Business Rescue

The concept of “Business Rescue” has emerged as a beacon of hope for struggling companies. This approach, centered on revitalizing and restoring financial stability to faltering businesses, involves a strategic combination of financial restructuring, management adjustments, and operational enhancements. As more organizations confront economic uncertainties, comprehending the intricacies and potential of business rescue strategies is essential for stakeholders aiming to navigate their enterprises back to prosperity.

Key Takeaways

  1. Purpose and Process: Business rescue aids financially distressed companies by reorganizing their business and debts under the supervision of a Business Rescue Practitioner (BRP), with a temporary halt on claims against the company.
  1. Role of the BRP: The BRP oversees the restructuring process, manages operations, and aims to improve the company’s financial situation through a comprehensive rescue plan.
  1. Legal Protections: The process provides a moratorium on legal actions against the company and safeguards employee contracts, ensuring business continuity and protecting employee rights during the restructuring phase.
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What is Business Rescue?

Business rescue proceedings are designed to aid companies experiencing financial distress. These proceedings entail the temporary supervision of the company and its operations by a designated business rescue practitioner. During this period, there is a temporary halt on any claims against the company or its assets. Additionally, the process involves devising and implementing a business rescue plan aimed at rejuvenating the company by reorganizing its business structure, assets, debts, and other liabilities (section 128(1)(b) of the Companies Act, No. 71 of 2008).

Aim of Business Rescue

The primary objective of business rescue is to reorganize a company’s structure in a manner that maximizes the likelihood of its continued solvency or, alternatively, provides a better return for creditors than they would receive if the company were liquidated (section 128(1)(b)(iii) of the Companies Act, No. 71 of 2008).

Commencement of Business Rescue

It’s crucial for companies to adhere to these procedures accurately to ensure the effective commencement of business rescue proceedings. Failure to do so may result in the lapse of the board’s resolution, barring the company from filing another resolution for three months, unless ordered otherwise by a court.

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Business Rescue by Way of a Court Order

Requirements for Placing a Company under Business Rescue by Way of a Court Order

Section 131 of the Companies Act allows for placing a company under business rescue through a court order, provided the company has not already passed a resolution for voluntary business rescue as described in section 129. An “affected person,” defined in section 128(1)(a) of the Act, can apply to the court at any time for an order to place the company under supervision and commence business rescue proceedings.

An “affected person” includes:

  • Shareholders or creditors of the company.
  • Any registered trade union that represents the company’s employees.
  • Employees not represented by a registered trade union, or their representatives individually.

To obtain a compulsory business rescue order, the affected person must convince the court of the following:

  • There is a reasonable prospect of rescuing the company.
  • The company is financially distressed.
  • The company has failed to fulfill financial obligations under public regulation or employment contracts, or it is just and equitable to do so for financial reasons.

Business rescue proceedings officially commence once the court grants the business rescue order.

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How Long Do Business Rescue Proceedings Last?

According to Section 132 of the Companies Act, business rescue proceedings are initially intended to last for a period of three months. While the term “business rescue proceedings” is not explicitly defined, it generally includes activities such as convening meetings with affected persons, consulting on the business rescue plan, and implementing it if approved under the Act.

If the business rescue proceedings extend beyond the initial three-month period, the practitioner must take further actions, unless a longer duration has been granted by the court upon application. These actions include:

Preparing a progress report on the business rescue proceedings at the end of the three months and updating this report monthly until the proceedings conclude.

Delivering each report and update to every affected person and either the court (if initiated by a court order) or the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) in other cases.

These requirements for regular reporting impose a significant administrative burden but are designed to encourage efficient management and completion of the business rescue process within the designated period, whenever possible.

Legal Consequences of Business Rescue Proceedings

Legal Consequences of Business Rescue Proceedings

When a company is placed under business rescue, whether voluntarily or through a court order, it triggers significant legal implications for the company’s activities and stakeholders, particularly creditors. The primary aim is to shield the company while the Business Rescue Practitioner (BRP) works towards restoring its viability.

Here are the key consequences of business rescue proceedings for stakeholders:

