Legislation now in force preventing parties from prohibiting the assignment of receivables under certain contracts.
At the moment, a contract can prohibit or restrict the parties’ ability to assign or transfer rights created under the contract. The extent of the restriction is a matter of interpretation of the clause concerned. If one of the parties to the contract attempts to assign the benefit of the contract in breach of the restriction, the purported assignment is ineffective.
One of the key assets of any business is its receivables, and restrictions on assignment can prevent the parties from factoring receivables or otherwise raising finance on them. The Government has decided that it should be easier for businesses to raise finance on their receivables. Accordingly the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 allows regulations to be made to invalidate restrictions on the assignment of receivables in particular types of contract. The regulations have now been made. They are contained in The Business Contract Terms (Assignment of Receivables) Regulations 2018. Draft regulations published in July, have been approved by both Houses of Parliament and are now in force.
What types of contracts do the Regulations apply to?
The Regulations apply to contracts for the supply of goods, services or intangible assets under which the supplier is entitled to be paid money. But there are a number of important exclusions from their application, including the following:
- They only apply to contracts entered into on or after 31 December 2018.
- They only apply where the person who supplies the goods, services or intangible assets concerned, and is therefore entitled to the receivable, is a small or medium-sized enterprise which is not a special purpose vehicle. Whether or not an entity qualifies in any particular case requires a detailed examination of the precise wording of the
- Regulations. Counter-intuitively, the test is not applied at the time the contract is entered into, but at the time the assignment takes place.
- There is a specific exemption for contracts “for, or entered into in connection with, prescribed financial services”: These are widely defined to include “any service of a financial nature”.
- There are specific exclusions for particular types of contract, including certain commodities, project finance, energy, land, share purchase and business purchase contracts and operating leases.
- As a general rule, it would seem that the Regulations only apply to contracts governed by English law or the law of Northern Ireland, but they prevent the parties from choosing a foreign law if it can be established that the purpose of doing so was to evade the Regulations.
- The Regulations do not apply if none of the parties to the contract has entered into it in the course of carrying on a business in the United Kingdom.
What is the effect of the Regulations?
The Regulations provide that “a term in a contract has no effect to the extent that it prohibits or imposes a condition, or other restriction, on the assignment of a receivable arising under that contract or any other contract between the same parties.”
A receivable is the right to be paid any amount under a contract for the supply of goods, services, or intangible assets. The Regulations do not prevent the parties from restricting the assignment of other contract rights.
More difficult is to establish what is meant by assignment. Receivables are transferred in various ways in practice. Sometimes the transfer is outright (for instance by way of sale); and sometimes it is by way of security (for instance to secure a loan). The transfer may be effected by a statutory assignment, an equitable assignment, a charge or a trust. “Assignment” is not defined in the Regulations, and so there is some doubt as to which of these transactions are covered.
Although charges are not expressly referred to, they might be covered by the expression “assignment” if it is given a broad interpretation. But because of the uncertainty, the best course is to take an assignment by way of security over a receivable where there is, or might be, a restriction. That way, it is clear that the Regulations do apply.
Non-assignment clauses come in a variety of forms. They will be covered by the Regulations if they prohibit or impose a condition, or other restriction on the assignment of a receivable. The Regulations expressly invalidate terms which prevent the assignee from determining the validity or value of the receivable or their ability to enforce it. Whether or not the Regulations apply in any particular case will require an analysis of the precise terms of the restriction.
The Regulations will be of particular importance to businesses involved in the financing of receivables. And they will also be of concern to buyers because they will override their contractual protections.
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