FSB: Bill will improve the business rates system

Today the Scottish Parliament voted to pass the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill. This will see a switch to a three yearly revaluation cycle and an improved business rates system.

Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scottish Policy Chair, said: “In 2016, the First Minister announced the Barclay review of business rates at FSB’s conference in Glasgow. Almost four years later, many of Barclay’s recommendations are on the statute book – and the business rates system is in better shape as a result.”

On the introduction of more frequent revaluations Andrew McRae said: “For over a decade, small businesses have been campaigning for a rates system that facilitates business growth. Moving to a three yearly revaluation cycle will help to achieve this aspiration with businesses’ bills potentially better reflecting economic conditions.

“However, FSB would urge Ministers and MSPs to keep a close eye on the Assessors – especially in the lead up to the next revaluation.”

On changes to the appeals system: “At the moment, the appeals system is hamstrung by the high volume of speculative appeals – including those submitted by the public sector. The Bill should see the system become more effective, however this must not be achieved by the introduction of a fee structure that prices out local businesses.”

Zamira Hajiyeva Unexplained Wealth Order – comment

John Dobson, chief executive of leading RegTech firm SmartSearch, commented: “The property market has increasingly been targeted by money launderers. High-value transactions such as this are particularly attractive as they enable large quantities of dirty cash to be ‘washed’ through seemingly legitimate channels in one go.

“This ought to have been picked up at the time but nowadays those involved in the transaction would have nowhere to hide. The money-laundering regulations (MLR) require banks, accountants, estate agents and conveyancers not just to verify the ID of transacting parties but to screen them against Sanction and PEP lists. Where there is a positive match, they are under an obligation to carry out enhanced due diligence and report any suspicions to the relevant authorities.

“By far the best way to carry out all the necessary checks effectively is by using sophisticated online screening systems which will clearly flag up when further action is required. Too many are continuing to rely on old-fashioned document checks and in many cases simply turning a blind eye to illicit activity that can support terrorism, people-trafficking, drugs cartels, or as in this case simply the luxurious lifestyles of corrupt businessmen and their families.”

Sales Soar to £16.5M for Landwood Property Auctions

Landwood Property Auctions is hailing a switch to weekly online auctions as the catalyst for a massive rise in activity in 2019.

While the property sector as a whole has struggled against the backdrop of Brexit and a snap general election, Manchester-based Landwood managed to buck the trend.

Landwood Property Auctions, which first launched on to the market in February 2018 as one of the first in the industry to sell solely online, made the call in 2019 to step up its offering and increase the regularity of auctions from monthly to weekly.

Following the introduction of auctions every seven days, Landwood saw three times as many lots listed on its site as for the entire 12-month period preceding it, with sales levels also more than doubling. Some lots even sold for as much as 356 per cent more than their listed guide price.

Throughout 2019, Landwood sold more than £16.5 million worth of property via its online auction service, £2 million of which came from lots selling over their reserve price.

With more opportunities to both buy and sell online with Landwood Property Auctions, success looks set to continue throughout 2020 and beyond.

Landwood Property Auctions director Kate Lay said: “We deliver a genuinely personal service, giving clients immediate access to impartial, straightforward and clear advice.

“We work hard to constantly develop innovative ways of delivering auction services that fit with modern, ever-changing client and buyer requirements and behaviours. As early adopters of an online-only auction format, we understand the benefits of doing so to offer a wider range of properties for sale, as well as how to maximise the potential of the technology on offer.

“Introducing weekly auctions was just another way of us setting a new standard for what buyers and sellers alike can expect from an online auction service.

“The average amount of time it takes to sell a property through traditional methods is 62 days – but through Landwood’s weekly online auctions the process can be much quicker. For example, it can take as little as 14 days for completion to take place once a property has sold.

“The ease of access to our system also helps to ensure there’s a higher number of potential bidders, and thus a higher sales success rate.”

Fellow director James Ashworth added: “We’re proud to be one of the first to adopt online as our auction method and set new standards for its success.

