Jul 062015
 

(6 July 2015) From 1 July 2015 the Australian Government’s Department of Employment will accept applications from liquidators for funding under its Fair Entitlements Guarantee programme.  The following is a copy of the FACT  SHEET for the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Recovery Programme.


FEG logo

A division of the Australian Government Department of Employment

Fair Entitlements Guarantee Recovery Programme

This fact sheet provides information for liquidators about the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG) Recovery Programme which aims to improve the recovery of employment entitlements advanced under FEG.

The FEG Recovery Programme

FEG provides financial assistance for unpaid employment entitlements to eligible employees who have lost their jobs due to the liquidation or bankruptcy of their employers. Once entitlements are paid under FEG, the Commonwealth stands in the shoes of the employee as a subrogated creditor and is entitled to claim in the liquidation and is given priority over other unsecured creditors under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

The FEG Recovery Programme is administered by the Department of Employment (‘Department’) with the purpose of funding actions that will improve recovery of amounts advanced under FEG.

Under the FEG Recovery Programme funding may be provided to liquidators to enable recovery efforts, including legal proceedings, which the liquidators would not otherwise have the financial resources to pursue.

How to apply

Actions that the Department may consider funding include, but are not limited to:

  • voidable transaction claims, such as unfair preferences and uncommercial transactions;
  • insolvent trading claims;
  • transactions entered into with the intention to avoid employment entitlements; and
  • claims against receivers and secured creditors for failure to pay employment entitlements.

Liquidators of insolvent entities where employment entitlements have been paid under FEG can apply for funding assistance where:

  •  they are aware of one or more claims that might be brought, on behalf of the company, against any person or persons; and
  • those claims have reasonable prospects of success and, if successfully prosecuted, will result in the company recovering property that will improve the return for employment entitlements.

Applications for funding assistance can be made by completing the Funding Application Form available on the FEG website and returning:

  •  by email to: FEGRecovery@employment.gov.au
  •  by post to: Fair Entitlements Guarantee Branch Department of Employment GPO Box 9880 CANBERRA ACT 2601

Considerations

When determining whether to provide funding, the Department will have regard to:

  •  the merits, prospects of success and risks of the proposed action;
  • the complexity of the proposed action and its likely duration;
  • the total costs that are likely to be incurred, compared to the admitted value of the Department’s proof of debt and the scope for improved recovery;
  • the availability of favourable evidence;
  • whether the proposed defendant or defendants have sufficient assets to satisfy an adverse judgment; and
  • whether sufficient information has been provided, as part of the initial application or in response to a request for further information, to enable the Department to make its funding decision.

If your application is accepted, you will be required to enter into a funding agreement with the Department. The funding agreement will govern what the Department will pay for and how monies recovered are to be applied.

A draft of the funding agreement will be provided to you if your application is accepted. The Department will not be liable to pay any amounts until the funding agreement has been executed and will only provide funding in accordance with the funding agreement.

Want more information?

You can contact the FEG Hotline if you would like more information about the FEG Recovery Programme:

If you speak a language other than English, call the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 13 14 50 for free help anytime.

Further information about FEG is also available on the FEG website (www.employment.gov.au/FEG).

The information contained in this fact sheet is not legal advice. Where necessary, you should seek your own independent legal advice relevant to your particular circumstances. The Commonwealth is not liable for any loss resulting from any action taken or reliance made by you on the information contained in this factsheet.     Updated: June 2015


 

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Jun 192015
 

(19/6/2015) A lively public hearing before the Senate Committee looking into insolvency in the Australian construction industry has been told by several speakers that sub-contractors should be protected by requiring head contractors to place money in trust funds. The Committee also heard about debt collection methods, outlaw bikie gangs and new allegations concerning events leading up to the collapse of Walton Construction in October 2013.

Those appearing before the Committee on 12 June 2015 included Mr Dave Noonan, National Secretary of the Construction and General Division, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), representatives of the Subcontractors Alliance, Project Resources, Masonry Contractors Association of NSW, EcoClassic Group Pty Ltd and Erincole Building Services Pty Ltd.

MORE TO COME: At the close of the day Senator Cameron said: “Chair, there might be other issues once we have a look at the Hansard. We might need to get some of this group back again further on. This inquiry is going to run for a bit of time yet, so we will need to have a look, see what you said and come back.”

The official Hansard transcript of the hearing on 12 June 2015 was recently published on the Parliament’s website. A PDF copy of the 56 page transcript may be downloaded from that site by clicking here.

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Jan 142015
 

UPDATED 16/1/2015

Despite directors receiving official admonishments, detailed instructions and threats about the practice of allowing a company to trade whilst insolvent (see, for example, ASIC Regulatory Guide 217), the curse of insolvent trading seems to be growing.

