May 8, 2017
On 6 April 2017, the Legislative Reform (Private Fund Limited partnerships) Order 2017 ("LRO") came into force. The LRO amends the Limited Partnerships Act 1907 ("LPA") and introduces a new form of limited partnership, the ‘private fund limited partnership’ ("PFLP") for use as a fund vehicle.
UK limited partnerships are often used as investment vehicles across a range of asset classes, including private equity and real estate, due to their organisational flexibility, tax transparency and limited liability for investors. UK limited partnerships have not been as popular in recent years as certain, more flexible, forms of limited partnerships are available in other jurisdictions. The intention of the LRO is to enhance the competitiveness of UK limited partnerships compared to limited partnerships in other jurisdictions by reducing the administrative burdens and complexities of limited partnerships and codifying activities that may be taken by limited partners without jeopardising their limited liability status.
Designation as a PFLP is voluntary and open to existing and new limited partnerships. A limited partnership can elect to become a PFLP by making a filing with Companies House subject to the following conditions:
(i) the PFLP is constituted by an agreement in writing; and
(ii) the PFLP is a ‘collective investment scheme’ as defined in section 235 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (ignoring the exemptions from such classification for these purposes).
While we would expect that most limited partnerships would be able to meet these two conditions, certain limited partnerships may fall outside of the definition of ‘collective investment scheme’ if the limited partners have significant involvement in the day-to-day operations.
As was the case under the LPA prior to amendment, a PFLP must include ‘limited partnership’ or ‘LP’ after its name, but its status as a PFLP need not be disclosed in its name. It will not therefore be immediately obvious whether a partnership is a PFLP unless the Companies House filings are inspected. Once designated as a PFLP, the limited partnership will not be able to reverse the election. Both an existing limited partnership and a new limited partnership can be designated as a PFLP. It may be necessary for an existing limited partnership to amend its limited partnership agreements in order to become designated as a PFLP.
To be designated as a PFLP, the general partner of a limited partnership must file either form LP7 with Companies House at the time of the initial registration of the limited partnership or form LP8 if designation as a PFLP is sought after the initial registration of the limited partnership.
The ‘white list’ is a non-exhaustive list of activities and, therefore, it remains the case that if a limited partner undertakes an activity which is not on the list, a determination of whether a limited partner has taken part in the management of the company (and thus liable for all debts and obligations of the limited partnership as if it were a general partner) will continue to be subject to case law.
Limited partners in PFLPs are not required to contribute capital on admission to the limited partnership and may withdraw any capital contributions made to a PFLP without incurring liability for the amount withdrawn. However, the ability to withdraw capital contributions without liability does not apply (i) to capital contributions made before 6 April 2017, or (ii) where a capital contribution was made before the limited partnership became a PFLP.
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These changes should make UK limited partnerships more attractive as investment vehicles by streamlining administration and bringing the law surrounding unlimited liability of limited partners into line with equivalent limited partnership regimes in, for example, Jersey, Guernsey, the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg, which have in recent years introduced reforms to make structuring and operating private funds more efficient. We expect that a significant number of fund sponsors that use UK limited partnerships will choose to register new limited partnerships as PFLPs and fund sponsors that have looked elsewhere for the formation of limited partnerships may now consider UK limited partnerships as a viable alternative.
Gibson Dunn’s lawyers are available to assist with any questions you may have regarding these issues. For further information, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work or the authors:
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