“It’s fantastic to see such growth and we look forward to seeing lot and sales numbers increase in the coming months, with 2020 looking set to be our most successful year yet.”

Across the year, Landwood dealt with everything from a city centre penthouse apartment to a grade two listed bank, a holiday home in the Shetland Isles to a stretch of riverbank in the heart of the Lake District National Park.

And it wasn’t just the bigger properties that attracted the most interest, with buyers rushing to snap up the lower priced and smaller lots as a way to expand their property portfolio. This variety on offer is yet another aspect of Landwood’s service which helped to make 2019 and their weekly auctions a huge success.

Directors Kate and James are already well prepared for the year ahead and, with concrete plans in place to further develop the brand and it’s online offering in the coming months, it’s an exciting time to be involved with Landwood Property Auctions.

Kate said: “With our new website launching in February alongside our new company branding, we can’t wait to see what comes next. In the earlier days of Landwood Property Auctions, many asked us if online bidding could truly match the competition of a traditional room auction.

The answer is clear to see. We offer everything that a traditional auction room does but with more modern customer experience to suit the wants and needs of the era. The success of our approach is proven with the increased number of sales.”

Lowell adds digital to client experience

Lowell has added a digital channel to its client experience with the launch its first business-to-business (B2B) website.

The new site has been developed by, Chester-based digital marketing agency, Prodo to help Lowell increase awareness of its brand and the range of effective business solutions and benefits it offers clients.

John Pears, UK Managing Director, said: “We began our digital transformation journey last year with the re-launch of our consumer website, and the roll-out of our award winning Robotic Process Automation, both of which have delivered positive results for customers already. We are now adding new digital channels to improve our business clients’ experiences.”

In addition to showcasing how Lowell’s client solutions have been successfully applied in different sectors, the site will provide insight from industry leaders, sector analysis and commentary, and proprietary research. Site-users will also be able to register for updates tailored to their business or sector interests, and follow the latest additions via Lowell’s LinkedIn page.

John continued: “This new website will open a window on what we do and how it benefits our clients. We’ll also be publishing our own research and commentary on collections and consumer behaviour: giving readers a better understanding of how we combine leading edge data science with an ethical approach to deliver better outcomes.

“As one of the biggest credit management businesses in Europe, we’ve got a great story to tell and a huge amount of insight and experience that can add value not just for current or future clients but to decision-makers more broadly. We want to share this insight and help make credit work better for everyone.”

Since being founded in in 2004, Lowell has grown to be a pan-European leader in credit management services (CMS) – providing debt purchase, third party collections and a range of supporting product solutions for businesses wanting to manage their payment collections better.

Encompass receives £2m grant to develop AI for the financial services sector

Glasgow-based regulatory technology firm Encompass has received a £1.97m research and development grant from Scottish Enterprise to develop an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Platform for its financial services clients.

The news is a major boost for one of the UK’s fastest growing fintech companies and was formally announced by First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon at a special event at Encompass HQ on Monday.

The AI development will help Encompass customers to quickly and accurately find risk relevant information about their organisations and investments, from a wide-ranging pool of data.

The funding is part of a project with a total value of £4.9m, which will help with innovation as well as creating 33 new high-value RegTech jobs in London.

The company’s focus on the Know Your Customer (KYC) product which uses data analytics to ensure its clients do not unknowingly trade with organised crime or the proceeds of crime, in-keeping with new legislation introduced after the global financial crisis.

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Encompass is one of a number of international companies that have chosen to locate and steadily expand their operation making Scotland an attractive place to grow its business. From its Glasgow base, the company has access to markets, a supportive business environment and has been able to identify local talent from Scottish professionals in the engineering and software development sector.

“Backed by almost £2 million of R&D investment from Scottish Enterprise, Encompass will be able to develop artificial intelligence software tools that will assist companies in the financial sector reduce operational risks associated with meeting compliance and regulatory standards.”

Wayne Johnson, Co-Founder and CEO, Encompass comments: “We are delighted to receive this grant, which will allow us to carry out crucial, timely work. There is a considerable demand in our space for a solution of this kind, and this development will be central to us continuing to bring innovative solutions to the market and our customers.

