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How Can Accountants Advise Solvent Clients When Closing A Limited Company?

Last updated: 01 Jul 2024 09:00 Posted in: AIA

When a client reaches the end of the journey with their company, whether this is due to retirement, a changing marketplace or simply a desire to move on to a new venture, ensuring that the business is wound down in an orderly and compliant manner is crucial.

Closing a limited company, however, is not a one-size-fits-all process. There are several legitimate ways in which a limited company can be closed down when it is no longer needed or wanted. When selecting a closure option which is right for your client, the choice will depend on a number of factors, including the financial position of the company at the time of closure. As an accountant, it is likely that you will be the first port of call for a client looking to wind down their business operations. It is therefore important that you are familiar with both formal and informal closure processes in order for you to be able to better help your client understand their possible options.

While one closure option may represent a saving in time, another may better meet a saving in terms of tax and overall cost. Due to this, what may be appropriate for one client may be wholly unsuitable for another; this can only be determined following a careful consideration of the client’s financial position and their current priorities, as well as their future ambitions.

Option 1: Make the company dormant

If a company has stopped trading and is currently not required, it may be possible to register the company as dormant so long it does not have any form of income and has had no significant accounting transactions during its accounting period.

This option could be considered appropriate in situations where a company is not currently required, yet a final decision as to its long-term future has not been made. A dormant company, while inactive, does continue to exist from a legal standpoint; this means that the company name is protected from use by others during this time.

A company is made dormant following an application to Companies House. HMRC needs to be informed separately once this has been done. While the administrative duties for a dormant company are not as onerous as for an active company, annual company accounts and returns still need to be filed with Companies House while a company is registered as dormant.

A dormant company can be brought back into use at any time and permission is not required from Companies House to do this. However, HMRC must be informed within three months of the company restarting trade.

While there is no time limit to how long a company can remain dormant, this does not actually close the company. It will continue to exist in its dormant state indefinitely and will consequently require the company to continue to adhere to its annual administrative duties during this time. If your client knows they will not require the company in the future, it may make more sense to officially close the company down via either the strike off process or by placing the company into liquidation.

Option 2: Strike off

The quickest and easiest way of closing a limited company is applying to have it struck off from the Companies House register. This is achieved by submitting a DS01 form and paying the small administration fee. Strike off – sometimes known as company dissolution – is designed with solvent companies, and those which have never traded, in mind.

For a company which is currently dormant, or one which has no significant assets or liabilities to be dealt with, dissolving the company via strike off may be the best way of winding operations up. While strike off can be a good option in the right circumstances, it is not something which is appropriate for all limited companies, however.

For a company which has considerable assets, formal liquidation could be a significantly more cost-effective and tax-efficient way of achieving closure as opposed to opting for strike off. While for those companies with significant liabilities and unmanageable debts, strike off may simply not be possible in the first place.

When a company files an application to strike off, a notice is placed in the Gazette advertising this to creditors and any other interested parties. Creditors are then given the opportunity to object to the proposed dissolution of the company and thereby prevent it from being wound up.

For a creditor who is owed money by a company, it is in their interests for the company to remain active. This is because once a company is dissolved, it ceases to exist as a legal entity; therefore, a creditor will be rendered unable to recover any debts which remain outstanding. If a creditor becomes aware that a debtor is attempting to dissolve their company, they are therefore likely to object to the application in order to be able to continue their collection efforts and recover the money they are owed by the company.

If you attempt to strike off a company which is insolvent, you should prepare for a creditor blocking the process. Should this happen, you will have to consider alternative closure options for your client, which is likely to be a formal liquidation process.

Even if a company is solvent, and therefore is unlikely to receive any creditor objections to a proposed strike off, this may not be the most suitable way of bringing the company to a close. While opting for strike off may seem like the quickest and easiest option, this could come at a great financial cost if closure by way of an Members’ Voluntary Liquidation has not been adequately considered.

Option 3: Members’ Voluntary Liquidation

A Members’ Voluntary Liquidation is a formal liquidation option for solvent companies with significant assets to be distributed to shareholders as part of the closure process. As a general rule, if the company has in excess of £25,000 to distribute, a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation is likely to be the most cost-effective way of achieving this.

As a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation is a formal liquidation process, it does require the input of a licensed insolvency practitioner who will be appointed to act as the company’s liquidator. This does inevitably come with costs, so closure via a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation does represent a more costly option when compared to dissolving the company via the strike off process. However, for those companies that hold significant assets, a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation can often be the most appropriate option.

This is because funds extracted from a company via a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation are treated as capital gains rather than income and are taxed accordingly. Furthermore, directors can also take advantage of business asset disposal relief, which halves the rate of capital gains tax payable down to just 10%.

In many cases, the savings which can be made thanks to this favourable tax treatment eclipse the professional fees associated with a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation.

An additional benefit of a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation is that assets can be distributed ‘in specie’ if required. This means that non-cash assets such as property, vehicles or equipment can be distributed to shareholders in their physical form rather than their equivalent value in cash.

In order to be eligible for a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation, the company in question must be solvent – determined as being able to clear all liabilities and any statutory interest, within a period of 12 months – and directors must swear a declaration of solvency to attest to this fact. Falsely swearing a declaration of solvency is considered an act of perjury; therefore, this should only be done following a full and comprehensive assessment of the company’s current and contingent liabilities.

Option 4: Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation

A Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation is an insolvent liquidation process which allows an indebted business to cease trading, repay their outstanding creditors as far as possible, and facilitate the company to be wound down in an orderly manner. While this is not an option you would initially consider for a client you believe to be solvent, in some instances the process of closing a limited company identifies liabilities which were until that point unknown.

It is sometimes the case that a company undergoing a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation is found to be unable to fully pay its debts in full in the allotted 12 month period following the commencement of the liquidation. This may be because of a miscalculation, or more likely, due to a contingent liability which becomes an actual liability during the Members’ Voluntary Liquidation process.

In this instance, the Members’ Voluntary Liquidation may have to be converted to a Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation in light of the changing circumstances. In many cases, the current liquidator overseeing the Members’ Voluntary Liquidation will be able to continue on as liquidator for the subsequent Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation; however, creditors will need to give their consent to allow this.

From this point onwards, a Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation operates in much the same way as a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation, with the crucial difference being that distributions from company assets are made to creditors rather than shareholders.

Once the Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidation completes, the company will cease to exist as a legal entity, with all outstanding debts being written off unless these have been personally guaranteed by the directors.

In conclusion

When faced with a director who is reaching the end of the road with their company, you should ensure that you consider all possible options rather than automatically striking off the company at Companies House.

While strike off may be the most suitable option for some companies, it is likely that others would benefit from being placed into a formal liquidation procedure and reaping the benefits when it comes to the favourable tax treatment of the distributions


Author biography

Shaun Barton is a partner at Company Closure and boasts a wealth of experience in helping directors of distressed companies understand their options.

"It is sometimes the case that a company undergoing a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation is found to be unable to pay its debts in full in the allotted 12 month period following the commencement of the liquidation."

Shaun Barton, Partner at Company Closure