Laws governing insolvency practitioners to change

 ASIC, Corporate Insolvency, Insolvency Law, Regulation  Comments Off on Laws governing insolvency practitioners to change
Dec 152011

On 14 December 2011 a new paper proposing changes to laws governing Australia’s insolvency practitioners was released by the departments of the Treasurer and the Attorney-General.  The paper’s introduction describes the intention and aims of the changes:

“The reforms are intended to improve value for money for recipients of insolvency services and to address cases of misconduct in the insolvency profession …. The reforms are aimed at ensuring the framework for insolvency practitioners promotes a high level of professionalism and competence by practitioners; promotes market competition on price and quality; provides for increased efficiency in insolvency administration; and enhances communication and transparency between stakeholders.”

The paper provides the following overview of the proposals:

  1. Reforms to the standards of entry into the insolvency profession are proposed to improve the balance between the need to protect consumers of insolvency services with the need for a competitive market that provides the best opportunity for maximising returns to creditors. 

  2. The qualification and experience requirements for insolvency practitioners would be aligned across the personal and corporate regimes. The requirements would include a prescribed level of formal studies in insolvency administration, adequate insurance cover, a fit and proper person test, and the requirement that the person has not been convicted of an offence involving fraud and dishonesty in the past 10 years.

  3. The framework for standards of entry would also be adjusted to allow conditions to be placed upon insolvency practitioners. This would include conditions on the registration of a particular practitioner and industry‑wide conditions. Standard conditions would be able to be imposed in relation to continuing education, quality assurance or review programs, insurance, complaint handling, residency, and inactive practice.

  4. The registration of practitioners would be aligned in a manner similar to the current personal insolvency process. Applications for registration would be determined by Committees composed of a regulator representative, an industry representative and a third person selected from a panel appointed by the Minister. Practitioners would be required to renew their registration every three years. 

  5. Reforms to remuneration arrangements are also proposed, including mandated caps on prospective fee approvals; restrictions on payments of disbursements to related entities; amendments to minimum fee entitlements; and the introduction of mechanisms for independent investigations into costs for corporate insolvency. Given recent substantial changes to remuneration arrangements in personal insolvency, there would be limited amendments to the rules regarding practitioner remuneration as part of this package.

  6. Significant communication and monitoring reforms are proposed to better empower creditors to monitor administrations and obtain information from practitioners. The laws governing committees of inspection would be aligned and consolidated, with committees of inspection being given expanded functions and rights. Creditors would have improved abilities to make reasonable requests for information; to set reporting requirements and to require meetings to be convened. Changes would also be made to allow resolutions to be passed without meetings in order to streamline the operation of administrations and reduce costs.

  7. Funds handling and record keeping rules would be aligned and made more efficient. Rules regarding the audit of accounts would be reformed and the ability of the regulators to appoint a person to audit the financial statements of an insolvency administration would be aligned. Mechanisms to enable third party reviews by insolvency practitioners of corporate administrations would also be introduced.

  8. Insurance rules would be revised and penalties for not taking out appropriate cover significantly increased. A practitioner would be required to take all reasonable steps to maintain adequate and appropriate professional indemnity insurance and adequate and appropriate fidelity insurance, with an increase in the offence from 5 penalty units ($550) to up to 1000 penalty units ($110,000) for a breach of this duty.

  9. There would be significant reforms to discipline and deregistration mechanisms. The regulators would be empowered to take direct action in relation to certain breaches. Liquidators would no longer be subject to the Companies Auditors and Liquidators Disciplinary Board’s (CALDB’s) jurisdiction. Personal and corporate insolvency practitioners would be subject to Committees modelled on the current personal insolvency disciplinary mechanisms, with an expansion in Committees’ powers. Recognised professional bodies would be able to make referrals to the Committee in the same way as regulators.

  10. Reforms are also proposed to provide creditors with powers regarding the removal and replacement of insolvency practitioners. Creditors would be given the power to remove practitioners by resolution, subject to protections against actions that amount to an improper use of the power. Amendments would provide for the efficient transfer of records from outgoing to incoming practitioners.

  11. Regulators’ powers would be amended in relation to information gathering, information provision to stakeholders, and their ability to require meetings to be called. The ability of the regulators to gather information would be clarified and enhanced. The reforms would facilitate cooperative arrangements between the personal insolvency regulator and corporate insolvency regulator. Mechanisms would be introduced to ensure transparency in relation to regulator resourcing, the levels of complaints and referrals, regulator activity and regulatory outcomes.

  12. Specific reforms are also proposed to ensure that the insolvency framework works for small businesses. It is proposed that reforms would be introduced to ensure compliance by directors with filing and record provision obligations; allow practitioners to assign causes of action; facilitate greater co‑operation between the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia (ITSA) on connected insolvencies; and improve the utilisation of the existing Assetless Administration Fund (AA Fund).

  13. The Government’s 2010 Corporate Insolvency Reform Package has also been revised to ensure it is consistent and complements the proposed reforms set out in the Proposals Paper.

 The paper – titled ‘A Modernisation and Harmonisation of the Regulatory Framework Applying to Insolvency Practitioners in Australia’ –  may be viewed and downloaded from the following links

Interested parties have been invited to comment on the paper by 3 February 2012.  Written submissions are to be sent to:

The Manager
Governance and Insolvency Unit
Corporations and Capital Markets Division
The Treasury
Langton Crescent

Phone enquiries may be made by calling Alix Gallo on (02) 6263 2870.