Liquidation vs. insolvency: key differences and what they mean for struggling businesses

What are the Key Differences Between Liquidation and Insolvency?

Liquidation and insolvency are terms often used interchangeably but represent different aspects of financial distress:

  • Insolvency is when a company cannot pay its debts as they fall due or when corporate liabilities exceed a business’s assets. It indicates a company’s inability to meet financial obligations but does not necessarily lead to company closure[1]Trusted Source – R3 – What is Insolvency.
  • Liquidation, in contrast, is a process initiated when a decision is made to close down a company[2]Trusted Source – .GOV – Liquidate your limited company. It involves selling off assets to pay creditors. While insolvency can lead to liquidation, not all liquidations result from insolvency, as seen in Members Voluntary Liquidation (MVL) for solvent companies.

The main difference between the two lies in their scope: insolvency concerns financial status, while liquidation is the process of ending a company’s operations, potentially due to insolvency or strategic decisions by its owners.

You can read my full guide to company insolvency here.

What Is Insolvency?

Insolvency is a financial state which occurs when a company cannot pay its debts as they become due or when its liabilities surpass its assets. It means the business lacks the liquidity to meet its financial obligations.

This situation can lead to various formal proceedings, including liquidation or restructuring, to address and potentially resolve the financial instability. Failing to act often results in compulsory liquidation by creditors.

What is Liquidation?

Liquidation, by contrast, refers to the process of closing down a company by selling, or ‘liquidating,’ its assets to convert them into cash.

This procedure is often (but not always) the result of insolvency, and the proceeds from the sale of assets are used to repay creditors to the extent possible.

There are two main types of liquidation, one of which is chosen for solvent companies:

Creditors Voluntary Liquidation (CVL): Initiated by directors of insolvent companies unable to pay debts, this form hands control to a liquidator to dissolve the company responsibly, prioritising creditor repayment from asset sales.

Members Voluntary Liquidation (MVL): This route is chosen for solvent companies wishing to close in a tax-efficient manner. It’s typically selected when directors retire or if there’s no succession plan, ensuring assets are liquidated and proceeds distributed among shareholders.

Click here to read our full guide to company insolvency

What is the Difference Between an Insolvency Practitioner and a Liquidator?

An Insolvency Practitioner (IP) is a professional authorised and licensed[3]Trusted Source – .GOV – Regulated Professions Register to act on behalf of companies or individuals facing financial distress in the UK.

An IP’s role encompasses a broad range of duties, from advising on insolvency matters to executing formal insolvency procedures. An IP’s expertise includes attempting business rescues, negotiating with creditors, and, if necessary, overseeing the orderly winding up of a company.

A Liquidator, on the other hand, is a specific type of Insolvency Practitioner appointed during the liquidation process of a company. The liquidator’s primary responsibility is to liquidate the company’s assets, settle legal disputes, manage creditor claims, and distribute the proceeds from asset sales to creditors according to the legal priority order.

In the context of a CVL or compulsory liquidation, the liquidator also investigates the company’s financial affairs, including the conduct of its directors, to ensure fairness.

While all liquidators are Insolvency Practitioners, not all Insolvency Practitioners serve as liquidators. The role of an IP can vary widely, serving in capacities such as administrators or trustees, depending on the specific insolvency procedure being undertaken. The distinction lies in the scope of their duties and the context in which they are appointed to act.

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What are Our Options if We’re Insolvent?

One of the first steps in dealing with insolvency is to seek advice from your accountant or an insolvency practitioner such as ourselves. We can assess the situation accurately and recommend the best course of action, whether restructuring the business, entering into an insolvency procedure, or considering liquidation.

Before opting for liquidation, there are several options to try and rescue the business:

  • Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA): This is an agreement between a company and its creditors to pay debts over a fixed period while continuing to trade.
  • Administration: This process aims to reorganise the business to improve its financial health or to sell the business as a going concern to pay off creditors.
  • Refinancing: Seeking new finance or renegotiating existing debts can provide the breathing space needed to restructure the business.

Directors of insolvent companies should also be aware of the legal obligations to prioritise the interests of their creditors to avoid worsening their financial position. Failure to comply with these obligations can lead to directors’ personal liability.

Sometimes, despite best efforts, rescue or recovery may not be feasible. In such cases, initiating a voluntary liquidation process might be the most responsible course of action to ensure creditors are paid as much as possible.

FAQs on Are Liquidation and Insolvency the Same Thing?

Yes, a company can recover from insolvency through various means such as restructuring, entering into a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), or securing new financing. These options can allow the business to continue operating and avoid liquidation

Directors have a duty to cease trading if the company cannot pay its debts as they become due. Continuing to trade in such circumstances could lead to personal liability for directors and worsen the company’s financial situation.

No, liquidation and insolvency represent different stages and processes within financial distress. Insolvency refers to a company’s inability to pay its debts as they become due or when its liabilities exceed its assets, indicating financial distress. On the other hand, liquidation is a specific process initiated to wind up a company’s affairs by selling its assets to repay creditors when insolvency cannot be resolved through other means.

References

The primary sources for this article are listed below, including the relevant laws and Acts which provide their legal basis.

You can learn more about our standards for producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy here.

  1. Trusted Source – R3 – What is Insolvency
  2. Trusted Source – .GOV – Liquidate your limited company
  3. Trusted Source – .GOV – Regulated Professions Register