May 182017
 

professional-associationA new professional association for Australian insolvency practitioners  – named the Association of Independent Insolvency Practitioners (AIIP) – has been formed and is currently endeavouring to recruit as members those registered liquidators and trustees in bankruptcy who work as sole practitioners or in small firms.

In an email circular on 4 May 2017 (see below), Nicholas Crouch, a Sydney liquidator and registered trustee in bankruptcy, acting for the AIIP, stated that “80 of the 350 small firm liquidators and trustees in Australia have joined AIIP”. The annual membership fee has been set at just $20.

Also, the AIIP plans to create – for use in company liquidations, voluntary administrations and receiverships and in personal bankruptcy – sets of  precedent or pro forma letters, forms, checklists, etc.,  that fulfil the requirements of the new insolvency legislation. It estimates that the price per practitioner will be about $2,000.  This is far less than amounts charged by existing suppliers (CORE IPS and CCH).

It is not clear whether the AIIP sees itself as an alternative or an adjunct to the Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association (ARITA), which is the peak body representing insolvency practitioners.  ARITA describes itself as “Australia’s leading organisation for restructuring, insolvency and turnaround professionals.”  Recently ARITA has greatly enhanced its power and prestige as a result of insolvency legislation classing it as an “industry body” and giving it an important role in the official registration  of  liquidators and bankruptcy trustees.

But it seems a significant number of insolvency practitioners are not happy with the direction that ARITA has taken. Dissatisfaction with the association  relates to  a perception that it is dominated by large insolvency firms  (supposedly leading to a focus on issues that are of interest to them),  its decision to admit lawyers, bankers and academics as members, and its high membership fee.

Text of AIIP email to liquidators and trustees in bankruptcy

Dear Fellow Liquidator/Trustee in Bankruptcy

A new liquidator’s club has been established. The objective of the Association of Independent Insolvency Practitioners (“AIIP”) is to encourage small insolvency firms to collaborate and develop best practice procedures and precedents for its members.

To date, 80 of the 350 small firm liquidators and trustees in Australia have joined AIIP.

AIIP is a not for profit association.

Membership of AIIP is limited to registered liquidators and bankruptcy trustees.

I invite you to join AIIP by contacting Stephen Hathway or Ginette Muller as follows:
[deleted]

The annual membership is $20 and an application form is attached.

Discussion groups have been established in Sydney & Brisbane and AIIP hopes to roll out new discussion groups in each capital city as soon as practicable.

New Precedents For Your Firm

AIIP has a committee that is developing a set of liquidation, VA, receivership & bankruptcy precedents that will be compliant with the new laws.

AFSA & ASIC have agreed to consider, but not endorse, the AIIP precedents when they are finalised.

AIIP members will be able to purchase and immediately use the new precedents or use the AIIP precedents as a guide when amending their own existing precedents.

The projected cost of the precedents is uncertain, but my preliminary estimate is about $2k per member.

I am hopeful the costs can be reduced through increasing the AIIP’s membership. I encourage you to invite other small firm insolvency practitioners to join AIIP.

If you wish to offer assistance to this project please advise me.

ASIC & AFSA Review Of AIIP Precedents

On 25 November 2016, Senator Williams assisted the AIIP by asking the ASIC Chairman and 3 ASIC Commissioners who were present at the Federal Government’s Joint Parliamentary Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, if ASIC would assist AIIP with our precedents project.

Senator WILLIAMS:  I have a couple of questions, Mr Price, on insolvency. With the new insolvency laws, every insolvency firm must update its precedents and templates. This is a massive and costly task. I know of a group of 40 independents, a small firm of liquidators. Small firms are creating one set of documents that they will all use as templates. It is an industry first. This will save ASIC work. Is ASIC prepared to work with this group to develop these templates?

ASIC Commissioner Price responded as follows:

Mr Price:  Certainly. We would be happy to discuss with groups that are thinking about that.
….
AIIP is very grateful for the assistance of Senator Williams, ASIC & AFSA.

AIIP recognises this is a historic opportunity for all small firm Insolvency practitioners to work with the regulators to produce best practice documents which will assist both the regulators and the small firm insolvency practitioners by raising the standard of practice and reducing the cost of compliance.

ARITA has declined to work with AIIP on this project.

