Debenhams prepare to appoint administrators

Former Debenhams site at Westwood Cross

Department store group Debenhams has today (April 6) filed a Notice of Intent (“NOI”) to appoint an administrator in the UK.

The firm, which has a store at Westwood Cross, employs 22,000 people across the country.

The aim is to shield the company from legal claims from creditors during the coronavirus outbreak. The majority of staff are currently furloughed following the closure of its 142 stores in line with government regulations and will have 80% of their wages covered for three months by the government.

Last April the company announced details of two proposed Company Voluntary Arrangements (the “CVA”): one relating to Debenhams Retail Limited, the main trading entity; and one relating to Debenhams Properties Limited. However, 22 stores were listed for closure, including one n Canterbury.

A Debenhams  statement says: “This move will protect Debenhams from the threat of legal action that could have the effect of pushing the business into liquidation while its 142 UK stores remain closed in line with the government’s current advice regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The group is making preparations to resume trading its stores once government restrictions are lifted. The filing of an NOI in the UK is a first necessary step in that process.

“The group is preparing to enter a “light touch” administration that will see the existing management team remain in place under the direct control and supervision of the administrators.

“The group has the support of its lenders and they plan to provide the funding for the administration. The group continues to fully engage with all employees and suppliers while operating within a protective arrangement.

“The majority of the employees in the UK are currently being paid under the government’s furlough scheme owing to all stores being temporarily closed. Payments to suppliers who continue to provide goods and services during the administration will remain unaffected and be paid to terms.

“Debenhams continues to trade online across the UK, Ireland and Denmark, in line with government guidelines, while the lockdown continues. Customer orders, gift cards and returns are being accepted and processed normally.”

Geoff Rowley and Alastair Massey of FRP Advisory have been appointed in relation to the possible administration.

Stefaan Vansteenkiste, CEO of Debenhams, said: “These are unprecedented circumstances and we have taken this step to protect our business, our employees, and other important stakeholders, so that we are in a position to resume trading from our stores when Government restrictions are lifted.

“We are working with a group of highly supportive owners and lenders and anticipate that additional funding will be made available to bridge us through the current crisis period. With their support and working with other key stakeholders, including landlords, pension trustees and business partners, we are striving to protect jobs and reopen as many Debenhams stores for trading as we can, as soon as this is possible.”