  • During the business rescue process, civil legal proceedings against the company, including enforcement actions, are paused until the process is completed. However, specific exceptions exist, which will be addressed later.
  • Restrictions are imposed on the disposal of the company’s property to prevent premature asset sales.
  • Refinancing is facilitated by allowing unencumbered assets of the company to be used as collateral for securing new loans, providing a lifeline to continue operations.
  • Employment contracts are generally safeguarded during business rescue proceedings, although exceptions to this protection exist, which will be discussed in further detail.
  • Other contractual obligations of the company can be cancelled, or the company’s responsibilities under these contracts may be suspended, either entirely, partially, or conditionally by the Business Rescue Practitioner (BRP).
AspectLegal Consequences and Provisions
General MoratoriumSection 134 of the South African Companies Act, 2008 restricts the disposal of company property during business rescue. Disposal is allowed if it takes place within the ordinary course of business, in a genuine transaction at arm’s length for fair value with BRP approval, or as part of an approved business rescue plan. Consent from the BRP is required for dealing with certain properties.
Protection of PropertySection 134 of South African Companies Act, 2008 restricts the disposal of company property during business rescue. Disposal is allowed if it takes place within the ordinary course of business, in a genuine transaction at arm’s length for fair value with BRP approval, or as part of an approved business rescue plan. Consent from the BRP is required for dealing with certain properties.
Employee ProtectionThe BRP can suspend or modify the company’s contractual obligations as per section 136(2) of the South African Companies Act, 2008. This can include suspending, altering, or cancelling obligations to allow the company to avoid burdensome contracts that hinder its recovery. Affected parties can claim damages, which will be addressed in the business rescue plan but are often not fully compensated.
Contract AdjustmentsThe BRP can suspend or modify the company’s contractual obligations as per section 136(2) of South African Companies Act, 2008. This can include suspending, altering, or cancelling obligations to allow the company to avoid burdensome contracts that hinder its recovery. Affected parties can claim damages, which will be addressed in the business rescue plan but are often not fully compensated.
Employee ClaimsAs per section 144 of South African Companies Act, 2008, employees are considered preferred unsecured creditors for any outstanding wages prior to the business rescue. Wages due after the initiation of business rescue are treated as post-commencement finance (PCF), prioritising their payment. This ensures employees are somewhat safeguarded financially during the company’s restructuring.

These consequences are designed to protect the company from further financial decline and legal challenges while allowing it to continue operating under the guidance of a Business Rescue Practitioner (BRP). This legal framework aims to maximize the likelihood of the company’s recovery, safeguarding the interests of employees and creditors to the extent possible.

Role of a Business Rescue Practitioner

The business rescue practitioner has a critical role that begins immediately after their appointment. They are required to conduct a thorough investigation into the company’s affairs, business, property, and financial situation. Following this evaluation, they must determine if there is any reasonable prospect of rescuing the company, as stipulated in section 141(2) of the relevant legislation.

During the business rescue proceedings, the practitioner has several responsibilities:

These responsibilities ensure that the practitioner acts as an overseer and facilitator, aiming to steer the company back to viability or, where necessary, taking appropriate actions to address legal and financial discrepancies.

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Is Business Rescue Suitable for All Companies?

Business rescue proceedings are not universally suitable for all companies. The specific nature of a company largely determines its suitability for business rescue. For example, companies in the retail sector are often better candidates for business rescue than those set up for property investment. This is because retail companies generally have ongoing operations that can be restructured and saved, whereas property investment companies may not have such operational elements to rescue.

This judgment underscores the importance of careful consideration before placing a company under business rescue. It is crucial to assess the nature of the company and whether business rescue is indeed the most suitable procedure. Moreover, it must be determined if business rescue would provide more benefits to the company than liquidation. If business rescue is deemed more advantageous, the proceedings are likely to be successful. Otherwise, liquidation might be the better option.

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Conclusion

As stated, the primary objective of business rescue is to facilitate the successful recovery and revitalization of financially distressed companies, while also fairly considering the rights and interests of all pertinent stakeholders. Small businesses engaging with companies or close corporations undergoing or initiating business rescue are encouraged to seek legal counsel regarding their rights as creditors during these proceedings. This guidance will ensure that they are well-informed and adequately protected throughout the business rescue process.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Business Rescue?

Business Rescue refers to legal proceedings aimed at rehabilitating financially distressed companies. This process allows the company time to restructure its affairs, business, property, debt, and other obligations to increase the likelihood of continuing in existence on a solvent basis or providing a better return for the company’s creditors or shareholders than immediate liquidation would.

How is Business Rescue initiated?

Business Rescue can be initiated in two ways: by a resolution passed by the board of directors when they believe the company is financially distressed and there is a reasonable prospect of rescuing it, or by an application to a court by various stakeholders including creditors, shareholders, trade unions representing employees, or the employees themselves.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a Business Rescue Practitioner?

A Business Rescue Practitioner (BRP) is appointed to oversee the Business Rescue process. Their responsibilities include developing and implementing a rescue plan, managing the company’s operations during the process, negotiating with creditors and stakeholders, and ultimately attempting to turn around the company financially. The BRP has the authority to make substantial decisions concerning the management of the company, albeit under the supervision of the courts and the creditors.

What happens to employees during Business Rescue?

The protection of employees is a key aspect of Business Rescue. Employees remain employed on the same terms and conditions, unless changes are agreed upon in accordance with labour laws. Their salaries and benefits should continue to be paid as usual during the rescue process, and they are considered preferential creditors when it comes to any outstanding wages or salaries.

What is the outcome of Business Rescue?

The outcome of Business Rescue can be varied. Ideally, the company is successfully restructured and survives as a going concern, which is the primary goal of the process. If the rescue plan is adopted and successfully implemented, the company is considered rescued. However, if the plan fails, the company may be liquidated, or other solutions may be sought, such as merging or selling the company.