“We are particularly pleased to be able to advance our work in Glasgow in this way. We have enjoyed excellent support and growth here, and look forward to furthering that growth, while bringing in more skilled employees as a result of this project.”

Scottish Enterprise comments: “We have a long-standing relationship with Encompass, having supported the development of its initial KYC product and the company’s growth in Glasgow. It’s great to see it now branching out into this new area of AI with its adverse news screening tool – for which there is a strong and immediate market demand – while at the same time bolstering Scotland’s already-strong reputation for RegTech innovation and creating more skilled, high-value jobs.”

FXCM Partners with Income Access for Managed Affiliate Programme

FXCM Group (FXCM), a leading international provider of online foreign exchange trading, CFD trading, cryptocurrencies and related services, has partnered with Income Access, Paysafe Group’s marketing technology and services provider, for the upcoming launch of its global affiliate and partner programme.

Powered by the Income Access affiliate software platform, the FXCM programme will also be managed by the company’s team of affiliate marketing experts. With nearly a decade of working with retail forex brokers and financial trading firms, this latest partnership further emphasises Income Access’ flexibility as a leading provider of affiliate management solutions.

Founded in 1999, FXCM provides more than 100,000 global clients with a unique trading experience by giving them access to liquid markets through its innovative trading tools. Clients have the flexibility of trading on both desktop and mobile devices, while also benefitting from a one-click order execution and trading from real-time charts. Additionally, they benefit from educational courses on FX trading, trading tools, proprietary data and premium resources.

The launch of its affiliate and partner programme on the Income Access platform will offer FXCM’s affiliates and marketing partners the benefit of a robust and dynamic online and offline tracking software with in-depth reporting, flexible commission schemes and an extensive ad-serving functionality.

Partners will also be able to monitor their digital marketing campaigns to strategically optimise affiliate channel performance and encourage programme growth.

Tara Wilson, SVP and General Manager at Income Access, Paysafe Group, said: “We are delighted to partner with a firm that possesses 20 years of industry experience. The launch of its programme on the Income Access platform, along with the expertise provided by our in-house team, will help support FXCM and its affiliate partners around the world.”

Sameer Bhopale, Chief Marketing Officer at FXCM Group, said: “We are thrilled to partner with Income Access, an innovative and leading technology provider in the affiliate space. With its influential network of affiliate partners and a robust, multilingual solution, Income Access delivers a powerful solution that will support our business’ continued growth.”

Barrister Shahram Sharghy will support Just take on the challenge

Just, the enforcement market integrator launched by Arum just a few months ago, has appointed Shahram Sharghy as their in-house barrister as they continue to take on and challenge a number of industry issues, including the confusion of who is responsible for the VAT on High Court enforcement fees. Shahram has been retained to represent the company in their attempts to create a step-change in the amount of people that use High Court enforcement as a safe and accessible means of getting justice.

Shahram is one of the most capable and outstanding barristers in the field of Enforcement. He has 20 years of experience and expertise in this area of law and has been at the forefront of some of the most pioneering developments concerning High Court Enforcement. He regularly appears in the High Court in relation to a wide variety of Enforcement matters and has been involved in some of the most important reported cases in recent years concerning High Court Enforcement Officers and Organisations. His work often encompasses significant and complex matters of statutory construction and commercial dealings between debtors, creditors and High Court Enforcement Officers.

Shahram commented on joining Just, “I am delighted to be joining the Just team as their in-house counsel via Direct Professional Access. I very much look forward to helping Just continue their innovative and professional approach in the area of Enforcement, whilst adhering to the highest professional and industry standards.”

Jamie Waller, Just’s Founder and Chairman commented, “It is vital for us to have access to the best people in the industry as we take on the challenges of creating a High Court enforcement integrator that is intelligent, safe and accessible. In our first few months we have taken on difficult industry issues and worked with a number of expert barristers and advisors and Shahram was one of them. His understanding of High Court enforcement and the practical implementation of the regulations impressed me from day one and I am delighted to have him join us, as one of the team. I look forward to taking on other industry challenges and building Just to be the chosen solution for all posit litigation enforcement over the coming years.”

