Commercial Law

New rules for resigning directors

The Treasury Laws Amendment (Combatting Illegal Phoenixing) Act 2020 (Cth), which came into effect from 17 February 2021, changed the process and timing relating to director resignations and the resignation of last remaining directors, as well as granting additional powers to ASIC, the ATO and liquidators.

The Act made changes to the Corporations Act 2000 (Cth) as well as taxation administration and GST legislation in an attempt to help prevent illegal phoenixing activities (when a new company is incorporated with the intention to continue the business of a failed company, using the same controllers and assets) including preventing the disposal of assets for less than market value and would prevents or hinders the property being available for creditors (known as ’creditor defeating dispositions’).

The regulations made seek to prevent backdating of resignations and having companies left with no directors at all.

Late notification of resignations

If ASIC is notified of a director’s resignation more than 28 days after the actual resignation date, ASIC will treat the date ASIC receives the notice as the ‘effective date’ of the resignation. Late lodgment fees will still apply.

Practically, this will mean that even if a company director had resigned, that director will remain responsible for the conduct of the company as a director until the later ‘effective date’.

Administrative oversight will not be an excuse even if a third party such as an accountant was responsible for notification.

Last remaining director

Any notices to ASIC that have the effect that a company is left without at least one director will be rejected (or member resolutions of a company to that effect are void).

Some exceptions to this rule exist, including if the last director passes away, the company is being wound up and if the director never consented to their appointment.

Practical approach to resigning

If you are a resigning director (or are removed as a director by resolution), not only should the company notify ASIC of the change in directorship using the standard form 484, you should also take steps yourself to notify ASIC using the form 370.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to any business related or company matters, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Can Bankrupts be Company Directors?

The Corporations Act provides that undischarged bankrupts or those who have entered into personal insolvency agreements under Part X of the Bankruptcy Act (whether in Australia or another country) cannot act as a director of, or take part in the management of, a company.

Court can grant leave

The Court can however grant leave to an undischarged bankrupt to take part in management of a company and such leave can be granted either with or without conditions. Australian Securities and Investments Commission must be notified of any such application (so ASIC can intervene if required).

The applicant will bear the onus of establishing that the Court should make an exception to the legislative policy behind the prohibition (to protect the public). The court will not easily be convinced that the usual prohibition should not apply and will exercise its discretion with a view to balancing the considerations relevant to the bankrupt and the underlying public policy.

Leave will not be granted where the disqualification was imposed by ASIC (as opposed to an automatic disqualification due to the operation of the Corporations Act).

What is considered?

Hardship to the proposed director is not of itself a persuasive ground for the granting of leave however, it is one of many factors which may be considered by the court in exercising its discretion including the reason for the disqualification, the nature of the bankrupt’s involvement, the general character and conduct of the applicant in the intervening period since being removed from or prevented from being in office, the structure of the company, its business and the interests of shareholders, creditors and employees.

Although such applications are not commonplace, an undischarged bankrupt may be granted leave to take part in the management of companies generally or, more frequently, in the management of a particular company.

Penalties

The disqualification imposed by the Act continues despite the Court granting leave and care must be taken to ensure that any conditions on the leave are complied with as failure to do so can result in the leave being revoked and an offence then being committed and the penalty can include a significant 50 penalty unit fine and/or imprisonment for 12 months.

Bankruptcies generally last 3 years. You can check if someone is an undischarged bankrupt by checking the Australian Financial Security Authority’s Bankruptcy Register 

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to bankruptcy, insolvency or company matters, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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What is a lien?

A lien is the right of a person or business to hold or retain possession of an item as security for performance of an obligation owed by another, such as the payment of monies owed.

Liens only apply to physically transferable items of personal property and effectively act as an informal or unregistered form of security for payment.

Liens only arise if the item was given to the lien holder with the express or implied authority of the owner (such as the owner or driver of a vehicle) and generally won’t arise over stolen property.

A lien does not arise simply by simply performing work.  There must be a basis for a lien to arise such as a contractual right, a piece of legislation or operation of the law.

There are 4 types of liens, each of which we discuss briefly below:

  1. statutory;
  2. contractual;
  3. common law (or possessory); and
  4. equitable.

In all but the latter of the categories, maintaining actual possession of the property in question is crucial as the rights afforded to the lien holder are only applicable while the lien holder is in possession of such property.