So, in an attempt to reel it in – or perhaps (for the cynical) to reduce the number of reported cases – the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is putting the onus on liquidators to provide “better” information in their statutory reports.

Background

Where liquidators of insolvent companies become aware that a past or present director or other officer of a company may have committed an offence, they are required to make a formal report to ASIC. Several years ago ASIC came up with a form and guidelines spelling out the information it wanted from liquidators before it would take their allegations of offences any further. This change came with the introduction of an electronic means of lodging reports, but also occurred after ASIC had become fed-up with receiving offence reports considered by its investigators to be almost worthless.

The latest version of this offence report form was released on 18 December 2014. The changes that have been drawn to the attention of liquidators by ASIC concern allegations of insolvent trading. The previous version of the form (July 2008) asked little of liquidators regarding this subject: about all it wanted was a “Yes” or “No” on the availability of documentary evidence. But the new version requires far more.

In the insolvency profession the ASIC form is known as EX01. More technically it is Schedule B of Regulatory Guide 16: Report to ASIC under s422, s438D or s533 of the Corporations Act 2001 or for statistical purposes. (Note: This reporting requirement applies not only to liquidators but also to receivers or managing controllers and voluntary administrators. However for simplicity all these classes of external administrators are referred to collectively in this article as liquidators.)

ex01-embossed

Possible Misconduct – EX01

In EX01 reporting of “insolvent trading” is carried out in the section headed Possible Misconduct.

Here, ASIC asks the liquidator “Are you reporting possible misconduct?”

If the answer is “Yes”, the liquidator is invited to examine Schedule D of ASIC Regulatory Guide 16 to learn “what is likely to constitute a breach of the relevant section, and the evidence needed to prove such a breach”. Schedule D contains over 6,500 words.

There is also a warning “that ASIC may ask you to provide a supplementary report addressing in detail the possible misconduct reported and we may later require further evidence or statements from you for Court purposes”. A description of what is required in the ASIC supplementary report is set out in Schedule C: Supplementary report by receiver or managing controller under s422(2), by voluntary administrator under s438D(2), or by liquidator under s533(2). Schedule C contains about 3,000 words. Liquidators of “assetless companies” are eligible under Regulatory Guide 109 to apply for funding from ASIC for reasonable remuneration and costs in preparing a supplementary report (ASIC form EX03).

If, after considering what is involved in answering “Yes”, the liquidator still thinks the misconduct is worth reporting, or filing a complaint, he or she is directed to the section headed “Criminal Offences”.

Possible Misconduct – Criminal Offences – Insolvent Trading – EX01

Preliminary details of an allegation of insolvent trading – an offence under section 588G(3) of the Corporations Act 2001 – are sought by ASIC in the usual tick-the-box manner.

First the liquidator reports the alleged offence by ticking “Yes” to the following statement:

“In your opinion, one or more directors failed to prevent the company incurring a debt or debts at a time when the director suspected that the company was insolvent or would become insolvent as a result, and the failure to prevent the company incurring the debt(s) was dishonest.”

Having ticked that box, the liquidator is asked “Do you have documentary evidence or other to support your opinion?” and “Are you aware of documentary evidence in the possession of another person that supports this allegation?”

Up to this section the revised form is practically the same as the previous version.

But in the new version, if the liquidator reports a case of insolvent trading and has, or knows of, documentary evidence supporting this conclusion, the liquidator must provide more information by answering several extra questions.

These extra questions concern the period of insolvency, the methods and records used to determine the date of insolvency, the amount of debts incurred, and the reasonable grounds for the director had to suspect insolvency. (The actual questions are set out verbatim below, but the heading are mine.) They are the type of questions that a liquidator, especially one with sufficient funds, ought to consider as a matter of course before reaching an opinion regarding the existence (or non-existence) of insolvent trading.

Effects of changes to insolvent trading sections of EX01

Prior to the recent changes, if ASIC saw a completed EX01 form in which the liquidator had alleged a breach of the insolvent trading laws, and had also answered “yes” to questions about the possession or existence of documentary evidence “or other” to support that opinion, ASIC would have then needed to consider whether to investigate. Its task would likely have entailed obtaining, or trying to obtain, from the liquidator the extra information that is now set out in the latest version of EX01. So, as far as the extra demands in the form are concerned, ASIC would probably argue that liquidators are no greater imposed upon now than they were before.

But regardless of the information ASIC has or could readily obtain, it often decides not to investigate complaints of alleged offences. For many years this inaction has deeply frustrated a lot of liquidators. Many feel that completing an EX01 form is a waste of their time and also, where there are still funds in the insolvent company, a waste of creditors’ money. Unless the revised EX01 results in greater tangible action by ASIC (increased investigations and prosecutions and not just more detailed statistics), making the form more demanding will aggravate these feelings.

