Begbies Traynor

Latest Red Flag Alert Report for Q3 2020

RNS Number : 5271D
Begbies Traynor Group PLC
29 October 2020



557,000 UK businesses now in significant distress as numbers rise


· 557,000 businesses now in 'significant distress1' following biggest increase in quarterly distress since 2017 (6% increase of 30,000 from Q2 2020 to Q3 2020)

· 9% increase in 'significant distress1' (48,000 businesses) since the March lockdown

· Double-digit increases in 'significant distress' since Q1 for real estate (11%), food and drug retailers (14%) and bars and restaurants (10%)


The latest Red Flag Alert research for Q3 2020 has recorded 557,000 businesses in 'significant distress1' after the largest quarterly leap in financially distressed companies since 2017. This 6% increase (from 527,000 in Q2 2020) in the last three months comes despite a backlog of court action preventing many CCJs and winding up petitions being issued.


This newly published research from Begbies Traynor, also finds that there has been a 9% increase in significantly distressed companies since the end of the first quarter (509,000 Q1 2020, 557,000 Q3 2020) - two weeks into lockdown.


Since this time there have been double-digit percentage increases in financial distress in 10 out 22 sectors analysed. This includes food and drug retailers (14%, 13,018 Q1 2020, 14,806 Q3 2020), construction (11%, 65,456 Q1 2020, 72,402 Q3 2020) and real estate and property (11%, 56,421 Q1 2020, 62,615 Q3 2020) sectors.


The rise could have been much higher, were it not for reduced court activity due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited the number of CCJs and winding up petitions being issued against indebted companies and the ban on winding up petitions for Covid related debts.


Data shows there were 26,244 CCJs lodged against companies during July, August and September in 2019, with only 10,045 lodged during the same period in 2020, a fall of 62%. The situation is even more acute with regard to more serious winding up petitions. During July, August and September 2019, 1,019 were lodged compared to 101 during the same period in 2020, a fall of 90%.


Julie Palmer, Partner at Begbies Traynor, said: 


"It is noteworthy that the number of businesses in significant distress have grown substantially in the last three months, even with court capacity significantly reduced due to the pandemic. With so many businesses limping along there could be a flood of insolvencies when the courts do get back to anywhere near normal capacity and attempt to clear the backlog of pending cases. This in itself, combined with the end of the furlough scheme and other government support measures, is likely to have a material impact on the UK business failure rate.


"Unfortunately for the many zombie companies in existence across the UK, a perfect storm is on the horizon. A combination of a grim economic backdrop and very poor trading conditions, particularly in the most vulnerable sectors, such as hospitality will take its toll and this is expected to feed through to Q1 2021, particularly when the government ends its high profile corporate life support measures."


Even though all 22 sectors measured by the Red Flag Alert, research showed an increase in significant distress since the start of the year, some sectors have experienced a harder fall than others in the last quarter, including those which have been thriving since reopening;


Real Estate & Construction


In the last quarter alone almost 4,500 construction businesses have fallen into significant distress - an increase of 7% to 72,402. With 9% more commercial builders (2,602 Q2 2020, 2,824 Q3 2020) and 8% more house builders (6,871 Q2 2020, 7,405 Q3 2020) in significant financial distress many businesses in the sector are feeling the pain of coronavirus.


Even though there have been encouraging signs for the real estate sector, it has failed to recover from the industry grinding to a halt with an additional 3,700 businesses struggling. This increase of 6% since the first quarter means there are now 62,615 companies in distress, a year-on-year increase of 23% (51,113 Q3 2019, 62,615 Q3 2020) - the largest year-on-year increase across the 22 sectors.


Hospitality and Retail


The hospitality sector has unsurprisingly been hit hard and that is now starting to show with a 10% increase in distressed bars and restaurants since the start of lockdown (18,011 Q1 2020, 19,760 Q3 2020), and a 5% increase in the last quarter alone (18,750 Q2 2020, 19,760 Q3 2020). These numbers are likely to be understated because of the reduced court activity and other short-term protection measures which will at some point come to an end and the true impact will be revealed.


Retail continues to be hit hard as well. While the entire industry saw a 9% increase in distressed companies since the start of lockdown (32,495 Q1 2020, 35,448 Q3 2020), there was another story to be told with regard to online, fashion and high street retailers. Since the start of lockdown there has been an 11% increase in online retailers in distress (9,374 Q1 2020, 10,433 Q3 2020), with 8% more fashion retailers in trouble vs the start of lockdown (3,510 Q1 2020, 3,783 Q3 2020). The accelerated move to online sales has not helped every business, however, the significantly larger numbers of high street retailers also witnessed a large increase of 7% (18,464 Q1 2020, 19,718 Q3 2020).