Statutory liens

Statutory liens arise through the operation of specific pieces of legislation such as those in Part 5 of the Sale of Goods Act 1923 (NSW), the Storer’s Liens Act 1935 (NSW) etc.

The relevant Acts describe the terms of the liens created by those statutes.

Contractual liens

If the terms of agreement, terms and conditions of trade or similar document that governs the rights and obligations of the parties to a contract provide for a lien, then such a lien is a ‘contractual lien’.

The operation of the lien is the same however – there must be money or some obligation owed and an item of the other party held pending payment or performance of that obligation.

Common law liens

At common law, liens can either be ‘particular’ or ‘general’ (also known as ‘specific’) and arise by implication of law.

A ‘specific lien’ secures obligations that are incurred in respect of the particular goods that are held.  A common example of a specific lien is the ‘mechanic’s lien’ – the right to hold your car until you have paid for the work performed or a repairer’s lien for payment in respect of improvement work done on a chattel.

A ‘general lien’ however is more favourable, although far less common and more difficult to establish. A general lien allows a person to retain possession of any goods held (but not sell or otherwise deal with that property) until all sums payable by the owner of the goods are satisfied, not just the amount payable in respect of work performed on the specific goods held hostage.

General liens must be established by strict proof of custom or usage such as a ‘solicitors’ lien’ or an ‘accountant’s lien’ which allows a solicitor or accountant to assert a lien over and thus retain a client’s documents (or the fruits of a court action) until payment of all debts owed by the client. It is effectively an implied term of the relevant contract.

Equitable liens

Equitable liens are created on a case by case basis by the law of equity as determined by the Courts. Judges may declare such liens so as to uphold or preserve fairness or justice to a situation having regard to the parties’ dealings and conduct.

An example is where a party spends money improving the item for another where there was either express or implied agreement that the performing party should have an interest in the enhanced property. The party who performed the work and is owed the debt may then acquire an equitable interest in the property proportionate to the value of the enhancement.

Unlike the other types of liens, ‘equitable liens’ do not require actual possession of the article in question. Such liens can be voided by the express or implied agreement of the parties.

Consideration often needs to be given to the value of the lien compared to the substantial time and monetary cost of seeking judicial intervention.

How does a lien end?

Any right to assert a lien (other than an equitable lien) expires upon performance of the outstanding obligation (such as payment) or upon release if the item over which the lien is maintained as without possession, there is no lien.

How does the PPSA affect a lien?

Statutory liens and common law liens can be exempted from the operation of the Personal Properties Securities Act 2009 (Cth) (PPSA).

In some circumstanced, the party asserting the lien can have priority over any security interests registered on the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) held by other creditors of owner of the item if:

  • the materials/services were provided in the ordinary course of business by the person asserting the lien;
  • no other Act prevents the lien from having priority; and
  • the holder of the lien did not have knowledge of any security agreement under the PPSR relating to those goods (that prohibited the creation of the lien).

Security interests registered on the PPSR under the PPSA will usually defeat any contractual lien.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For more information, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au to discuss your needs.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice.

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Enforcing judgments overseas (and vice versa)

The success of enforcing judgments overseas will largely depend on the laws of country where the judgment is sought to be enforced. Sometimes the common law or a treaty allows enforcement but often it relies on a statutory arrangement.

Australia has reciprocal arrangements with various countries but as a general rule, to be enforceable in another jurisdiction, the judgment must be:

  • for a fixed sum;
  • consistent with the laws or public policies of the relevant country; and
  • final and conclusive, and

you must provide a verified copy of the original Australian judgment, a translation of the judgment into the relevant language, an affidavit or similar providing at least details of the Australian proceedings, the relevant debt, details of the overseas debtor. There may be some other local matters to tend to as well.

Enforcing a foreign judgment in Australia

The Foreign Judgments Act 1991 (Cth) provides for the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in Australia.

To be enforceable, the foreign judgment must generally:

  • be less than 6 years old;
  • require the payment of money;
  • be final and conclusive (even if subject to or likely subject to an appeal); and
  • not have already been satisfied in the foreign jurisdiction.

Which countries have reciprocal arrangements?

The statutory schemes only apply to countries that have entered into reciprocal arrangements with Australia for the enforcement of each other’s judgments (See Schedule to Foreign Judgments Regulation 1992).