CCH is in preliminary discussions with AIIP and they may offer their assistance with the precedent project.

Expressions of Interest

Kindly advise me by return email if you are interested in purchasing the AIIP precedents ….

 


New Corporate Insolvency Laws commencing 1 March 2017

 ASIC, Corporate Insolvency, Insolvency practices, Regulation, Standards  Comments Off on New Corporate Insolvency Laws commencing 1 March 2017
Mar 072017
 

Commencing on 1 March 2017 are some of the changes to Australia’s corporate insolvency legislation that were approved when the Insolvency Law Reform Act was passed in 2016. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the regulator of the Corporations Act, has issued a table listing and summarizing what it says are the key changes. Set out below is a copy of that table. (The original is available to view at ASIC).

For a convenient list of NEW ASIC FORMS and AMENDED ASIC FORMS go to this EMAIL extract from ASIC to registered liquidators on 6 March 2017. NOTE: Some of the new and amended forms have not yet been released by ASIC (7/3/2017).

………………………………….

Corporate Insolvency Law Reform – key changes effective from 1 March 2017

Subjects

  1. Registration Process
  2. Industry wide conditions
  3. Applying to vary or remove a condition or to lift or shorten a suspension
  4. Renewal of registration
  5. The Liquidator Register
  6. Insurance
  7. Annual liquidator return
  8. Notice of significant, and other, events
  9. ASIC power to direct registered liquidator to lodge documents or give information or correct inaccuracies
  10. ASIC power to cancel or suspend a person’s registration
  11. Disciplinary action by a committee
  12. Notice by industry body of possible grounds for disciplinary action
  13. Court oversight of registered liquidators
  14. Registration and disciplinary committees
  15. Administrator’s notice to owner or lessor of property
  16. Notice – material contravention of deed of company arrangement
  17. Company’s former name
  18. Relation back day
  19. Lodging declarations of relevant relationships and indemnities
  20. Lodgement requirements relating to pooled groups


Continue reading »

Insolvency practitioners granted more time to prepare for law reforms

 Corporate Insolvency, Insolvency Law, Law reform proposals, Regulation  Comments Off on Insolvency practitioners granted more time to prepare for law reforms
Aug 242016
 

The Australian Restructuring Insolvency & Turnaround Association (ARITA) and The Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, announced on 23 August 2016 that many of the changes to insolvency law that were to be implemented under the Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016 have been postponed from March 2017 to September 2017.


ARITA Announcement

ARITA logo

IPs get more time to prepare for Insolvency Law Reform Act

In a major win by ARITA, the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services has agreed to delay the commencement of a portion of the Insolvency Law Reform Act (ILRA).

This decision will avoid the situation where the profession simply would not have enough time to become compliant with the Act by the scheduled commencement date of 1 March 2017.

We understand that while Parts 1 and 2 of the two new Insolvency Practice Schedules (for Corporations and Bankruptcy) will still commence on 1 March 2017, these parts of the legislation are largely concerned with registration and discipline, and can be easily implemented by the profession.

The Minister has agreed to delay Part 3 of the new Insolvency Practice Schedules which relate to the general rules for the conduct of external administrations and bankruptcies. These provisions will not commence until 1 September 2017.

We also understand that parts of Schedule 3 of the ILRA (very specific provisions dealing with matters such as termination of a DOCA and the relation back day) will also still commence on 1 March 2017.

The Government’s caretaker period during the lengthy election stopped all work on the all-important Insolvency Practice Rules, which is likely to push out their formalisation until December 2016.

This would have meant there was no way firms could adjust their IT systems or complete the necessary extensive staff retraining before the scheduled commencement. This extension simply provides a more reasonable time period for compliance.

These issues were first flagged with Government, agencies and regulators by ARITA prior to the election, and have been the subject of sustained action on our part to drive for a more acceptable commencement time frame.


Minister’s Announcement

Kelly-ODwyer-MP
The Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP today announced that the industry is being given more time to implement the Insolvency Law Reform Act 2016 reforms.

This major reform will increase confidence in Australia’s insolvency regime by:

  • improving practitioner registration and disciplinary processes;
  • providing new regulatory powers to ASIC;
  • increasing practitioner insurance requirements;
  • introducing new review and audit processes; and
  • addressing conflicted remuneration and ensuring that offences and penalties are appropriate and proportionate.