JBW Group Limited purchase Advantis Credit Limited

JBW Group Limited today announced it has fully acquired the shares of Advantis Credit Limited, with funding provided by OUTSOURCING Inc. Advantis will continue to be managed separately to JBW and will retain its brand and management team, led by CEO, Mark Webb.

This acquisition brings FCA Regulated Debt and Contingent Collections capability to JBW, the UK’s fastest growing national collections and enforcement group, adding high profile clients in Central and Local Government and extending its reach across the commercial sector

Webb commented: “This is an exciting market development with the combined business now offering a full range of debt collection and enforcement services to Local and Central Government, and Commercial clients. JBW and Advantis share a common vision for the industry and the future of debt collection that places intelligent customer service, performance delivery and high ethical and professional standards at its core.”

Nick Tubbs, JBW Chief Executive commented: “We are delighted to welcome Advantis to the JBW Group and OUTSOURCING Inc. family. While Advantis will continue to be managed separately, and will retain its separate brand, there will be close collaboration and additional investment, and our increased scale will enable us to provide greater career opportunities for Group staff.”

“Through the combination of complementary skills and teams, we will be able to offer a broader range of services to benefit our clients whilst accelerating best practice across the Group. An early focus of this activity will be utilising the experience and knowledge across both organisations to identify and assist vulnerable customers, reinforcing a caring operating culture that is supported by high ethical standards, market leading service metrics and personalised engagements based on data intelligence and insights.”

“This transaction combined with our recent acquisitions in the enforcement sector demonstrates JBW Group’s commitment to providing excellence across a full breadth of intelligent, highly ethical debt collection solutions to our private sector, local and central government clients.”

Q4 2019/Annual insolvency statistics – response

Commenting on the Q4 2019 (October-December) England & Wales insolvency statistics (published this morning by the Insolvency Service), Duncan Swift, President of insolvency and restructuring trade body R3, says:

Corporate insolvencies

  • Excluding one-off ‘bulk insolvency events’, seasonally adjusted corporate insolvencies in 2019 rose 6.8% from 2018. Excluding these one-off events, there were 17,196 corporate insolvencies in 2019 – the highest since 2013
  • Seasonally adjusted corporate insolvencies fell by 1.8% in Q4 2019 compared to Q3 2019, but rose by 8.1% compared to Q4 2018.

“Today’s figures are a reflection of anaemic economic growth throughout 2019. A number of factors have fed into this: political uncertainty, particularly around Brexit, has held back business decisions and investment, but weaker consumer confidence and sector-specific issues can’t be discounted either.

“Business confidence fell last year compared to the previous 12 months and hiring confidence hit a seven-year low at the end of December. Alongside this, economic growth stalled, consumer debt increased, and consumer confidence remained low throughout 2019. Many companies also had higher wage bills to contend with, due to rises in 2019 in minimum and living wage levels, and increased employer contributions to auto-enrolment pensions.

“Some sectors have been hit harder than others, although difficulties are increasing across the board. The construction sector struggled, traditional retailers were hit by declining footfall and the continued growth of online shopping, and the manufacturing sector had a worse year than 2018. Brexit-inspired stockpiling in 2019 may have added to disruption.

“Every quarter in 2019 saw more corporate insolvencies than the corresponding quarter in the previous four years.

“In terms of today’s figures, numbers of administrations, a procedure designed to support business restructure and rescue, have increased by 24% compared to 2018, and are at their highest since 2013.

“However, liquidations have been rising, too. For some businesses at the moment, rescue isn’t possible, although insolvency practitioners will be doing their best. It’s not an easy climate for doing business out there.

“2020 will be a key year for UK businesses. A Government with a decisive majority ends some domestic uncertainty, although there are still big question marks around what Brexit will actually look like – and exactly when new rules will kick in. Wider economic performance will partly determine whether the recent trend of rising corporate insolvencies continues or not. On the plus side, signs are that businesses are looking to increase investment and recruitment this year, so there is cause for optimism.

