Company

Could you be a shadow director?

Shadow directors

The term ‘director’ is defined in s.9 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Act) to mean:

(a)          a person who:

(i)            is appointed to the position of a director; or

(ii)           is appointed to the position of an alternate director and is acting in that capacity;

regardless of the name that is given to their position; and

(b)          unless the contrary intention appears, a person who is not validly appointed as a director if:

(i)            they act in the position of a director; or

(ii)           the directors of the company or body are accustomed to act in accordance with the person’s instructions or wishes.

That is, (a) refers to directors notified to ASIC and (b) covers those who are de facto directors or shadow directors.

Consequently, a person who has not been validly appointed as a director of a company (and whose details are not therefore recorded in ASIC’s registers) may nonetheless be deemed a director of that company if they have influence to the extent that the directors of the company are accustomed to acting in accordance with the person’s instructions or wishes or if they act as if they are a director.

Indicators of being a shadow director

Examples of being a de facto or shadow director can include:

  • having independent authority to negotiate and manage executive matters on behalf of the company (like negotiation of important contracts or the managing employment)
  • promotion of the person to the public as having power to bind the company.
  • having unfettered control of the company’s bank accounts
  • being involved in setting up the company

Subparagraph (b)(ii) does not generally apply to advice given by the person in the proper performance of functions attaching to the person’s professional capacity (such as an external accountant, lawyer or professional adviser), but can include employees and spouses of directors (who may own assets as part of a risk minimization/asset protection strategy implemented by their director spouse).

Those that sit on so called “advisory boards” should pay particular attention to the way in which they carry out their roles and the way in which the company follows (or questions or considers) their recommendations or suggestions.

Consequences

A shadow director will be required to comply with director duties under the Act and can become liable for things like insolvent trading under section 588G.

If you are determined to be a shadow director, penalties can include:

  • a fine of up to $200,000, imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both;
  • personal liability for any loss or damage incurred; and
  • permanent or temporary orders prohibiting you from taking part in the management of a company.

How to help prevent being a shadow director

Steps that can be taken to help minimize the risk of being deemed a director of a company or the consequences of it include:

  • documenting the authorities of key personnel, including limits on authorities, autonomy and decision making (including in employment contracts, workplace policies etc)
  • putting in place robust internal procedures for decision making and approvals
  • ensuring ASIC registers are accurate and up to date
  • limiting advice provided to that which is within your professional qualifications
  • advisors, key staff and ‘advisory boards’ presenting any advice as a recommendation for a company’s consideration, rather than being a direction or instruction to the company or its board
  • otherwise, properly documenting communications
  • consider appropriate insurances

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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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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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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Company power of attorney

What would happen to your company if its sole director became incapacitated or died? How would bills and staff get paid? Who would make decisions on behalf of the business?

Companies may only act through its directors so in the case of a sole director company, the company will be unable to operate if something happened to its director.

personal power of attorney granted by a director is not valid where it seeks to allow someone to act in the role of a director of a company as the position of a director is a personal duty that cannot be delegated. Only the shareholders of a sole director company can appoint a replacement, even if it is only temporary.

A personal held by a shareholder may be able to call a meeting of shareholders so as to seek to appoint a replacement director, but this all takes time.

Each company that has a single director should appoint its own attorney as part of its overall risk management strategy.

The Corporations Act grants to a company all the powers and authority of a ‘natural person’ and as such, a company can appoint an attorney under a company power of attorney to act on its behalf when the company itself is not able to act (such as through the incapacity or ill heath of its sole director) and this attorney can continue to act even if the sole director died.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to corporations, commercial law or business related matters, 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 legal concerns or objectives.

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Director duties

There are numerous and important legal responsibilities imposed on directors of companies under the Corporations Act 2001 and other laws, including the general law.

Of these director duties, some of the most significant are contained in Chapter 2D of the Corporations Act:

  • to exercise the degree of care and diligence that a reasonable person might be expected to show in the role – the business judgment rule (s.180).
  • to act in good faith in the best interests of the company and for a proper purpose (s.181)
  • to not improperly use their position to gain an advantage for themselves or someone else, or to the detriment to the company (s.182)
  • to not improperly use the information they gain in the course of their director duties to gain an advantage for themselves or someone else, or to the detriment to the company (s.183)
  • to lodge information with ASIC (s.188)

but there are others, including to:

  • to avoid conflicts of interest between the interests of the company and theirpersonal interests and to reveal and manage conflicts if they arise (s.191)
  • to take reasonable steps to ensure that a company complies with its obligations in the Corporations Act related to the keeping of financial records and financial reporting (s.344)
  • to ensure that a company does not trade whilst insolvent or where they suspect it might be insolvent (eg, if it is unable to pay its debts as and when they fall due) (s.588G)
  • if the company is being wound up, to assist the liquidator and provide accurate details of the company’s affairs.