“The reforms also ensure that our insolvency processes are modern and efficient – reducing costs, improving timeliness of administrations and improving returns to creditors,” Minister O’Dwyer said.

“Most importantly, the changes will enhance the ability of creditors to terminate underperforming practitioners.

“Given the scale of these reforms industry is being given time to upskill and to update their software systems and business processes before commencement.

“The reforms to insolvency administration processes, to enhance efficiency, improve communication and increase competition, are now scheduled to commence on 1 September 2017.

“We will not defer commencement of those reforms directed at promoting competency and professionalism in the insolvency industry. The practitioner registration and discipline provisions, and enhancements to the ASIC’s powers will commence on 1 March 2017, as planned.

“The Insolvency Law Reform Act represents the Government’s first tranche of insolvency reforms, directed at improving the integrity and efficiency of Australia’s insolvency laws.

“The Government’s second tranche of insolvency reforms will enhance business rescue and support entrepreneurship, and are being progressed as part of the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda,” Minister O’Dwyer said.


END OF POST

Court upholds ATO’s right to access company records held by liquidators

 Corporate Insolvency, Insolvency Law, Taxation Issues  Comments Off on Court upholds ATO’s right to access company records held by liquidators
Feb 112016
 

Illegal Phoenix Squad

Warners case

Speaking of legal disputes between liquidators and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO)*, the ATO achieved victories in July and November 2015 in the Warner case, a case which arose as part of the ATO’s attack on phoenix company activity.
* See my blogs on the Australian Building Systems case .

Warners case is reported in Commissioner of Taxation v Warner [2015] FCA 659 (the first case) and Commissioner of Taxation v Warner (No 2) [2015] FCA 1281 (the second case).

The first Warners case

A case was brought before the Federal Court because the liquidators of a group of nine companies (creditors’ voluntary winding up, June 2013) which owed millions in tax debts refused to comply with demands by the ATO that they produce company documents. Those demands were issued in the course of investigations by the Phoenix Team of the Private Groups and High Wealth Individuals Business Line at the ATO. The basis for the demands was section 264 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 and section 353-10 of Sch 1 to the Taxation Administration Act 1953.

The liquidators took the position that section 264 of the ITAA 1936 must be read as subject to section 486 of the Corporations Act 2001, which states that: “The Court may make such order for inspection of the books of the company by creditors and contributories as the Court thinks just, and any books in the possession of the company may be inspected by creditors or contributories accordingly, but not further or otherwise”. The liquidators claimed that the ATO, in common with any other creditor, must obtain a court order under section 486 before it can inspect the companies’ records held by the liquidators.

The Federal Court disagreed. It found that the liquidators were required to grant access to the documents demanded by the ATO, and that section 486 of the Corporations Act did not apply.

The group

At the bottom of this post is a list of the nine companies (known as the TJT group) involved in both the first and second case, showing their names, and former names, and their reported debts to the ATO. According to the Federal Court judge (Perry J) the group’s tax debt is/was “approximately $20 million, even without taking account of TJT (No 1)’s tax liability which is yet to be advised”. As is usually the case in phoenix activity, the companies changed their names several times. It appears from their former names that they were in business as employment, recruitment and/or human resources agents.
Continue reading »

Dec 042015
 

The Senate Economics References Committee has criticised the contempt that some directors show for company laws, the “mild” consequences of non-compliance and the low likelihood that unlawful conduct will be detected.

In its report “Insolvency in the Australian construction industry: I just want to be paid” – published 3 December 2015 – the Senate Committee states:

The committee considers that the estimates of the incidence of illegal phoenix activity detailed in this report suggest that construction industry is being beset by a growing culture among some company directors of disregard for the corporations law. This view is reinforced by the anecdotal evidence received by the committee which indicates that phoenixing is considered by some in the industry as merely the way business is done in order to make a profit.

The committee is particularly concerned at evidence that a culture has developed in sections of the industry in which some company directors consider compliance with the corporations law to be optional, because the consequences of non-compliance are so mild and the likelihood that unlawful conduct will be detected is so low.

