COVID-19 has accelerated the decline of the high street, and a growing number of retailers are being forced into administration.
Established retail brands like Debenhams, Laura Ashley, Monsoon Accessorize, Go Outdoors and Brighthouse have all been affected this year, and there is concern more could follow.
But what happens when a company goes into administration, and what implications does it have for you as a customer?
What does it mean when a retailer is in administration?
Going into administration doesn’t mean a company has gone bust. There’s a chance it can still be saved.
A retailer will usually stay open and continue to trade during this time because it needs to make as much money as possible from existing stock to pay off its debts.
But if you buy something from a company when it’s in administration, you could have problems returning what you’ve bought. There’s also a chance you might not receive any orders you make if the store is declared bankrupt, which could happen at any time.
Avoid buying gift vouchers for a store that’s in administration. You’ll lose the money if the company ends up going bust.
A company in financial difficulties will be handed over to administrators. Administration firms are independent and their job is to straighten out the cash flow for struggling companies.
This might be done through restructuring, closing underperforming stores, making redundancies and selling all or part of the retailer to another business.
However, if a failing company can’t be saved, it will be placed into liquidation.
What does it mean when a company is in liquidation?
When a retailer is in liquidation, it has been declared bankrupt. Its stores will close for good, often with immediate effect.
Customers waiting for orders might not receive them, and usually won’t be able to return recent purchases to the retailer, even if they items are faulty.
You might not be able to get in contact with anyone about your missing or faulty goods, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a refund.
What can you do if something you’ve bought is affected?
There are two main ways you can try to get your money back when a company goes into administration, or goes bust, and you didn’t get what you paid for.
Claim using payment protections
If you paid using a credit or debit card, you should be able to claim using your card protections.
If you paid using a credit card and it cost more than £100, ask your bank if you can claim using Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
If the value is less than £100, or you paid using a debit card, ask your bank to start chargeback. You’ll have to contact the bank within 120 days after making the original payment.
Some third-party payment platforms, such as PayPal, also have schemes that might help you get a refund.
You might also be able to claim your money back using these protections if something you’ve bought later turns out to be faulty but you’re unable to return it because the retailer has closed.
Gabby Holme from Sheffield ordered a £50 dress from fashion store Oasis, but it arrived with a faulty zip.
By the time she tried to return the dress, Oasis had gone into administration and refused to process her refund.
‘It was confusing because the website was still live and was still taking orders perfectly fine, so how come they couldn’t refund me for a faulty item?’ she told us.
Gabby was told to register as a creditor to be in with a slim chance of getting her money back.
But she eventually managed to get a refund from her bank using chargeback because she paid using her debit card.
Alternatively, register as a creditor
If a retailer owes you money after it has gone into administration, you can also register as a creditor. The administration firm will usually post details on its website about how you can do this.
However, it can take a long time to get a response and there is no guarantee you’ll get any money back.
Any assets the retailer still owns, like stock and equipment, will be sold to raise money to pay off businesses the retailer is in debt to first, such as suppliers and utility companies.
Store customers are usually low on the priority list and will only get refunds, if at all, once businesses it is in debt to are paid off.
If there’s no money left after this, it’s unlikely you’ll get your money back.
Using a credit or debit card to pay for high-value purchases will help protect you from losing your money.
Find out more about your options by reading our guide if you’ve been affected by a store going into administration.