Directors can also be liable for unpaid taxation obligations and unpaid superannuation monies – for which the ATO can issue Director Penalty Notices.

Failing to comply with director duties can result in criminal sanctions, fines, disqualification from acting as a director and other consequences, such as breach of contract such as obligations under a Directors & Shareholders Agreement.

People can be responsible as directors even if not formally appointed

What many people don’t know is that the term “director” is defined in section 9 of the Corporations Act to include a person:

  • who is appointed as a director (or alternate director), regardless of the name given to their position; and
  • even though not validly appointed and recorded at ASIC as a director:
    • who acts in the position of a director (also known as a ‘de facto director‘); or
    • whose instructions or wishes the appointed directors are accustomed to act in accordance with (also known as a ‘shadow director’)

Commonly used terms for the titles of ‘director’ include ‘non-executive director‘, ‘executive director‘, ‘managing director‘, ‘independent director‘ and ‘nominee director‘.

Often, businesses give titles to employees rather than pay rises. Similar considerations apply to partnerships, where some partners are ‘salaried partners‘, not ‘equity partners‘ so they take home a salary rather then enjoy the fruits of the business. What these ‘salaried partners‘ (in the same vein as ‘non-executive directors‘) often fail to understand or appreciate is that they are holding themselves out as directors or partners of the business and will have full responsibility as such if something goes wrong, such as an insolvency.

How to meet the responsibilities

Those with key roles in any business, regardless of its legal form, you should:

  • understand your legal obligations and make compliance with them part of your business
  • keep informed about your business’ financial position and performance, ensuring that it can pay its debts on time and keeps proper financial records
  • give the interests of the business, its stakeholders/owners and its creditors top priority, which includes acting in the business’ best interests (even if this may not be in your own interests)
  • use information you get through your position properly and in the best interests of the business
  • get professional advice or more information if you are in doubt.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to Corporations Act or corporate governance issues or any business or 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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Bringing on business partners?

For businesses that are growing and putting on other shareholders and directors, a Shareholders Agreement is a must have. If your business is not a company but it a partnership or a unit trust structure, the document would be a Partnership Deed or Unitholders Agreement.

Don’t leave some of the most important and fundamental issues for your business to chance. Consider a company with 2 or 3 shareholders – a typical small to medium sized business scenario…

COMMON PROBLEMS FOR SHAREHOLDERS

Issues that commonly that can affect shareholders include:

  • A shareholder sells their shares, leaving you with an unintended business partner;
  • A shareholder dies and you inherit an unintended business partner or you have to buy the shares from their estate for more than you ought to;
  • As a shareholder, you want out but cannot find a suitable purchaser but the other shareholders won’t buy you out;
  • The shareholders don’t have available funds to pay out an exiting shareholder;
  • The majority shareholder wishes to run the business one way, but is restricted by a minority shareholder;
  • You, as a minority shareholder, are being treated poorly by other shareholders who are running the business with little regard to your interests;
  • You wish to sell the company’s business as there is an excellent offer on the table, but another shareholder will not and is jeopardizing the sale;
  • You wish to receive dividends from the business, but others want to reinvest the profits.

The aim of a Shareholder Agreement is to bring some certainty to the business relationship so there is confidence in how the business will operate

TAILORED SOLUTIONS

A Shareholder Agreement tailors the rights and obligations of the shareholders to fit the particular purposes of the company, the nature of its business and the aims and wishes of its shareholders – to help avoid some of the potential problems identified above.

Some factors that should be considered in a Shareholders Agreement include:

  • The company’s activities/type of business – its purpose;
  • The roles and obligations of the shareholders;
  • Who are the directors and how the shareholders can change them;
  • Director remuneration;
  • Who will manage and control the business day to day, such as a managing director;
  • Meetings – how they are called, how they are run, counting of votes;
  • How decisions are made by shareholders or the board of directors;
  • What types of decisions require a simple majority, special resolution or a unanimous vote;
  • Payment of dividends;
  • Funding/borrowing;
  • Restrictions on the issue/transfer of shares and calculating the share price;
  • How shareholders can exit from the company and on what terms;
  • Funding of exits (including death) – buy/sell obligations and personal insurances;
  • Restraints on existing shareholders as to company customers etc;
  • Insurances to be taken out; and
  • How any disputes are to be resolved.

