Insolvent

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.

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.

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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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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Do you have customers that owe you money?

WHAT OPTIONS ARE THERE TO CHASE DEBTS?

Where a customer has not complied with the terms on which goods or services have been provided, in that they have failed to make payment as and when required and despite repeated requests, it can often be of assistance for a demand letter to be sent by a lawyer.

The letter of demand will usually require payment in full by a defined time or may propose a payment plan with payment by instalments.

McKillop Legal is often called upon to advise in relation to debt recovery issues. We find that a strongly worded demand, clearly setting out the situation and seeking payment within a reasonable period usually results in payment.

There are various options available for business owners to recover moneys due.

If a letter of demand does not result in payment, there are various options available.

Where the debt is due by a company and the debt is more than $2,000 and it has not been disputed, a Creditor’s Statutory Demand can be issued under the Corporations Act giving the company 21 days to either pay the debt or to come to an arrangement to you for payment of the debt, failing which the company is presumed at law to be insolvent and can be wound up on application to the Supreme Court.

If an individual or partnership owes the debt, a company owes the debt and it is less than $2,000 or if a company debtor disputes the debt, then usually the commencement of proceedings will be necessary (and you would need to weigh up the costs and benefits of doing so to make a commercially sensible decision).

If the debt is over $5,000 and the debt is the subject of a judgment of a court, you can issue a Bankruptcy Notice. A Bankruptcy Notice provides for payment of the debt or a satisfactory arrangement for payment of the debt to be made within 21 days, failing which an “act of bankruptcy” has been committed, entitling you to commence proceedings in for a bankruptcy/sequestration order.

Options for enforcement of judgments also include:

  • Garnishee orders
  • Write of Execution over property – where the Sheriff sells personal property, land etc
  • Instalment orders

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to business succession, estate planning, litigation and dispute resolution or any commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au