Taxpayers face £50m bill from Comet failure

Kasmira Jefford
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THE owners of Comet are set to recover £50m from the collapse of the electricals chain while taxpayers are expected to fork out around £50m in unpaid tax and redundancy costs.

A report by administrator Deloitte due to be published today is expected to show that Hailey Acquisitions Limited (HAL), Comet’s parent company, is entitled to the sum as the group’s main secured creditor.

HAL was the vehicle set up by Opcapita, the buyout firm run by former banker Henry Jackson, to buy Comet from its previous owner Kesa Electricals – now known as Darty – in November 2011.

The vehicle, which was backed by US and UK investors, was owed £145m at the time of Comet’s administration on 2 November, meaning it is likely to have lost £95m.

Some £42m will also be make available to suppliers who had goods on credit with the firm at the time of its collapse.

However, unsecured creditors stand to get nothing. A document filed at Companies House on Friday shows this includes HMRC, which is owed £26.2m in VAT and payroll taxes.

On top of that, the government is likely to have to cover the £24m redundancy payments owed to staff after insufficient funds were raised during the administration process.

Deloitte’s report into the demise of Comet will reveal the retailer racked up £160m losses. The chain made a loss of £32m in the year to 30 April 2011 which widened to £95m in 2012. In the five months to 30 September it lost £31m.

The report will say that while Comet managed to cut costs, sales declined rapidly. After creditors pulled the plug on insurance, working capital became too large to cope with.

The report comes after Deloitte announced on Friday that all stores would shut by 18 December.