The boss of troubled Humberts has said that the pensions of staff are safe.
The firm made some 50 people redundant last Friday – unable to pay them for April and, we understand, their commissions for March – and EYE had been told of concerns about their pensions after a firm called Humberts Pension Trustee Company was dissolved on April 10.
However, yesterday managing director Ian Westerling said that the company “does not relate to our current business”, and that the money is safe.
He said that all the current pensions had been transferred to Aegon when Chesterton Humberts de-merged in 2014.
We also asked Westerling about the charge placed on it by a company called Humberts International Ltd, which is based in the Virgin Islands.
The charge was created on March 26 and delivered on April 7, according to Companies House.
Westerling said that Humberts International Ltd was a company set up by shareholders – essentially owners Mercantile Group.
He said that the amount of the charge ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds, but would not disclose the actual figure. He said previous funding for Humberts always came via the Virgin Islands.
Westerling said: “We have been very lucky in having the support of Mercantile Group, but they are not willing to continue to fund the business.”
Westerling also confirmed that he resigned as Humberts’ managing director in March – something that is also revealed on his LinkedIn profile, which suggests he actually left the business that month. It is believed that the crisis imploded last week, with a board meeting on Wednesday.
As a director, however, he said he is now back working to try and sort things out and secure a new buyer.
He said that since last Friday, he has sent out a “shedload” of non-disclosure agreements to possibly interested buyers, and that out of around 40, he is confident that two or three potential new owners will emerge.
He said that interest has come from private equity firms and also from other property firms, including estate agents.
Westerling confirmed that the business is not – yet – in administration. “I filed the notice of intent to go into administration late last week, but our intention is not to go into administration if it can be helped.
“I am hopeful that a new buyer can be found as soon as possible.”
He paid tribute to the antiquity and pedigree of Humberts, and added: “I have also been very touched at how many people in the industry have personally been in contact with me.”
Mercantile Group bought Chestertons in 2005, and Humberts out of administration in a £3.1m pre-pack deal in 2008. It then merged the two as the property market crashed.
Mercantile split the two brands in 2014.
It was subsequently reported that Chestertons had put itself up for sale for some £50m, but there was no deal and in 2015, it said it had called off the plan.
Yesterday evening, Mercantile Group’s website included Chestertons in its portfolio of investments, but seemingly not Humberts.
Sources say that a new buyer could be in place as early as next Tuesday.