This culture is reflected in the number of external administrator reports indicating possible breaches of civil and criminal misconduct by company directors in the construction industry. Over three thousand possible cases of civil misconduct and nearly 250 possible criminal offences under the Corporations Act 2001 were reported in a single year in the construction industry. This is a matter for serious concern. It suggests an industry in which company directors’ contempt for the rule of law is becoming all too common.

[from Executive summary, Phoenixing (page xix) and paragraph 5.100 (page 87)]
Continue reading »

Nov 122015
 

Transcripts have now been published for all of the public hearings of the Senate inquiry into insolvencies in construction industry. Phoenixing of companies is the main topic discussed. Several insolvency practitioners have given evidence, and at the hearing in Sydney on 28th September the insolvency profession was criticised by the leading participant, Senator Doug Cameron. At the public hearing in Melbourne on 29th September the Walton Constructions case was discussed in detail by the insolvency practitioners initially appointed as external administrators.

A list of the public hearings and those who appeared as witnesses is provided below. Continue reading »

Jul 312015
 

During the June 2015 hearing in Canberra of the Senate Economics References Committee’s inquiry into “Insolvency in the Australian construction industry”, Mr Dave Noonan, a national secretary in the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), listed what he thought were the main causes of business failure in the construction industry. In doing so he was drawing largely on figures published by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), which gathers that information from liquidators and other external administrators.

It’s the latest example of these ASIC statistics being quoted as if they were accurate and credible. In the CFMEU’s case, Mr Noonan took delight in agreeing with a Dorothy Dixer from a friend in the Senate (Senator Doug Cameron) that “the CFMEU was not named as one of the major reasons for corporate failure in the construction industry”. The inference was, of course, that the statistics proved that the CFMEU was not a problem for the industry.

What some of those who quote these ASIC statistics may not know is that the categories of causes from which external administrators must choose are predetermined. In other words, in nominating causes of failure external administrators must select from a list of categories created by the ASIC. Also, one of those categories – one which gets a large number of ticks – is labelled merely “Other”.

Furthermore, and curiously, the information given to the ASIC by external administrators appears, on the face of it, to be at odds with the widespread belief amongst the insolvency community, unions and regulators that many business failures, especially in the construction industry, are the result of fraudulent phoenix activity. Which raises the question of whether the number of permitted categories of causes need to be increased, and/or whether the categories need to be modernised, broadened and clarified.

circle-of-confusion

Permitted categories of causes

The ASIC compiles its statistics on the causes of failure from information supplied by external administrators when they fill out their statutory reports online (Form EX01, Schedule B of ASIC Regulatory Guide 16). In filling out these reports – i.e., in nominating the causes of a particular corporate insolvency – external administrators must select from 13 categories of causes, which are shown below in the order established by the ASIC and using its exact words. This list of categories has existed for at least thirteen years. The only change since 2002 has been to alter the name of cause number 13, from  “None of the above” to “Other, please specify”.

Select from these causes of failure

1.  Under capitalisation
2.  Poor financial control, including lack of records
3.  Poor management of accounts receivable
4.  Poor strategic management of business
5.  Inadequate cash flow or high cash use
6.  Poor economic conditions
7.  Natural disaster
8.  Fraud
9.  DOCA (Deed of Company Arrangement) failed
10. Dispute among directors
11. Trading losses
12. Industry restructuring
13. Other, please specify

For those with business savvy, a rough definition of most of these ASIC categories can be deduced from their titles. (Which is just as well, because there is no official explanation.) But some categories – particularly “Fraud” (ASIC cause 8) – are vague and broad, and would benefit from the ASIC stating exactly what they mean.

Numbers for categories of ASIC causes

The ASIC’s latest report on this subject [1.] shows that in 2013-14 the “nominated causes of failure” – for all industry types, not just the construction industry – from highest to lowest, were:

Chart 1
CAUSES OF FAILURE
NUMBER
Inadequate cash flow or high cash use
4,031
Poor strategic management of business
3,975
Trading losses
3,078
Poor financial control including lack of records
2,908
Other
2,726
Poor economic conditions
2,312
Dispute among directors
1,743
Poor management of accounts receivable
1,017
Dispute among directors
271
Industry restructuring
222
Fraud
146
Natural disaster
122
Deed of Company Arrangement failed
55
TOTAL
22,606