“Looking ahead, one additional factor which may affect insolvency numbers in Q1 and Q2 2020 is the Government’s plan to make HMRC a ‘preferential creditor’ in insolvencies from April. This will benefit HMRC at the expense of lenders, customers, and suppliers, and will hurt business lending. Some businesses could be pushed into insolvency due to a reduction in their lending facilities.

“These insolvency figures should be a wake-up call to any director of a company which is finding it hard going at the moment. Anyone in this position should look to take objective advice from a qualified, professional source, to decide the best path forward – and the earlier this is done, the better.”

Personal Insolvencies

  • In 2019, there were 122,181 personal insolvencies, an increase of 6% on 2018, and the highest annual total since 2010.
  • Personal insolvencies fell 4.3% from Q3 to Q4 2019, and are 15.6% lower than in the same quarter in 2018.

“Personal insolvency numbers in 2019 were the highest they have been since 2010. This reflects a tough year for personal finances.

“Individuals have benefited from low inflation, real wage increases, and record employment levels, but this has been counter-balanced by rising consumer debt and the fact that not all employment is secure. For the most financially vulnerable, the problems with the benefits system have been well-publicised.

“Finances are stretched for many, and financial resilience is low. It doesn’t take much of a shock – a missed benefit payment, an unexpected bill, or a reduction in hours – to cause financial problems. Real wages are rising, but having fallen for so long before that it’s a bit too late for some, while wage increases will not be evenly distributed.

“Banks and other lenders have continued to tighten their credit standards in response to the Bank of England’s concerns around consumer over-indebtedness, which means many people have lost a fall-back option they may have used in the past.

“The length of time consumers have to repay zero interest credit cards has shortened, which may partially explain why consumer credit card repayments overtook new borrowing at the end of last year, for the first time since 2013.

“It is worth remembering that insolvency procedures are only a rough guide to the true scale of individual indebtedness in the UK. Often, the question is about access and whether someone who is unable to maintain their level of debt can meet the criteria to enter an insolvency procedure. The personal insolvency figures are only part of the picture showing the true level of serious financial trouble for individuals.

“Although increasing indebtedness is a factor in rising Individual Voluntary Arrangement numbers, market factors, such as the ability of practices to handle large numbers of cases, also play a role. Bankruptcy and Debt Relief Order numbers don’t really have the same issue and it is therefore notable that both bankruptcy and Debt Relief Order numbers have been moving up – albeit slowly and inconsistently – over the last few years. Bankruptcy numbers are now the highest they’ve been since 2014.

“There are measures being taken by the Government to help people in financial distress. The ‘breathing space’ for people in debt is due to be introduced next year, and will give indebted people a 60-day period free from creditor action to seek qualified advice as to the best way for them to resolve their situation. R3 has campaigned for the breathing space for many years and we are very pleased to see that it is nearing its launch.

“Anyone with debt worries – especially if they have recently become more intense – should speak to a regulated and reputable debt advisor as soon as possible, for help and support as they decide on their next steps.”

JBW Group Limited receives four contract awards from Her Majestys Court and Tribunal Service

JBW Group Limited is delighted to confirm that it has been awarded four contracts to provide Approved Enforcement Agency services to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). As a result of these awards, JBW will be providing primary services to the London, South-East and Midlands regions of HMCTS and secondary services for all other regions.

Nick Tubbs, JBW Chief Executive commented: “These awards will see JBW responsible for executing warrants and orders issued by the court for unpaid criminal financial penalties and for breach of community penalty orders, commencing in June 2020. In the first 12 months of these new contracts, we anticipate that JBW Group will enforce more than one million warrants, writs and orders throughout England and Wales, on behalf of our local and central government clients, utilities companies, private sector creditors and individuals.

Our high levels of service and performance have been built upon the proven combination of our people, processes and market leading technology, which ensures rigorous standards of governance, ethical conduct and the fair treatment of customers.”