Debenhams is drawing up plans to shake up its property portfolio, in a move that could speed up the rate of store closures this year.
The retailer is preparing documents for a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), a type of insolvency procedure which could help it reduce rents and shutter underperforming stores, according to the Financial Times.
Debenhams declined to comment.
The move is expected in the next few weeks, as the chain approaches the quarterly rent due date in March.
Debenhams previously ramped up its store closure plans, estimating that 50 will be shut over the next three to five years.
But the use of a CVA could accelerate this further, with up to 20 store closures thought to be likely this year if the plans go ahead.
Meanwhile the company is expected to make an announcement on the status of refinancing negotiations with its lenders later this week.
It has been locked in talks over its £520 million borrowing facilities, as it seeks a fresh cash injection. Options include a debt for equity swap.
Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley, who already holds a 29% stake in Debenhams, has previously offered to give the company a £40 million loan, claiming that the business in its current state has “zero chance of survival”.
Although his offer was turned down due to the conditions attached, it is understood that Mr Ashley remains engaged with Debenhams interim chairman Terry Duddy.
Last month Mr Ashley flexed his muscles at the firm’s annual meeting, ousting chairman Sir Ian Cheshire. Chief executive Sergio Bucher was also forced off the board but has stayed on in his role.