The aim of a Shareholders Agreement is to bring some certainty to the business relationship so that shareholders can have some confidence as to how the company will be run and, if there is a falling out, to provide a mechanism for that falling out to be dealt with, as painlessly as possible.

Ideally, the Shareholders Agreement would be in place from the outset whilst all parties are in agreement in relation to all issues however, they can be documented at any time (provided all parties agree).

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to starting or buying a business, drafting business documents 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 business needs.

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Creditor’s Statutory Demand

If you or your business are owed a debt by an Australian company that is not disputed, then there can be a relatively simple, yet effective way of obtaining payment in as little as 3 weeks.

The Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) provides for the issue of a document called a “creditor’s statutory demand” to any company that owes a debt greater than the prescribed amount (which is presently $2,000*).  *Note that this threshold increased from the original $2,000 (at the time this article was original published) to $20,000 as a result of the Coronavirus legislation, but reduced back to $2,000 from 01 January 2021.

The process is basically that the demand is served and then you wait.

Statutory demands must be in the prescribed form, detail the debt due, be signed by or on behalf of the creditor and be properly served on the company. Where the debt is not a judgment debt, an affidavit is also required to be signed, certifying that the debt is due and payable.

The Act provides where the demand is served and not complied with within 21 days*, the company is presumed to be insolvent and is liable to be wound up. Compliance with the demand is achieved by either paying the debt due or coming to an arrangement satisfactory to the creditor in relation to payment of the debt within that 21 day period. *During the COVID-19 pandemic period, this increased to 6 months but has reverted back to 21 days from 1 January 2021.

The presumption of insolvency lasts for 3 months after the 21 day period expires. Any proceedings to wind up the company on the basis that it is insolvent must be commenced within that period.

Creditor’s statutory demands may only be set aside by the Court on certain grounds and applications to do so must be both filed with the Court and served on the creditor that issued the demand within that 21 day period. Grounds for setting aside the demands are limited and include where there is a defect in the demand, where the amount owed is less than the prescribed amount or where there is a dispute as to the existence and/or amount of the debt claimed. None of these grounds may be relied on to oppose a demand after the 21 day period.

Where the debt is disputed, the service of a creditor’s statutory demand is not the appropriate way to obtain payment however, there are other methods available.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to debt recovery, company issues or any 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 legal concerns or objectives.

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Selling your business?

So you have an offer to buy your business. How exciting!

Although there may be agreement on the price being paid and the amount of deposit, what else needs to be considered?

  • How is the price apportioned between goodwill and equipment?
  • Have you considered the costs associated with the sale – you may have an agreement with a business broker, but there are lawyers, accountants, financial advisers also.
  • What about tax, capital gains tax (CGT) in particular, and is GST payable?

Who does what?

You need good advice. You are great at what you do, but you cant do everything. You need a great team of advisers – this is their thing.

Your lawyer will be required to prepare the legal documents that give effect to the sale (such as Business Sale Contract, Share Sale Agreement, Deed of Restraint, Deed of Consent to Assignment of Lease, Employment Contracts, Deed of Novation, Consultancy Agreements etc… yes, there may be others).

Your accountant can advise on the price apportionment and taxation implications, whether GST is payable or not, and how to make the most of any CGT concessions, exemptions and rollover relief such as those relating to small business and retirement.

Your financial adviser can give you advice on what to do with your cash to make the most of it now or in retirement.

What are you actually selling?

It would seem obvious, but have you considered what you are actually selling? Are you selling your business or, in the case of a company or unit trust, the entity that owns it?

There is a big difference, particularly given that entitlements to income and liability for expenses incurred prior to completion of the sale will remain with the vendor under a business sale whereas in the case of a share sale, the whole lot will be under the control of the purchaser from completion.

This will also affect how much due diligence a purchaser may undertake – as any prudent purchaser would have concerns about potential claims, tax debts etc

The usual things

Assuming a sale of business, not a share sale, some of the other things to consider is what is included in the sale?

  • Business name
  • Plant and equipment used by the business
  • Stock
  • Customer lists
  • Agreements with suppliers, referrers… to the extent they can be transferred
  • Phone/fax numbers, logos, domain names, email addresses social media etc
  • Intellectual property – do you have any trademarks?
  • Licenses/permits to operate the business
  • Are staff being terminated or transferring to the purchaser? What are employee entitlements are due?
  • Are the business premises leased? Is the agreement subject a an assignment of the existing lease or the granting of a new lease?
  • Personal Property Securities Register issues – for example, is the telephone system under a hire purchase agreement? Is the photocopier leased?
  • Do you need the consent of anyone to the sale proceeding? Eg, a franchisor, a mortgagor, someone you have given a first option to purchase to for example?
  • Are there to be restraints of trade/non-competition provisions that affect you? What about for key staff?