This includes British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Fiji, France, Germany, Italy, Israel, Korea, Japan, Korea, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

It does not include China (although technically Hong Kong is included), India, Russia or the United States of America.

New Zealand has special arrangements as set out below.

New Zealand arrangements

Part 7 of the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010 (Cth) allows New Zealand judgments of a broader nature to be enforced in Australia including some judgments that don’t solely relate to the payment of money.

This excludes things like probate, guardianship, and the welfare of minors.

Enforcement

Registration of the foreign judgment can be as simple as filing  an application in a Supreme Court, where a judge will process the application (assuming it meets the requirements) in chambers in the absence of the other party and register it as a judgment in that court. The judgment debtor must be served with notice of the registration when the judgment is registered.

The registered foreign judgment can then be enforced like any other judgment such as by way of:

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to enforcing a judgement, debt recovery, litigation or any other commercial law matter, contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Do you have any Unclaimed Money?

In New South Wales, any unclaimed money is generally held by the Revenue NSW.

Unclaimed money is generally any amount in excess of $100 held for at least 6 years without any activity on an account. This may be because the owner moved, changed their name or simply forgot about it.

Types of unclaimed money held by Revenue NSW include dividends, unpresented cheques, distributions, sale proceeds, commissions, royalties and the like.

Generally, enterprises that operate in NSW and hold unclaimed money as at 30 June in any year must submit the money to Revenue NSW by 31 October of that year, after having made reasonable attempts to contact the rightful owner and return the money to them.

Other thresholds and timeframes apply to specific industries such as real estate agents, law firms and trustee companies that operate trust accounts.

You can search for money held by Revenue NSW here.

Unpaid wages

Sometimes an employer owes wages to an employee who has left their business or where wages have found to be underpaid following a workplace audit.

Where the employee can’t be contacted, the unpaid wages are generally held by the Fair Work Ombudsman and can be searched for here.

Superannuation

Superannuation funds that cannot locate beneficiaries of superannuation monies place the details on the Superannuation Lost Members Register, which can be searched through the MyGov portal via Australian Taxation Office’s website here.

Banks and life insurers

Banks, credit unions and life insurance companies also have unclaimed money issues where a bank account is inactive (has no deposits or withdrawals) for 7 years or where the proceeds of a life insurance policy is unclaimed for 7 years after the policy matures.

Where they can’t locate an owner of funds held, they must lodge their unclaimed monies with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission.

Unclaimed money received by ASIC is transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia Consolidated Revenue Fund and it is available to be claimed at any time by the rightful owner and there is no time limit on claims. ASIC’s unclaimed money search is located at ASIC’s MoneySmart website here.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to unclaimed money or any business related legal issues, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Unpaid interns

Typically, unpaid internships offer a taste of what is usually involved in a job or industry, as well as the chance to network and to add practical experience to their resume.

Many businesses however seek to avoid paying lawful entitlements to employees by labelling them an “intern” or calling it a “vocational placement” or similar. In law firms (yes, they do it too), it’s a “law clerk”.

The fact is that if they are performing productive work for your business, they are an employee and are therefore legally entitled to be paid.

Before engaging an unpaid intern, business owners need to genuinely consider if the placement is providing them with work experience, a career opportunity and take steps to avoid the arrangement being considered exploitation. That is, are they really an unpaid employee?

To determine whether the arrangement is ‘employment’ ask yourself these questions about the proposed intern:

  1. Will they have actual responsibilities (as opposed to just observing)?
  2. Will their workload be similar to a paid employee?
  3. Will the intern replace a paid employee?
  4. Will the intern have administration duties?
  5. Will the intern collect coffee orders?
  6. Does your business rely on interns for ongoing duties?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, they are assisting your business, not learning, so it is likely that your unpaid interns will actually be employees and hence entitled to minimum Award rates.

Even if you will genuinely have unpaid interns at your workplace, they should have a contract (although not an employment contract) covering that fact and requiring them to maintain standards such as confidentiality, returning company property at the completion of the placement etc.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to any employment related issue or any business/commercial law matter, contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Is your business using the correct form of Fair Work Information Statement?

On 13 August 2020, the High Court of Australia handed down a decision about the method of accruing and taking paid personal/carer’s leave under the National Employment Standards.

