Business

High Street failure creditors owed £2bn - report

HMV store
Image caption HMV was eventually rescued from administration but other retailers were not so lucky

The collapse of High Street retailers has left unsecured creditors such as suppliers, landlords and customers being owed £2bn, research suggests.

Financial analysts Company Watch found £499m was recovered in assets from the 19 biggest retail failures since 2012.

HMV, Comet and Blockbuster were just some of the household names that fell into administration during this period.

Banks and other secured lenders got at least £365m and about £123m was spent on fees and other bills.

Administrators earned £33m from the failures, with some charging up to £950 an hour. Only £14m went to unsecured creditors.

If a company is declared insolvent, there is never enough money to go around and pay everyone in full.

Administrators are legally required to distribute any money they recover in a strict order of priority. Unsecured creditors are always at the back of the queue.

Justified costs

Report author Nick Hood, a business analyst at Company Watch, described the losses as staggering.

"It seems that the only winners from the ongoing carnage in the High Street are banks, the insolvency practitioners and their many advisers," he said.

"Ordinary creditors are carrying the can for weak management, uncompetitive retail offerings, the pernicious effect of upward only rent obligations and iniquitous business rates."

But administrators have defended their costs. R3, the body which represents insolvency practitioners, said the work was complex and demanding.

"Large cases, such as HMV and Comet tend to dominate the headlines but the sheer amount of manpower that goes into these cases is often underestimated.

"In Blockbuster, for example, administrators and their staff had to deal with 528 stores and 4,190 employees," said Liz Bingham, R3's president.

"It is important to note, too, that these cases are not the norm and the vast majority of insolvencies are smaller cases where costs are considerably lower," she added.

The figures come after another grim week for the High Street, with another host of retailers falling into administration.

'Unsustainable'

Many customers at upmarket furniture chain Dwell are still waiting to find out if they will receive goods they have already paid for, or put down a deposit. It is estimated at least £1m worth of orders have yet to be fulfilled.

There has been anger that the company was still taking orders just days before it collapsed.

Mr Hood believed more retail casualties were inevitable: "We are far from seeing the end of the High Street cull."

His research was done on behalf of an independent review into the High Street led by retail veteran Bill Grimsey.

Mr Grimsey, the former chief executive of Wickes and Iceland, said the findings demonstrated how the structural changes taking place in retail were causing huge damage to High Streets and the wider economy.

"We can't just stand by and carry on fiddling at the margins. The current model for our High Streets is unsustainable," Mr Grimsey said.

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