Top nominated causes

An external administrator may nominate as many of the prescribed causes as he or she likes. According to the ASIC, external administrators nominated an average of between two and three causes of failure per report in 2013–14. So in its summary the ASIC highlights the top three nominated causes of failure for companies and provides figures on the percentage of reports by external administrator in which these nominated causes appear:

Chart 2
CAUSES OF FAILURE
2013-14
Inadequate cash flow or high cash use (ASIC cause 5)
in 42.6% of reports
Poor strategic management of business (ASIC cause 4)
in 42.0% of reports
Trading losses (ASIC cause 11)
in 32.5% of reports

These top three nominated causes have been the same for the past four years. It appears that “Other” (ASIC cause 13) may be a close fourth.

What is fraudulent phoenix activity?

The following explanation of phoenix activity comes from “Defining and Profiling Phoenix Activity”, a paper published in December 2014 as part of a research project (still going) by Associate Professor Helen Anderson, Professor Ann O’Connell, Professor Ian Ramsay, Associate Professor Michelle Welsh and Hannah Withers of the University of Melbourne Law School and the Monash Business School:  [2.]

“The concept of phoenix activity broadly centres on the idea of a second company, often newly incorporated, arising from the ashes of its failed predecessor where the second company’s controllers and business are essentially the same. It is important to note that phoenix activity can be legal as well as illegal. Legal phoenix activity covers situations where the previous controllers start another similar business when their earlier entity fails in order to rescue its business. Illegal phoenix activity involves similar activities, but the intention is to exploit the corporate form to the detriment of unsecured creditors, including employees and tax authorities.
In a typical phoenix activity scenario, a company in financial difficulties, ‘Oldco’, is placed into liquidation or voluntary administration, or is simply left dormant (and may then be deregistered). Prior to this occurring, Oldco’s assets may be transferred either to a newly incorporated entity, ‘Newco’, or to an existing entity, such as a related company in a corporate group. “

Losses incurred

Estimates of losses incurred by the Taxation Office, employees, the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG) scheme, sub-contractors, trade creditors , etc. as a result of phoenix activity vary, but are in the hundred of millions. On its website the ASIC quotes from figures in a report published by Fair Work Australia in 2012 which put the cost to the Australian economy at potentially more than $3 billion annually. The FWA report, “Phoenix activity: sizing the problem and matching solutions”, estimates that the annual cost of illegal phoenix activity is:

  • up to $655 million for employees, in the form of unpaid wages and other entitlement
  • up to $1.93 billion for businesses, as a result of phoenix companies not paying debts, and for goods and services that have been paid for but not provided, and
  • up to $610 million for government revenue, mainly as a result of unpaid tax – but also due to payments made to employees under the General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme (GEERS) now the Fair Entitlement Guarantee (FEG).  [3.]

 

Phoenix perpetrators and phoenix victims

A phoenix transaction carried out by a company normally brings about the end of the company. If the company’s former suppliers or subcontractors cannot survive without the payments they were receiving from the company, they too may have to close down. Hence, where phoenix activity is involved a failed company might be a phoenix perpetrator or a phoenix victim (or perhaps a phoenix perpetrator as a result of being a phoenix victim!).

For simplicity’s sake, this article will focus upon companies/directors that are phoenix perpetrators.

To which category of ASIC causes of failure do phoenixing events belong?

When looking at a failed company an external administrator might conclude that the company is a phoenix perpetrator (or, to describe the event more accurately, that the directors caused the company to carry out a phoenix arrangement). However, the predetermined list of causes which the ASIC has created doesn’t provide a category that is clearly made for such cases, or a category into which such cases might logically fit.

“Fraud” (ASIC cause 8) might be an appropriate category. But if the phoenix activity was “legal” [4.] it may not.

Even if “Fraud” is the cause category into which external administrators should, and do, put fraudulent or illegal phoenix cases, then it appears that the commonly accepted extent of such activity is not being reflected in their reports to the ASIC.  As chart 1. shows, “Fraud” accounts for only 146 out of 22,606 causes.

Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that “Fraud” is regarded by external administrators as referring to dishonesty by employees or outsiders – like the misappropriation of funds, or the abuse of position by employees, or wrongful or criminal deception by outsiders.