Although an exciting time, there are many issues that need to be considered when you are selling your business. The abovementioned items are certainly not an exhaustive list of things to consider and every business is different, but hopefully it gets you thinking about what you may need to consider when selling your business.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to buying/selling businesses, intellectual property or any 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 legal concerns or objectives.

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What does a Bankruptcy Notice do?

A Bankruptcy Notice is a document that, once served, requires the person served to either pay a debt (or enter into an arrangement for payment of a debt) within a specified period of time, usually 21 days.

If the Bankruptcy Notice is not complied with within that time, the person has committed an “act of bankruptcy” entitling the person owed the money (creditor) to commence bankruptcy proceedings.

It is usually a good idea not to try to do this yourself but rather to engage a lawyer to assist, including obtaining an AFSA Bankruptcy Register search (formerly a National Personal Insolvency Index search) beforehand.

How is a Bankruptcy Notice issued?

Bankruptcy Notices are issued by the Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA) (formerly the Insolvency & Trustee Service Australia (ITSA)) at the request of a creditor.

In order to apply for a Bankruptcy Notice, you must hold a final judgment for at least $10,000* that is no more than 6 years old. *Note that this threshold increased from the original $5,000 (at the time this article was original published) to $20,000 as a result of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020, but reduced to the new permanent threshold of $10,000 from 01 January 2021.

Once issued, the Bankruptcy Notice needs to be served on the debtor. There are various ways to achieve this (including by post in some circumstances).

If the debtor does not dispute the validity of the Bankruptcy Notice or pay the judgment debt or come to a satisfactory arrangement for payment of the debt within the 21 day period, then the debtor will have committed an “act of bankruptcy” as defined in the Bankruptcy Act 1966 (Cth) and the law will presume the debtor to be insolvent, entitling the creditor to commence bankruptcy proceedings. The order declaring someone a bankrupt is called a “sequestration order“.

What is the effect of bankrupting someone?

Most people do not wish to be made bankrupt due for various reasons including:

  • the stigma associated with being declared bankrupt (and the effect this can have on obtaining certain employment etc);
  • the fact that all of the bankrupt’s property (subject to some exceptions) vests in the appointed trustee; and
  • because of the adverse effect of bankruptcy on a person’s credit rating (and therefore their ability to get a loan later in life).

This is why issuing a Bankruptcy Notice and, if necessary, commencing bankruptcy proceedings can be an effective way of obtaining payment if you are a creditor.

What does the court look at before bankrupting someone?

Bankruptcy proceedings are commenced by filing a Creditor’s Petition in the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Before a person is declared bankrupt, the Court must be satisfied that the person has committed an “act of bankruptcy” in the 6 months before the commencement of the bankruptcy proceedings. The most common act of bankruptcy is failing to comply with a Bankruptcy Notice.

Effect of bankruptcy on company directors

For those in business for themselves, one of the effects of being declared bankrupt, in addition to losing control of the majority of your assets, is that s.206B of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) provides that undischarged bankrupts or those who have entered into personal insolvency agreements cannot act as a director or take part in the management of a company.

AFSA and ASIC have a Data Matching Protocol such that ASIC will receive notification of a director’s bankruptcy. Although a bankrupt automatically ceases to be a director, the director must notify ASIC by lodging a Form 296 - Notice of Disqualification from Managing a Corporation and further, the Company also has an obligation to notify ASIC of the cessation of an officeholder by lodging a Form 484 - Change to Company Details within 28 days of the change taking effect.

The Court has the power to grant leave to an undischarged bankrupt to take part in management of a company, subject to ASIC being notified of the application. Such leave, which can be granted both with or without conditions, is not available however, where the disqualification was imposed by ASIC (as opposed to an automatic disqualification due to the operation of the Corporations Act).

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 public policy behind the prohibition. In such an application, the applicant bears the onus of establishing that the Court should make an exception to the legislative policy underlying the prohibition. The policy behind the law is protect the public and among other things, to seek to ensure that investors, shareholders and others dealing with a company are not disadvantaged.

Hardship to the proposed director is not of itself a persuasive ground for the granting of leave although it is one of many factors which may be considered by the court in exercising its discretion. The court will have regard to the reason for the disqualification, the nature of his or her involvement, the general character of the applicant including the applicant’s conduct in the intervening period since being removed from office 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. The disqualification imposed by the Corporations 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 the commission of an offence.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to bankruptcy, insolvency, debt recovery, commercial law or business disputes, 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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