Legal News for UK Co-ops and Mutuals

This is a blog where brief information about developments in UK Co-op and mutual law will be reported. Readers of this blog will also find Linda Barlow's Co-operatives UK Blog at helpful. For an network of academics working on co-ops, mutuals and social enterprises visit

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Location: Leicestershire, United Kingdom

Interested in sharing information and knowledge around legal issues for co-ops and social enterprises in the co-oplawnews blog and thoughts on random issues in the "real" blog.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Insolvency and Co-ops: Opportunity or Threat?

Co-operatives UK recently published a short paper by Dr Anthony Jensen about the opportunities available for business (and job)  rescue by the use of worker co-ops or other forms of employee ownership to deal with insolvent businesses. It suggests a strategy be developed to explore this further with a pilot programme to see whether a legal "right to bid" for the employees of an insolvent business would be a runner.

This led to an interesting debate in the Worker Co-op Facebook Group on reasons for business failure and the possibility of employee buyouts as a means of rescue or succession. If this were done well it would be an opportunity.

However, in this or any other case, woe betide any co-op that uses the industrial and provident society structure and has solvency issues..... Are you sitting comfortably for details of the threat?

It is ten years since Gareth Thomas MP of the Co-operative Party succeeded in amending the Enterprise Act 2002 to insert section 255 which allows HM Treasury to apply the administration procedure for rescuing insolvent businesses to co-operatives and similar societies.

In that time nothing has been done. What is the legal background to the problem and why does it matter?

Under section 55(1)(a) of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965 an IPS may be dissolved by:

“being wound up in pursuance of an order or resolution made as is directed in the case of companies registered under the Companies Acts”.

That procedure for dissolution by liquidation on insolvency applies to societies as it applies to companies. 

However, since the Insolvency Act 1986, insolvent companies have had the option of using a rescue procedure known as “administration”. That procedure involves a moratorium on all debts and claims for a period during which the viability of certain statutory objectives, including the rescue of all or part of the business, the realisation of assets on better terms and the agreement of terms with creditors is assessed. 

Between 1986 and 2002 that procedure was available to companies only by court order. However, since the Enterprise Act 2002 the administration procedure has been available to companies out of court and has been, generally, the only remedy available to a secured creditor, such as a bank, with a floating charge over the company's assets.

It has always seemed clear from the wording of the legislation that administration does not apply to industrial and provident societies. That was confirmed in the case of Dairy Farmers of Britain [2009] EWHC 1389 Ch  as part of the reasoning by Henderson J who decided that the receiver appointed by a floating charge holder (i.e. usually a bank with security over assets) was neither an “administrative receiver” nor an administrator. The receivership of a society would be run by a receiver whose role was governed by the contract between the society and the charge holder (i.e. bank) under case law rules from before 1986. Ironically, the judge saw section 255 of the Enterprise Act 2002 (Gareth's amendment) as showing that administration and administrative receivership did not apply to societies already (see paragraph 37 of the judgment).

Some differences between the Company Law and Co-operative Law protect co-operative identity but this one doesn't. It's just a failure to update co-op law and creates unnecessary obstacles for societies operating as businesses in the market place.

Take a company and a society which are both insolvent. The company may get a moratorium on claims by creditors. If a bank enforces a floating charge over the company's property it must appoint an administrator who has to pursue the interests of all creditors.

The society will either be wound up with the loss of jobs or put in the hands of a receiver who pursues bank's interests.

This discrimination against co-operative societies is down to failure by governments during the last ten years to make regulations to remedy the problem. Do we have to wait another ten years?

Time for a campaign by the Co-op Party and Co-operatives UK for action by HM Treasury, the Law Commission, and/or the Cabinet Office/Big Society/Office for Civil Society bit of No 10?

© Ian Snaith 2012 This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Noderivs 2.0 England and Wales Licence. To view a copy of this licence visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Co-op Legal Services Shakes up Market

The launch of the The Co-operative Legal Services' new family law service was an important development that may revolutionise access to legal services for the large number of people who can't get legal aid and can't afford lawyer's fees. This comment from a senior Law Society official is interesting for the impact the launch made on him and the shrewd analysis of opportunities and threats facing the service. It is really heartening to see the co-op's ethical stand and historic mission to support consumers applied in this area where it is so relevant and important to so many people. 3000 solicitors.....and 2% of all practising

© Ian Snaith 2012 This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Noderivs 2.0 England and Wales Licence. To view a copy of this licence visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA

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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Successful SGECOL Seminar at Co-operatives United

Last week saw the first public Seminar of the Study Group on European Co-operative Law (SGECOL) at Co-operatives United in Manchester on 31st October 2012. The Seminar was generously financed by the Co-operative Group Ltd and facilitated by Co-operatives UK staff.