In a “legal phoenix” case the external administrator might select the cause category of “Other” (ASIC cause 13). The fact that this cause stands at an appreciable 2,726 out of 22,606 on the latest count (see chart 1.) adds weight to that possibility. But because the “please specify” descriptions that are requested and given in this category are not publicly disclosed by the ASIC (and probably not even analysed), we don’t know what is being included in this undefined, catch-all category.

In a “legal phoenix” case, and even in an “illegal phoenix” case, the external administrator might – for the purpose of reporting causes of failure – disregard the phoenix transaction, preferring the view that the company failed before implementation of the phoenix scheme as a result of other causes, such as “inadequate cash flow or high cash use”, “poor strategic management of business” and/or “poor financial control including lack of records”.

What we don’t know

There is so much we don’t know. For example:

  • We don’t know whether phoenixing is generally regarded by external administrators as a cause of failure of companies.
  • We don’t know how many phoenix cases – legal and illegal – external administrators encounter.
  • We don’t know whether illegally phoenixing is generally regarded by external administrators as either an offence or “misconduct” to be reported to the ASIC.

 

Possible misconduct

The above discussion of causes has drawn on information supplied by external administrators in a particular section of the statutory report form EX01. However, the main reason for this form’s existence is to report, as required by the Corporations Act, possible offences that the external administrator has noticed.

In Schedule B external administrators are asked to advise whether they are reporting “possible misconduct”.  It is possible, therefore, that reports of illegal phoenixing are contained in this main section of their reports.

But if this is so, the ASIC’s analysis of the statutory reports received – published in “Insolvency statistics: External administrators’ reports” – does not mention it. In fact, the word “phoenix” appears only once in the latest of those published reports, and then only in a passing manner. Perhaps this is to be expected, given that the word “phoenix” does not even appear in Schedules B and D nor in any other part of ASIC Regulatory Guide 16.

It’s possible that the word’s absence from the offences/misconduct section of the Regulatory Guide may be due to the fact that “there is no express ‘phoenix offence’”. [4.] 

However, as “Defining and Profiling Phoenix Activity” explains, acts carried out during conduct of an “illegal phoenix scheme” are likely to be offences under one or more of several sections in the Corporations Act.  Also, the acts are likely to breach provisions of the Tax Assessment Act, the Criminal Code Act and/or the Fair Work Act.  [4.] .

Winding up

At this point we arrive at the same questions presented by the earlier analysis of the causes of failure. Is the phoenix activity observed by “the front-line investigators of insolvent corporations”  [5.]  being officially reported to the ASIC? If it is, how does the ASIC know it is, and how is the ASIC putting that information on the public record and before inquiries and researchers looking into phoenix activity?

Given the high level of interest in, and regulatory action to curb, the illegal phoenixing phenomenon, it is a pity that the store of the valuable knowledge derived from first-hand observations by external administrators is not being properly mined. The ASIC should give serious consideration to amending/expanding the Form EX01, Schedule B of Regulatory Guide 16 with simple changes to:

  •  include a category for corporate failures caused by phoenix schemes; and
  • include a question in the misconduct section asking whether the company was involved in a phoenix scheme.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Insolvency statistics: External administrators’ reports 1 July 2013-30 June 2014: Report 412, 29 September 2014
  2. http://law.unimelb.edu.au/cclsr/centre-activities/research/major-research-projects/regulating-fraudulent-phoenix-activity
  3. http://asic.gov.au/for-business/your-business/small-business/compliance-for-small-business/small-business-illegal-phoenix-activity/
  4. “Defining and Profiling Phoenix Activity”, December 2014, Associate Professor Helen Anderson and others.
  5. The ASIC often refers to external administrators as “the front-line investigators of insolvent corporations”. See for example, “Regulatory Guide 16: External administrations: Reporting and lodging”, para. R16.4

Previous posts on this blog regarding this inquiry:

 

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


 

Jun 112015
 

Tax Checklist for IPs
The Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association (ARITA), with the help of professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia (PWC), has published a tax guidance checklist to assist insolvency practitioners with identifying tax issues and their obligations on taking insolvency appointments. (Publication date 10 June 2015)

The checklist has 57 questions, alerts, recommendations and tasks concerning income tax, goods and services tax, fringe benefits tax, PAYG withholding, and superannuation guarantee.

