The rights of creditors when a company fails - Part 1 of 2

When a company fails one of four things usually happens:-

  • A receiver is appointed
  • An administrator is appointed
  • It enters into a compromise with its creditors
  • It is put into liquidation (this will be covered in Part 2)

This article seeks to explain the rights that creditors have in each of the above insolvency proceedings. It is written from the perspective of the ordinary unsecured creditor.

1 - Receivership

The purpose of receivership is to repay the debt owed to the General Security Agreement ("GSA") holder.  GSA holders tend to be banks but can also be private lenders (including directors and family members). The receiver's obligations are primarily to the GSA holder who appointed them. If a receiver holds surplus funds after repaying the GSA holder these must be returned to the company or paid to a liquidator to distribute. Receivers have no powers to make distributions to unsecured creditors. There are also no meetings of creditors in a receivership.

The main option for unsecured creditors is therefore to apply to the Court for a liquidator to be appointed (assuming the shareholders are not willing to appoint a liquidator voluntarily). Although a liquidator cannot take control of charged assets until the GSA holder has been repaid, he/she can do the following:-

  • Examine the validity of the GSA and of the receiver's appointment
  • Examine the receiver's acts and ensure that he/she has obtained the best possible price for the assets
  • Take actions not available to a receiver, the commonest being:-

- Insolvent transactions (previously known as voidable preferences), and insolvent setoffs
- Voidable charges
- Transactions for inadequate or excessive consideration with directors

However, legal action can cost many tens of thousands of dollars and if there are no surplus funds a liquidator may well need funding to bring such actions.

2 - Voluntary administration

The voluntary administration procedure was introduced in New Zealand in November 2007. Its stated aims are to either:-

  1. maximise the chances of the company continuing in existence or;
  2. achieve a better return for creditors than would be achieved in a liquidation

Appointment
An administrator can theoretically be appointed by the Court on a creditor's application. However, this is unlikely in practice given the amount of knowledge that is required for the court application. The administrator is much more likely to be appointed by the company.

The right to have a first meeting of creditors
The administrator must hold a meeting of creditors within eight working days of their appointment. Creditors can vote at this meeting on whether to appoint a creditors' committee or whether to replace the administrator. A vote is passed if approved by a majority in number, representing 75% in value, of the creditors or class of creditors voting in person or by proxy/postal vote. The creditors' committee has the right to consult with the administrator and to receive and consider reports by the administrator.

The right to have a 'watershed meeting'
This meeting must be convened within 20 working days of the administrator's appointment (unless the Court extends this period) and then held within a further five working days. Voting rules are as above. Creditors have the right to vote on the following:-

  1. to resolve that the company execute a Deed of Company Arrangement ("DOCA") with creditors
  2. to resolve that the administration should end
  3. to appoint a liquidator (which also ends the administration)

The administrator will become the deed administrator (where a DOCA is approved) or the liquidator (where creditors vote to put the company into liquidation), unless creditors specifically nominate another person for this role.

The deed administrator can later be replaced by the Court on a creditor's application. A DOCA is binding on all creditors (excluding secured creditors), whether or not they voted in favour of its execution.

The right to request amendments to or termination of a DOCA
Creditors owed a total of at least 10% of the combined amount owing to all creditors can require the deed administrator to convene a meeting to either vary or terminate the DOCA.

The right to review the administrator's accounts
The administrator is required to file receipts and payment summaries at the Companies Office every six months. Any creditor can view these accounts online.

3 - Compromises with creditors
Compromises with creditors are the one situation where power is technically in the hands of the unsecured creditors. For a compromise to succeed it must be approved by a majority in number and 75% in value of each class of creditor voting for the proposal. The same rules apply for voting as to any proposed variations to the compromise terms.

One of the difficulties with compromises is that every compromise is different and there is less integrity in some compromises than others. This is where the power to ask for amendments is invaluable. Before voting, creditors need to be satisfied that the following questions have been answered satisfactorily:-

  • Will the proposal give them a greater return than they would achieve in a liquidation? To give some degree of comfort on this issue it may be necessary for an independent accountant to examine the company's books and records
  • Is there a professional Compromise Manager in charge of the process? It would seem to be relying on blind faith to assume that the director, who was the architect of the company's difficulties, can independently manage the compromise arrangement
  • Is there a creditors' committee to work alongside the Compromise Manager? If creditors want to be involved with the process they must be represented
  • What happens if the compromise does not work out? For instance, will the Compromise Manager hold a signed resolution by the shareholders to place the company into liquidation, to be exercised if the company does not fulfil its obligations under the compromise?

Our article 'Company creditor compromises - worthwhile or not?' covers this topic in greater detail.

Note: This is an expanded and updated version of an earlier article written by John Vague and was subsequently revised by Jonathan Barrett.

DISCLAIMER
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be construed as advice of any kind. Parties who require clarification on issues raised in this article should take their own advice.

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