The Seminar on "Co-operative Law in Europe: New Challenges and Perspectives" featured Papers or talks by:

Moira Lees Group ,Secretary of the Co-operative Group Ltd., on legal issues facing the Co-operative Group,
Carlo Borzaga of EURICSE on economic issues around Co-operative Law,
Hagen Henry of University of Helsinki on Harmonisation and separately EU State Aids,
Dante Cracogna on "Harmonization of the Cooperative Law in Latin America: Challenges and 
Antonio Fici on Pan-European Cooperative Regulation
Gemma Fajardo on Co-operative Finance and Co-operative Identity and
Ian Snaith on UK Legislation and Developments

The 35 delegates present included co-operative advisors and practitioners, regulators, legal professionals and jurists from the UK and other parts of Europe.

At a later Meeting of SGECOL progress of the PECOL Project and plans for its next stages were discussed together with the project for the publication of an International Handbook on Co-operative Law.

The possibilities opened up by the ICA General Assembly decision to approve the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade were discussed enthusiastically and SGECOL members look forward to assisting in that project and linking up with similar Co-operative Law related groups in other parts of the world. SGECOL was pleased to note that the Blueprint Document, at page 26, referred to the group and its work on PECOL as examples of practice to be developed.

Many thanks to everyone involved both in the Seminar and in the magnificent Co-operatives United Event which was inspiring and enjoyable for all.

This is surely the way to raise the Co-operative profile in the UK and around the world.

© Ian Snaith 2012 This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Noderivs 2.0 England and Wales Licence. To view a copy of this licence visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

I & P Charities To Be Covered by “Gift Aid on Cash Donations” Scheme

At the House of Commons Committee Stage of the Small Charitable Donations Bill 2012 on 30th October 2012, Gareth Thomas MP Co-operative Party Chair and Shadow Minister for Civil Society won an assurance from the Government Minister that I & P charities are within the Bill.

This means that those Community Benefit Societies registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts 1965 to 2003 which meet the criteria for charities will, once the Bill is in effect, like other charities, be able to claim a limited amount of tax rebate on cash donations if they already operate the Gift Aid Scheme for tax benefits and meet other conditions.

Minister's assurance could help if the inclusion of I & P's were seen as uncertain after the Bill is law - Pepper v Hart .

In addition, the Minister agreed, at Gareth's request, to write to the Charity Commission to ask them to speed up their decision about who should regulate charitable I & P's.

A good day's work for the Co-operative Party.

See Hansard section on Clause 17 from column 317. here is the Minister's clarification:

Sajid Javid:  I understand the intention behind amendment 34, but I ask the hon. Member for Harrow West to withdraw it, because it is not necessary. Clause 17 sets out definitions for several of the terms used in the Bill. Subsection (1) defines what is meant by a charity which, for the purposes of the Bill, includes a charity eligible for UK charity tax reliefs, and certain organisations that are not charities in law, but that benefit from gift aid. Those are community amateur sports clubs, as well as certain named organisations. 
Amendment 34 would add a further type of organisation to the definition of a charity: industrial and provident societies that operate as charities. Industrial and provident societies are regulated by the Financial Services Authority, rather than the Charity Commission, but some of them are charities, as the hon. Gentleman said. Industrial and provident societies that are charities are entitled to claim UK charity tax reliefs, including gift aid, because they meet the definition of a charity as set out in subsection (1)(a). It follows that there is no need to specify that industrial and provident societies are a separate class of organisation to which the Bill will apply. When an industrial and provident society is not currently a charity, it is not eligible for the scheme. Those societies that are charities automatically qualify for the scheme, subject to their meeting the eligibility conditions.
Forgive me, dear reader, for also quoting this extract:
Mr Thomas: The Minister has been helpful and given clarity to bencom societies that are charities, saying that they are covered under the Bill if they fulfill all the criteria that we have debated at some length. That will provide huge reassurance to those legal experts who advise industrial and provident societies, such as Mr Snaith, who is a distinguished former university lecturer and expert on the co-op and co-op law.

© Ian Snaith 2012 This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Noderivs 2.0 England and Wales Licence. To view a copy of this licence visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA

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