ARITA suggests that “Members should note that while ARITA will endeavour to ensure that this guidance is kept up to date, tax is an area subject to constant change and the guidance is current, to the best of our knowledge, as at the date included in the footer of the document. Members should ensure that they are always using the most current version of the guidance”.

The checklist is intended to provide assistance and help to insolvency practitioners in the complicated field of tax compliance. There is no suggestion from ARITA that use of their tax guide is mandatory or necessary or even recommended.

Tax Guide part

Extract from ARITA tax guide

Access to the full guide is available through the ARITA website: CLICK HERE.


Update 14 July 2015:

From ARITA on 13 July:

ARITA has received a number of queries from members regard the relevant PAYG Withholding Rates for dividends paid to employees by external administrators in light of the increase to the Medicare Levy.

On consultation with the ATO, we have been advised that the 2005 Notice of Variation is still current and the 31.5% standard rate still applies and will continue to do so until the notice of variation ceases on 1 October 2015.

The ATO further advises that it is looking to renew the notice but before that occurs will consult with relevant stakeholders, including ARITA and external administrators, about whether changes need to or should be made to the current notice, including any changes to the rates on the notice.


 

Apr 272015
 

{UPDATE 10/12/2015: The ATO lost in the High Court case. See my post of 10/12/2015.}

On 17 April 2015 the High Court granted special leave for the Australian Taxation Office to appeal the decision by the Full Federal Court in the Australian Building Systems case.

Previously … The liquidators of Australian Building Systems Pty Ltd disposed of company property for a capital gain. The Commissioner of Taxation claimed that the liquidators were required to retain funds from the sale proceeds to pay tax arising from the gain. The Federal Court (21/2/2014) and the Full Federal Court (8/10/2014) rejected the Commissioner’s position, holding that the payment and retention obligations in s 254 of the Income Tax Assessment Act arose only when a notice of assessment was issued by the Commissioner.

Commenting on the High Court’s grant of leave to appeal against those decisions of the Federal Court, David Pratley of Minter Ellison, Lawyers, says:

“Regrettably, the tax obligations of insolvency practitioners will continue to be uncertain for some time. It will likely be at least 12 months before the High Court hands down its decision on the appeal. If the appeal is allowed it would generally have retrospective application. Hence practitioners that rely on the Full Federal Court decision in releasing funds could be exposed to the risk of personal liability.”

Extracts from the transcript of the application for special leave

Below are extracts I have made from the High Court transcript number [2015] HCATrans 082.  CLICK HERE to see full transcript.  The application for special leave to appeal was before KIEFEL J and KEANE J. The full name of the case is : Commissioner of Taxation v Australian Building Systems Pty Ltd  (In Liquidation); Commissioner of Taxation v Ginette Dawn Muller and Joanne Emily Dunn as Liquidators of Australian Building Systems Pty Ltd (In Liquidation) [2015] HCATrans 82 (17 April 2015)
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MR J T GLEESON, SC (representing the Commissioner of Taxation):

…. So, in practical terms, a commissioner contends that if the liquidator sells a block of land on a certain date in the year for, let us say, a $10 million gain, the section requires the liquidator as a trustee to ensure that sufficient moneys remain in his or her hands to meet the tax when it is assessed at some future point. The obligation cuts in because the gain has been derived and it has its particular force at the time the liquidator is contemplating paying away money from the fund. So, in the example I have given, assuming they were the only facts known to the liquidator and the corporate tax rate was 30 per cent, the liquidator before making distributions to creditors or contributories would always make sure $3 million remained in the bank to pay the tax.

KIEFEL J: Do you say the obligation arises upon the receipt on each occasion of income or each transaction by which profit or gain is – – –

MR GLEESON: Yes, it arises because the derivation under paragraph (a), which is treated as being a derivation by the trustee or agent, and he thereby is bound under the obligation for the very good purpose that the whole point is so that the money remains there rather than the liquidator pay it away and then, when an assessment is later issued, the Commissioner would have to try and chase the creditors or the contributories.

….

KIEFEL J: What do you say – I think you have dealt with this in your reply – to the respondents’ argument that your construction leads to difficult results about how the liquidator has to estimate exact amounts?

