Companies cease trading for many reasons including technological change, competition, ill health, directors’ retirement, ongoing financial problems, or simply because the company has sold its business or assets and serves no further purpose.
When a business is profitable, a business can cease to trade following sale of its business or sale of its business assets and can resolve to wind up via a section 318(1)(d) procedure (known as the “short form removal”) or follow a formal solvent liquidation. In current New Zealand law, solvent liquidations are advanced to distribute capital gains and capital reserves tax free and to provide more certainty of finality.
In insolvency, directors have a legal obligation to cease trading in accordance with insolvency laws and to ensure they do not breach directors’ duties. Failing to do so, can have significant consequences for the directors personally.
What happens when a company ceases to trade?
When a company ceases to trade, business stops, trading accounts are closed, employees are terminated and assets are realised and distributed. There can be a surplus or a deficit arising.
If trading has ceased voluntarily in a solvent company, directors and shareholders resolve to wind up the company. Surplus funds from the sale of assets are distributed among shareholders after all creditors have been repaid. A final tax return is filed and then following tax clearance, an application can be filed with the Registrar of Companies for company strike off. This is a short form removal. In larger companies or where large capital gains have been realised, a solvent liquidation is advanced.
If a deficit is anticipated on windup and where the directors/shareholders do not plan to top up the shortfall, an insolvent voluntary liquidation should be advanced so that an independent practitioner appropriately deals with the distribution of assets taking into account priorities established by legislation. This adds some independence and avoids directors inadvertently preferring certain creditors who then face claw back later when liquidation is advanced by a creditor.
What should happen to a company that is risking trading insolvently?
The Shareholders should look to appoint a liquidator, or the board to appoint an Administrator (if the company is worth rescuing). The practitioner appointed then deals with the company’s affairs and assesses whether it can be rescued or sold as a going concern or wound up. Under a rescue/restructure some staff may be maintained and the business may continue often under a new structure. Sometimes a director or manager has the opportunity to buy back the assets from the liquidator or administrator or receiver in a new entity. This is often called a “hive down”.
If business rescue isn’t an option, assets are sold to repay the company’s creditors as far as possible, following a strict order of priority set out in the Companies Act 1993.
Creditors’ claims when a business has ceased trading or faces liquidation
If you are a creditor of a company that has ceased trading, you need to find out the circumstances in which the business has ceased to trade. If it’s solvent and being wound up, you should be contacted by the director(s) and you should make a claim by providing evidence of your debt to be paid. If trading has ceased due to insolvency and an insolvency practitioner has been appointed, you should contact the liquidator or Administrator to register as a creditor and file a formal claim (if the practitioner has not contacted you). The liquidator will assess your claim and arrange to pay creditors from available funds in the order of priority set by the seventh schedule of the Act.
Creditors of a Company facing strike off from the Companies Register
If you are owed funds, and the company that owes you is facing strike off by the Registrar (often for failing to file an annual return), you can object to the strike off by objecting on the Companies Office website:
If you suspect the company has or had assets, or there has been some untoward dealings, as a creditor you can apply to the Court for the appointment of a liquidator after following a proper process. The liquidator can investigate and take recovery action. As the applicant creditor, your applicant Court costs are preferential and rank in priority to the distributions to unsecured creditors.
Creditors of Companies struck off the Companies Office Register
To take action to recover against a struck off company, you must apply for the company to be restored to the Register first. This involves a formal application to the Registrar of Companies and you will need to provide evidence of the debt due. Once reinstated follow a formal demand process.
The two most common ways of restoring a company are as follows:
1. An application made to the Registrar under section 328 of the Companies Act 1993 by a:
o liquidator/receiver, or
o creditor of the company.
Note | This process can take up to six to eight weeks to complete.
2. An application made to the High Court under section 329 of the Act. This option could be considered if there is some urgency to your application such as a property settlement. This is also the only option available if the Registrar received an objection to your section 328 application.
For more information on the implications of a company ceasing to trade, call one of the team at McDonald Vague Limited. We offer no obligation up to one hour free same-day consultations and can quickly assess your best options.