It might even see an increase in the non-reporting of insolvent trading offences (see the new question “Reasons for not reporting insolvent trading”), or in “no” being the liquidator’s response when it really should be “yes”.


Extra questions about insolvent trading – new EX01

Period insolvency commenced

Indicate the period, which, in your opinion, the company became unable to pay all its debts as and when they became due and payable:

◻ At appointment ◻ 1 – 3 months prior to appointment ◻ 4 – 9 months prior to appointment ◻ 10 – 15 months prior to appointment ◻ 16 – 24 months prior to appointment ◻ Over 2 years prior to appointment

Method/s of determining date of insolvency

How did you determine the date on which, in your opinion, the company became unable to pay all its debts as and when they became due and payable? (tick one or more):

◻ Cash flow analysis ◻ Trading history analysis ◻ Balance sheet analysis ◻ Informed by director(s) ◻Other, please specify __________________

Records used to determine date of insolvency

Which of the following records, in your possession, did you use to determine the date on which, in your opinion, the company became unable to pay all its debts? (tick one or more):

◻ Cash flow (actual / forecasts / budgets) ◻ Banking records ◻ Aged debtors’ list ◻ Aged creditors’ list ◻ Profit & loss statements ◻ Balance sheets ◻ Other, please specify _______________

Grounds for director to suspect insolvency

If you believe the director had reasonable grounds to suspect the company was insolvent or would become insolvent by incurring the debt (or a reasonable person in a like position would have reason to suspect), please identify on which of the following indicators of insolvency you have based your belief (tick one or more):

◻ Financial statements that disclose a history of serious shortage of working capital, unprofitable trading ◻ Poor or deteriorating cash flow or evidence of dishonoured payments ◻ Difficulties paying debts when they fell due (e.g. evidenced by letters of demand, recovery proceedings, increasing age of accounts payable) ◻ Non-payment of statutory debts (e.g. PAYGW, SGC, GST) ◻ Poor or deteriorating working capital ◻ Increasing difficulties collecting debts ◻ Overdraft and/or other finance facilities at their limit ◻ Evidence of creditors attempting to obtain payment of outstanding debts ◻ Other, please specify ________________

Approximate debt after insolvency

Estimate the approximate amount of debts incurred after the date (in your opinion) of insolvency:

◻ $0 – $250,000 ◻ $250,001 – less than $1 million ◻ $1 million to $5 million ◻ Over $5 million ◻ Unable to determine

Aged list of creditors

Do you have an aged creditors’ list as at (tick one or more):

◻ Date of insolvency ◻ Date of appointment

Dishonesty by director

If the director/directors was dishonest in failing to prevent the company from incurring the debt, indicate what evidence you have available to support this (tick one or more):

◻ Evidence showing that the director/directors had an opportunity to prevent the company from incurring the debt and did not. Such evidence could include: • documents evidencing discussions with the directors, employees and creditors concerning the circumstances surrounding the incurring of particular debts; • correspondence or other documents relating to the circumstances surrounding the incurring of the debt. ◻ Evidence showing that the failure was dishonest (i.e., the director/directors incurred the debt with the knowledge that it would produce adverse consequences, the failure was intentional, wilful or deliberate, and it included an element of deceit or fraud). Such evidence could include: • documents evidencing discussions with the directors, employees and creditors concerning the circumstances surrounding the incurring of particular debts; • correspondence or other documents relating to the circumstances surrounding the incurring of the debt.

Reasons for not reporting insolvent trading

If you did not report insolvent trading (s588(1)-(2) or s588(3)), was it because, in your opinion:

◻ The books and records are insufficient to establish insolvent trading ◻ The company did not incur debts at a time when it was unable to pay its debts (e.g., it ceased to trade) ◻ The directors had reasons to expect the company could pay its debts as they fell due and payable (eg. they obtained independent advice) ◻ Other, please specify ________________

Whether creditor/s are seeking compensation for insolvent trading

Has a creditor commenced, or indicated that they intend to commence, action to recover compensation for loss resulting from insolvent trading?

◻ Yes ◻ No

Possible Misconduct – Breaches of civil obligations – Insolvent Trading – EX01

Insolvent trading may also be a breach of civil penalty sections 588G(1)-(2) of the Act. The revised form EX01 also seeks details of allegations of this nature, by asking about the period of insolvency, the methods and records used to determine the date of insolvency, the amount of debts incurred, and the reasonable grounds for the director had to suspect insolvency. The questions are practically the same as those asked when a criminal offence is alleged (see above). In the previous version of EX01 only three brief questions were posed, which concerned the availability of evidence and the perceived legitimacy of a director’s defence.