The case was Mondolez Australia Pty Ltd v AMWU, which overturned a decision made by the Full Federal Court in August 2019 that could have resulted in significant claims for backpay and contraventions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) as its effect included that part-time employees are entitled to 10 days’ paid personal leave per year (the same as a full time employee), regardless of the number of days actually worked.

The High Court found that the entitlement to 10 days of personal/carer’s leave is calculated based on an employee’s hours worked, not days when interpreting s.96(1) of the Act such that a ‘day’ refers to a notional day, consisting of 1/10th of an employee’s ordinary hours of work in a 2 week period. Accordingly, 10 days of personal leave can be calculated as 1/26 of an employee’s ordinary hours of work in a year.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has updated the form of Fair Work Information Statement (FWIS) as a result.

Employees need to ensure they provide the correct form of FWIS to all new employees. Is your business using the correct form of Fair Work Information Statement?

FURTHER INFORMATION

For more information, please contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au to discuss your needs.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice.

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Coronavirus: Insolvency and Bankruptcy Changes

The financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to be felt by many businesses with debts remaining unpaid for longer and those that may have limped through until now starting to have liquidity or cashflow problems.

If you or your business are considering options for debt recovery from customers, note that during the pandemic period (24 March – 25 September 2020 or any longer period prescribed by Regulations*), the laws regarding insolvency and bankruptcy in Australia have been varied by Schedule 12 to the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020 (Cth) such that when enforcing debts, the following have changed from the usual arrangements:

Bankruptcy Notices

The temporary measures to the operation of the Bankruptcy Act 1966 (Cth) and its Regulations introduced by the federal government include:

  • the minimum amount of a judgment debt required for the issue of a Bankruptcy Notice has increased from $5,000 to $20,000; and
  • the recipient individual’s time to pay or respond has increased from 21 days to 6 months.

Once a Bankruptcy Notice expires without being met an “act of bankruptcy” will have occurred and, as usual, the creditor that issued it can commence court proceedings to seek a sequestration order to bankrupt the individual.

Other changes include those in relation to the moratorium period for those that submit a declaration of intention to present a debtors petition for their own bankruptcy

Creditor’s Statutory Demands

The temporary changes affecting the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and its Regulations in relation to corporate debts include:

  • the threshold amount of debt/s required for the service of a Creditor’s Statutory Demand has increased from $2,000 to $20,000; and
  • the recipient company’s time to pay or respond has increased from 21 days to 6 months.

Once a statutory demand expires without the debt being paid or an arrangement for the payment of the debt being agreed, the creditor can commence court proceedings to wind up the debtor company.

Director liability for insolvent trading

Similar changes have also been made to laws regarding director liability for insolvent trading where the debts are incurred in the ordinary course of business (temporarily supplementing existing “safe harbour“provisions).

The above changes do not affect other enforcement measures such as: winding up companies on the ‘just and equitable‘ ground; garnishee orders; or writs for the levy of property.

The Schedule 12 changes relate only to those Bankruptcy Notices issued in the relevant period and those Creditor’s Statutory Demands served in the relevant period, not those issued or served (as the case may be) prior to 24 March 2020.

(*Note on 07 September 2020, the Federal Government extended these measures until 31 December 2020).

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to debt recovery, bankruptcy, insolvency or any other commercial law matter, contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Uncollected goods: is possession 9/10 of the law?

If you are a business that cleans or repairs items that are never collected by a customer or if you are a lessor of a commercial property* and a tenant leaves items behind, you may wonder what your rights and obligations are in relation to those uncollected goods.

Is possession 9/10 of the law? Well, sort of. Often it can depend on the terms of trade agreed between the business and the customer (for example a retention of title clause, a lien** or other similar provisions), but assuming it hasn’t been agreed or if there are agreed terms but there is no unpaid account, what is the position?

If there is no contract to govern what happens then the Uncollected Goods Act 1995 (NSW) will likely apply. That Act allows the business holding the goods (bailee) to sell them if they are uncollected by the owner of the goods (bailor) or if the bailee can’t contact the bailor.