At the end of Q3 2020 almost 17,000 automotive businesses were in distress - an increase of more than 1,000 since the start of lockdown (15,311 Q1 2020, 16,878 Q3 2020). Many of these businesses sit within the automotive supply chain, which has a stronghold in the Midlands, where 10% more businesses are in distress than at the start of lockdown (60,482 Q1 2020, 66,545 Q3 2020). Unfortunately, with the UK potentially heading for a no deal Brexit, the outlook for this sector looks somewhat bleak.


Ric Traynor, Executive Chairman of Begbies Traynor Group plc, commented:  


"The Government's well publicised support measures have saved thousands of businesses from certain insolvency in the short term, but the recently launched reduced version of the furlough scheme and the end to Government guaranteed loans will serve to give many businesses a brutal reality check.


"In fact, many of these businesses were debt laden before the pandemic struck and had little prospect of a viable turnaround. They have seen their life prolonged by the availability of Government loans and employee cost subsidies, as evidenced by the 30% + fall in insolvencies over the last six months. Inevitably their underlying lack of profitability and accumulated debt will catch up with them once the subsidies end and they face the harsh realities of the challenging economic environment.


"What is uncertain is whether these same government schemes will be enough to shield the businesses which were viable pre Covid and allow them to prosper once again when the "new normal" appears.


"With the UK's service-based economy almost certain to experience permanent changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic a comprehensive government-backed retraining programme for those employees affected by these changes is needed as many people will be forced into career changes and require the appropriate skill sets for the post-pandemic world."


Ends -


1 'Significant' distress is those businesses with minor CCJs (of less than £5k) filed against them or which have been identified by Red Flag Alert's proprietary credit risk scoring system which screens companies for a sustained or marked deterioration in key financial ratios and indicators including those measuring working capital, contingent liabilities, retained profits and net worth.

2  'Critical' distress are those businesses with minor CCJs (of more than £5k) filed against them


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About Red Flag Alert

Red Flag Alert has been measuring and reporting corporate financial distress since 2004, and over that time has become an industry benchmark of the underlying health of companies across every sector and region of the UK. 


Through its unique algorithm, the Red Flag Alert measures corporate distress signals, drawing on factual legal and financial data from a wide range of relevant sources, including intelligence from the UK's leading insolvency business, Begbies Traynor. Please note that the Red Flag Alert algorithm was refreshed in Q3 2017 to enhance the risk factors analysed in the data. The reported results have been backdated to ensure consistency of comparative data.


The release refers to the numbers of companies experiencing 'Significant' problems, which are those with minor CCJs (of less than £5k) filed against them or which have been identified by Red Flag's proprietary credit risk scoring system which screens companies for a sustained or marked deterioration in key financial ratios and indicators including those measuring working capital, contingent liabilities, retained profits and net worth. 


Red Flag Alert is commercially available to all businesses, on an annual subscription basis, to help them better understand risk and exposure and help prepare them for the future. Further information about Red Flag Alert can be found at:  


Economically active businesses exclude those that are flagged by companies house as being, Non-trading, Listed for Strike off / Strike off pending, Insolvent or Dissolved. Companies where there is insufficient information available for RFA to assign a health rating are also excluded.


Notes to editors

Begbies Traynor Group plc is a leading business recovery, financial advisory and property services consultancy, providing services nationally from a comprehensive network of UK locations. The group has 735 staff and partners and the professional staff include licensed insolvency practitioners, accountants, chartered surveyors and lawyers.


The group's services include:


Business recovery and financial advisory

Corporate and personal insolvency - we handle the largest number of corporate appointments in the UK, principally serving the mid-market and smaller companies.

Corporate finance - buy and sell side support on private company transactions.

Financial advisory - forensic accounting and investigations, debt advisory, business and financial restructuring, due diligence and transactional support.


Property advisory and transactional services

Valuations - valuation of property, businesses, machinery and business assets.

Property consultancy, management and planning - building consultancy, commercial property management, specialist insurance and vacant property risk management, transport planning and design.

Transactional services - sale of property, machinery and other business assets through physical and online auctions; business sales agency; commercial property agency focussed on northern and eastern England.


Further information can be accessed via the group's website at



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