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May 142013
 

According to a recent study, the cost of being an official liquidator can be a bit rich.

“In respect of official liquidations generally, the survey showed that on an annual basis, insolvency practitioners are required to personally fund disbursements of $1.4 million and remuneration of $47.3 million in the conduct of their roles as Official Liquidators.”

 This is one of findings in a research paper titled “An Analysis of Official Liquidations In Australia”, written by Amanda Phillips of Ferrier Hodgson, Sydney, and published on 13 May 2013 via the website of the Insolvency Practitioners Association of Australia (IPAA).

More detail of the estimates on annual remuneration and disbursements for official liquidations generally is shown in this table:

Charge made/cost incurred (million dollars)

Recovered from company assets (million dollars)

Funded by Official Liquidators (million dollars)

Remuneration

55.6

8.3

47.3

Disbursements

1.9

.5

1.4

Another finding is that “based on the data provided by survey respondents, the average cost to administer an official liquidation is $17,475 over an average period of 7 to 12 months.”

Ms Phillips surveyed members of the IPAA.  The survey covered official liquidations which commenced during the period 1 July 2011 to 30 September 2011.  The paper says that “Sixteen Official Liquidators provided data in relation to 90 matters, which represented 10% of the total national official liquidations that commenced during the period 1 July 2011 to 30 September 2011.”

In addition to remuneration the paper reports on aspects of official liquidation including the nature of a typical official liquidation, the duration of appointments, an industry analysis, the turnover & size, the dividends to unsecured creditors and funding for Official Liquidators.

Ms Phillips was the 2012 winner of a scholarship from the Terry Taylor Scholarship fund administered by the IPAA.  Her 33 page paper is available in pdf format from the IPAA site by clicking HERE.

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Aug 102011
 

The Insolvency Practitioners Association of Australia (IPA) has suggested that solvent companies pay a fee to fund the liquidation of small assetless companies.  The proposal is that this new pool of funds be used to pay a set fee to liquidators who are willing to do the work.

The IPA’s proposal is made in its July 2011 submission to the Treasury, in response to an Options Paper on regulation of insolvency practitioners. 

This fund would be in addition to the existing Assetless Administrations Fund (AAF).  The problem with the AAF is that it is not open to liquidators of assetless companies unless and until they have conducted preliminary investigations and made preliminary reports to the Australian Securities and Investments commission (ASIC), and then only for the purpose of paying for additional investigations and reports by liquidators where it appears that directors ought to be banned or prosecuted.

 The IPA is the professional body covering over 85% of registered insolvency practitioners in Australia.  In its submission, forwarded this week to members, it says:

 “Currently there is no process for an assetless insolvent corporation to be wound up in the absence of a director or creditor able and prepared to indemnify the practitioner’s remuneration. In the case of a court liquidation, practitioners are required to conduct the administration with no prospect of remuneration.

 We recommend the establishment of a fund to have practitioners wind up small assetless corporations, on the basis of a set fee available either to all providers, or to a panel of willing providers **, and with the ability for the practitioner to apply to the current assetless administration fund if their work identifies the likelihood of offences. (** As an example, under the regime operating in Hong Kong, practitioners bid for work of this kind quoting a fixed fee for the administrations they would undertake.)

 This scheme could be funded via a levy imposed at the time of initial company registration, or by a small annual fee charged on every corporation. The large number of corporations at any  time means that the annual fee could be very low and still provide adequate funds for the operation of the scheme.

 There are very low barriers to the formation of a corporation inAustralia, and every corporation in the economy benefits from the health and reliability of the insolvency regime. While the frequency of insolvent administration is very low, any corporation has the potential to enter the insolvency regime at some future point. It is therefore reasonable that the costs of administering assetless insolvent corporations be born equally by corporations across the economy.   

 An alternative approach would be for ASIC to administratively deregister such companies without a formal insolvency process. (But) In our opinion, this option would encourage poor corporate behaviour.  By ensuring that a company is left with no assets in the event of insolvency, a director might seek to avoid any investigation into the failure of the company and any possible breach of duties.

 The recommended approach ensures that a minimum level of investigation is done which can lead to further applications for funding in the event that offences or recoverable transactions are identified. 

 Such initial funding to wind up these companies would also:

 •   Ensure protection of employees’ rights by allowing employees to access the GEERS scheme (or any such replacement arrangement); (GEERS is the General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme, administered by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations)

 •   Provide a deterrent to poor corporate behaviour by directors, though this needs to be supported by a proactive corporate regulator; and

 •   Assist ASIC to identify directors who should be banned from continuing in such a role. “

 _____________________________________________________________________

The IPA submission – which is 36 pages long and seems to respond to all the issues and questions raised in the Options Paper – will be published, along with all other public submissions, in a few weeks. 

 

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