MR GLEESON: It may or may not require attention by the liquidator to those questions. If it does, that does not call for any different construction, because the point of being a liquidator or a trustee or an agent, by taking on that responsibility the Act has placed upon you the duty to sufficiently inform yourself of the circumstances of the trust estate or the principal’s affairs with which you are acting in a representative capacity.

What the liquidator does – I have given a simple example where the liquidator says, “I must keep $3 million back from the creditors”, and if later on in the year there are further transactions on the tax account which the liquidator has information which might adjust the amount that he or she needs to keep, he or she makes an adjustment. But the critical thing is, the purpose of it is, do not pay away the money which needs to be there to make sure the Commissioner can recover the tax. By taking on the duty of trustee or agent you take on a statutory responsibility to ensure that is done. May it please the Court.

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MR S DOYLE, QC (representing the liquidators of Australian Building Systems Pty Ltd Acn 094 238 678 (In Liquidation)):

….

The respondent’s contention is “due” there means payable and our learned friend’s contention is that it means “owing” and it turns therefore on the question of whether there need be or need not be an assessment.

The construction for which the respondent contends, we would submit, is plainly right. It is required by the language of 254(1)(d), which speaks of a sum which is due but, more importantly, of a sum which will become due, not as the case against us requires that it be understood as if it might become due because our learned friend’s capital gain tax case is a good example upon the sale for a capital gain one can postulate that tax might become due, one cannot say that tax will become due without having regard to the totality of the affairs of the principal, the underlying taxpayer.

Additionally, the construction for which we contend gives defined content to the obligation to retain sufficient to pay because it is only when there is an assessment that one can know what that figure is. Our learned friend says against us that a liquidator has an obligation to understand the affairs of the company or a trustee has an obligation to understand the estate assets. This is not a question of diligence. This is a question of certainty. There is a defined obligation which requires one to be able to say, what is the sum sufficient to pay for the tax? The construction for which the respondent contends – which was favoured below – permits that to occur; the opposite construction does not.

KIEFEL J: Are you saying that the liquidator should only be required to be in a position to understand the overall obligations to pay tax on behalf of the company for the whole year rather than it being considered on a transactional basis?

MR DOYLE: It can only be when there is an assessment made. Assuming there are other affairs of the company within that period, it is only when there is an assessment issue that one can say that there is tax which will become due and that gives definition to the content of the obligation to retain a sum sufficient to pay it. It also gives content to – I hope I have answered your Honour’s question.

….

MR DOYLE:

…. To answer your Honour Justice Keane’s question, it is right to say the liquidator conducts the affairs of the company and has the obligation to put the tax return in. But our learned friend’s contention is the content of the obligation to withhold the money from the principal and to retain it under relevantly (d) and (e) arises long before that is done – arises at the moment of each receipt as it was put to you. That requires one to be able to say, the statute imposes a definable obligation on someone to withhold – as is the case here – a sum sufficient to pay the tax due upon a sale which gives rise to a capital gain in circumstances where there is no sum which can be defined as the tax due, or will become due, because of the other uncertainties which will influence the amount, if any, of tax which will become due.

That is, in our submission, the real difficulty with the case which is put by the applicant. It requires you to be able to say that when a liquidator makes a sale at a capital gain, he is obliged to do something to retain that money – that is, obliged by the Tax Act – forgetting his obligations as a liquidator – obliged by the Tax Act to do something with that money in circumstances where it is not possible to say how much. It is not possible to say there will, in fact, be tax due because subsequent events may mean there is no tax due.

….

KIEFEL J: Yes, there will be a grant of special leave in this matter. The Court notes the Commission is undertaking to pay the respondent’s costs, regardless of the outcome in this matter. The parties should obtain a copy of the directions for the filing of submissions with respect to this matter and, of course, to adhere strictly to the timetable there set out. Time estimate? No more than a day? ….

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Links to previous post about tax on this blog site:

“Post-appointment income tax debts of liquidator” – 10 October 2010
“Taxing capital gains made during liquidation” – 15 October 2010
“Legal opinion warns external administrators about personal liability for company taxes” – 16 November 2010
“Decision only partly resolves tax puzzle for liquidators” – 7 March 2014
“ATO appeals against decision in Australian Building Sysytems case” – 19 March 2014
“Tax Office loses to liquidators in test case regarding tax obligations” – 10 October 2014