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Liability of Company Directors

Monday, March 05, 2018

When clients come to us and ask us to set up their new business, the first step is to advise on which type of business structure best suits their needs. One option we advise is incorporating a company to run their business. The benefit of running a business through a company is that companies have separate legal identity, much like individuals. The result of having separate legal identity is that the company and it’s obligations, liabilities, and debts are separate from the people who own and/or run the company (shareholders and directors). This forms a layer of protection for the directors, who run the company, from having to meet the company’s debts out of their own pocket.
Banks and other lenders will rarely lend money to a new company without some sort of guarantee that they’ll be paid in the event of default. The way the banks minimise their risk of not being repaid by the company is to require the directors of the company to personally guarantee the company’s debts. This is very common for new companies which don’t have enough credit history or income to acquire loans and overdrafts.
In the event a company is struggling or verging on insolvency, the directors may place the company into external administration. This involves a third party Administrator taking control of the company. While under external administration, directors are protected from having a lender (or anyone else) call in their guarantees.[1]
The amnesty only applies if the creditor (the bank, company or person who gets the benefit of the guarantee) hasn’t taken action to enforce the guarantee before the director places the company into external administration.[2]
Guarantees are an example of how the Corporations Law can leave directors personally vulnerable, despite the directors usually incorporating a company for their own protection. If you are unsure of your rights or obligations as a director or shareholder, or you need assistance protecting yourself from claims against you personally, make an appointment with one of our experts.
[1] Section 440J Corporations Act 2001 (Cth)
[2] Mizuho Bank Ltd v Mark Anthony Ackroyd [2016] NSWSC 1148.