How the goods may be disposed of, and what notice needs to be given, depends on their type and value.  For example, if the goods are worth:

  • less than $100, the business owner needs to give the customer 28 days verbal or written notice of an intention to dispose of the goods. If the customer doesn’t respond or collect the goods in that time, the business owner can dispose of them they see fit;
  • more than $100 but less than $500, the business owner needs to give the customer and each other person that claims an interest in the goods 3 months written notice of an intention to dispose of them. If the customer doesn’t respond or collect them within 3 months, the business owner can dispose of them by private sale for ‘fair value’ or public auction;
  • more than $500 but less than $5,000 the business owner needs to give the customer and each other person that claims an interest in the goods 6 months written notice of an intention to dispose of the goods. If the customer doesn’t respond or collect them in the 6 month period, the business owner can dispose of them by public auction provided that the business owner publishes a copy of the notice in a daily newspaper circulating generally throughout NSW at least 28 days before the 6 months notice is to end;
  • more than $5,000, the business owner needs a Court order to dispose of the goods; and
  • Perishable goods are dealt with differently any only require a ‘reasonable’ amount of notice, the length of which depends on the nature and condition of the goods.

What should the notice state?

Broadly speaking, a notice regarding uncollected goods must include:

  • the business name;
  • a description of the goods;
  • an address where the goods can be collected;
  • a statement of any relevant charges (eg freight and storage costs) and if the business is planning to take money out of the sale to cover those charges;
  • a statement that on or after a specified date, the goods will be sold or kept unless they are first collected and the relevant charges are paid.

No profit

When the goods are sold, the bailee can only recover the cost of the original service being provided if unpaid, the costs of the sale and any maintenance, insurance and storage costs. The bailee is not allowed to make a profit on the sale of the uncollected goods.

Any surplus if the bailor can’t be found or won’t take it, must be paid, as unclaimed money, to Revenue NSW. What a pain!

* There is specific legislation relating to the disposal of goods held by a pawnbroker (Pawnbrokers and Second-Hand Dealers Act 1996 (NSW), Part 4, s.30), goods left by a tenant (Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW), Part 6 Division 2) or resident of a retirement village (Retirement Villages Act 1999 (NSW), Part 9, Division 7). Some assets can require additional steps to dispose of such as motor vehicles (for example the Commissioner of Police has issued a certificate stating that the vehicle is not recorded as stolen) and may require a Personal Property Securities Register Search.

** A lien is a common law right to retain possession of an item until an account is paid (such as a mechanics lien to keep a car until the repair bill is paid for), but it can be confirmed in an agreement.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to uncollected goods, your rights or obligations under a contract or arrangement or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Coronavirus: Remote witnessing of legal documents

On 22 April 2020, the Electronic Transactions Amendment (COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020 (NSW) came into effect.

The effect of the Regulation is that the signing of legal documents in New South Wales such as Wills, Powers of Attorney, Deeds, Agreements, Appointments of Enduring Guardians, Affidavits and Statutory Declarations can be witnessed by audio visual link, rather than having to be physically present, as is normally the case – that is the law (during the COVID-19 pandemic) now allows the remote witnessing of legal documents.

Some documents have other additional requirements, like Wills which require 2 witnesses, not just one, as is provided for in s.6(1)(c) of the Succession Act 2006 (NSW).

Audio visual link includes Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, HouseParty, FaceTime and the like.

The witness must sign the document either:

  1. by signing a counterpart of the document as soon as practicable after witnessing the signing of the document; or
  2. if the signatory scans and sends a copy of the signed document electronically, the witness may countersign the document as soon as practicable after witnessing the signing of the document.

The witness must endorse the document, or the copy of the document, with a statement that specifies the method used to witness the signing and that the document was witnessed in accordance with the Electronic Transactions Regulation 2017.

All copies of the document should be stored together so they can be read as the one document.

The Regulations do not change what documents may or may not be executed electronically in NSW – only how documents may be witnessed and attested.  The Regulations also do not affect the laws or requirements of any other jurisdiction, including the Commonwealth (such as company execution of documents under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

Under the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (NSW), the Regulation were to operate for a maximum period of 6 months from 22 April 2020 however, on 18 September 2020, the Stronger Communities Legislation Amendment (COVID-19) Regulation 2020 came into effect such that, among other things, the operation of the electronic witnessing regulations was extended to 26 March 2021.

Similar regulations are in place in the other States and Territories, such as Queensland’s Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response – Wills and Enduring Documents) Regulation 2020 (Qld).

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information in relation to legal issues arising from Coronavirus, if you had previously held off arranging documents such as for your estate planning due to not wanting to attend our office physically due to social distancing concerns or if you need to discuss how to best to arrange signing of documents under the Regulation, please contact us on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice.

Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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