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Simplifying small business insolvency

What Directors need to know about Australia’s new insolvency rules

On 1 January 2021, new laws came into effect that simplified debt restructuring and liquidation framework for small business.

Drawing on the US’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy model, the new system aims to accelerate the insolvency process, reduce costs and, where possible, restructure to help the business survive. Where survival is not viable, it’s hoped that the quicker insolvency process will deliver greater returns for creditors and employees.

The new laws step away from the ‘one size fits all’ model.

The simplified debt restructuring and liquidation framework is available to incorporated entities with liabilities of less than $1 million with non-complex debt. The liquidation framework also requires that a company is up to date with its entitlements and tax obligations.

The new laws are intended to help manage the tide of insolvencies expected now that the temporary insolvency-related relief for financially distressed businesses (as a result of COVID-19) has ended.

Debt restructuring

For financially distressed but viable companies, simplified debt restructuring is available. Under this process, the directors resolve that the company is insolvent, or is likely to become insolvent at some future time, and that a small business restructuring practitioner should be appointed.

Once a practitioner has been appointed, the directors generally have 20 days to develop a plan that sets out an approach to repay the company’s existing debts. Only the company directors can propose a debt restructuring plan to the company’s creditors and the creditors have the opportunity to vote on the plan electronically or virtually. During this time, the company directors retain control of the business – which is very different to the previous laws where an administrator took control of the company during voluntary administration.

A company is ineligible to use the debt restructuring process if a director of the company or the company itself has previously been through this process or the simplified liquidation process. The new laws are also not available where the company has already entered into an external administration process.

Streamlined insolvency

If a company is not viable (unable to pay its debts in full within 12 months), the directors can resolve to voluntarily wind up the company and access the streamlined insolvency process. Once the resolution has been passed, the directors have five business days to provide the appointed liquidator with a report on the company’s business affairs and a declaration that the company meets the eligibility criteria to access the simplified liquidation process.

If the liquidator agrees that the company qualifies for the simplified liquidation process, the creditors are advised of the process that will be adopted. The creditors can reject the approach if 25% or more by value, oppose the process.

Streamlined insolvency is designed for companies with relatively simple affairs and is limited to those that have liabilities under $1 million and are up to date with their taxation obligations. It uses the existing insolvency framework but simplifies the interaction with creditors and ASIC.

Strict timings apply to the insolvency process

With the door closed on 2020, directors no longer have the protection of the “COVID safe harbour” insolvency rules put in place to deal with the impact of the pandemic. If you are concerned that your business will not be able to meet its obligations, please contact us as soon as possible and we will review the situation with you. Where assistance is required, we can refer you to a qualified insolvency or small business restructuring practitioner.

Read more on the ASIC website.

If you have invested capital in your business and want to secure your future, we suggest looking at other options such as krodok, which automatically generates legally-enforceable documents that raises you to being a first-ranking creditor of your business without the fuss or expense of dealing with lawyers. Ask us for an introduction.

Note: The material and contents provided in this publication are informative in nature only. It is not intended to be advice and you should not act specifically on the basis of this information alone. If expert assistance is required, professional advice should be obtained.