of Policy and Corporate Governance at the Institute of Directors, said “Company directors fulfil a central role in ensuring that their businesses are well-governed. Although corporate dissolution may be inevitable in some cases, it should only be used as a last resort – after all other realistic avenues for protecting the interests of stakeholders have been exhausted. Using company dissolution as a mechanism for the evasion of a directors’ duties has no place in the governance of a responsible enterprise.”

The measure, which will sit with the Secretary of State for Business Kwasi Kwarteng, is contained in the Ratings (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill, announced today.

This Bill also delivers on the commitment to rule out COVID-19 related material change of circumstances (MCC) business rate appeals. This is due to the fact that market-wide economic changes to property values, such as from COVID-19, can only be properly considered at general rates revaluations.

To support this, the government is providing £1.5 billion to sectors that have suffered most economically over the pandemic, ensuring support is provided to businesses in England in the fastest and fairest way possible. Allowing business rates appeals on the basis of a ‘material change in circumstances’ could have led to significant amounts of taxpayer support going to businesses who have been able to operate normally throughout the pandemic and disproportionately benefitting particular regions like London.