Controlling trustees' roles and duties
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Inspector-General Practice Direction 12 explains controlling trustees' roles and duties.
- The purpose of this document is to outline the Inspector-General in Bankruptcy’s expectations of the requirements placed on a controlling trustee by the current legislation and relevant case law.
Who can be a controlling trustee?
- Controlling trustee is defined in subsection 187(1) of the Bankruptcy Act 1966 as follows:
“Controlling trustee”, in relation to a debtor whose property is subject to control under Division 2, means the person who is the controlling trustee under section 188 or 192.
- A registered trustee, a solicitor or the Official Trustee becomes a controlling trustee as a result of:
- a debtor signing an authority pursuant to subsection 188(1) of the Bankruptcy Act (which must be in accordance with the approved form) in favour of a registered trustee, a solicitor or the Official Trustee
- a registered trustee, solicitor or the Official Trustee consenting in writing to exercise the powers conferred on them by the authority.
- A person who is a registered trustee with no conditions on their registration prohibiting them from involvement in matters under Part X of the Bankruptcy Act is entitled to become a controlling trustee.
- While the Bankruptcy Act permits the Official Trustee to act as a controlling trustee, the Official Receiver does not normally consent to do this.
- Section 49 of the Bankruptcy Regulations 2021 prescribes the circumstances in which a person other than a trustee (e.g. a solicitor) is ineligible to act as a controlling trustee. Essentially, a solicitor controlling trustee will have to be a full member of the Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association or have satisfactorily completed a course in insolvency approved by the Inspector-General. See Eligibility requirements for controlling trustees for more information.
- Controlling trustee is defined in subsection 187(1) of the Bankruptcy Act 1966 as follows:
- The relevant statutory powers and duties of a controlling trustee are primarily contained in sections 189A, 190, 190A of the Bankruptcy Act and Divisions 60, 70 and 75 of the Insolvency Practice Rules (Bankruptcy) 2016 (“the Rules”). The minimum acceptable standards are set out in Division 42 – Standards for registered trustees (in Subdivisions A and D) of the Rules.
- It should be noted that, pursuant to section 210 of the Bankruptcy Act, the provisions of Part VIII of the Bankruptcy Act apply also to controlling trustees, subject to modifications set out in section 64 and Part 2 of Schedule 3 of the Bankruptcy Regulations.
- Further, it is noted that, pursuant to subsection 211(1) of the Bankruptcy Act, sections 77, 77A, 77C, 77D, 77E, 77F, 78 (other than paragraphs 78(1)(a), (b) and (c)) and 81 of the Bankruptcy Act apply also to controlling trustees, subject to modifications set out in regulation 10.08 and Part 3 of Schedule 3 of the Bankruptcy Regulations.
Legal impact of a section 188 controlling trustee authority
- A trustee or solicitor approached by a debtor to become their controlling trustee will need to establish that the debtor is eligible to have their affairs dealt with under Part X of the Bankruptcy Act. In this regard, the solicitor or trustee will need to confirm that:
- the debtor satisfies the requirements of subsection 188(1) of the Bankruptcy Act. A debtor may only give a controlling trustee authority if they are personally or ordinarily resident in Australia, have a house or business in Australia, carry on business in Australia or they are a member of a partnership carrying on business in Australia
- the debtor is insolvent in the sense that they are not able to pay all their debts as and when they become due and payable
- the debtor has not signed a previous authority within 6 months of signing the current authority without leave of the Court to do so
- the debtor is not an undischarged bankrupt.
- Pursuant to subsection 188(2AA) of the Bankruptcy Act and section 59 of the Bankruptcy Regulations, the controlling trustee must inform the debtor proposing to execute the section 188 authority of the effects of same and the alternatives to a personal insolvency agreement (“PIA”).
- A section 188 authority will be void where it fails to name the person being authorised by the debtor.
- On signing the authority, the debtor commits an act of bankruptcy.
- An authority becomes effective once the controlling trustee accepts the appointment by signing the controlling trustee authority form and, pursuant to subsection 188(2C) of the Bankruptcy Act, the debtor has provided the controlling trustee with a Form 3 – Statement of affairs and a proposal for dealing with the debtor’s affairs. In accordance with subsection 188(2E) of the Bankruptcy Act, the proposal must include a draft personal insolvency agreement.
- Once an effective authority is in place, it cannot be revoked by the debtor.
- The controlling trustee acquires control over the debtor’s property and may exercise powers in relation to it, until one of the events detailed in subsection 189(1A) of the Bankruptcy Act occurs.
- Under subsection 190(2) of the Bankruptcy Act, the controlling trustees is empowered to:
- take immediate control of the debtor’s property and affairs
- make such enquiries and investigations in connection with the debtor’s property and examinable affairs as the trustee considers necessary
- carry on a business of the debtor if, in the opinion of the trustee, it will be in the interests of the creditors to do so
- deal with the debtor’s property in any way that will, in the opinion of the trustee, be in the interests of the creditors.
- The debtor’s property does not vest in the controlling trustee as it does in the trustee of a bankruptcy. Subsection 190(4) of the Bankruptcy Act provides for the controlling trustee acting in the name of the debtor as if they had been duly appointed as their lawful attorney.
- A charge is created over the debtor’s property subject to control.
- The debtor’s responsibility and rights in relation to their property become subject to the limitations set out in subsection 189(2) of the Bankruptcy Act. These include:
- not removing, disposing of or dealing with any of their property except with the consent of the controlling trustee
- furnishing to the controlling trustee such information with respect to any of the debtor’s examinable affairs as the controlling trustee requires
- complying with any direction given to then by the controlling trustee with respect to their property or affairs.
- The debtor may commit an offence if, inter alia, within 12 months of signing the authority they disposed of, or created a charge on, any property with intent to defraud their creditors.
- Pursuant to section 189AAA of the Bankruptcy Act, where there is a creditor’s petition on foot and a controlling trustee authority given by the debtor becomes effective, proceedings in respect of the creditor’s petition are stayed. The stay remains in place until a meeting of creditors called under the authority is concluded or adjourned, whichever is sooner.
Documents to be provided to the Official Receiver and creditors
Documents to be provided to the Official Receiver
- Documents to be given by a controlling trustee to the Official Receiver are referenced in the Setting up a personal insolvency agreement.
- Within 2 business days of the authority becoming effective, the controlling trustee must give the Official Receiver a copy of the controlling trustee authority and the debtor’s statement of affairs.
Document to be provided to creditors
- At least 10 business days before the first meeting of creditors is held, the controlling trustee must give to each creditor:
- notice of the meeting, in accordance with the requirements of section 75-15 of the Rules
- a copy of the following documents:
- the regulated debtor’s statement of affairs
- the controlling trustee’s report and declaration of relationships made under section 189A of the Bankruptcy Act
- the controlling trustee’s statement prepared under section 189B of the Bankruptcy Act
- notice of the basis and method on which the controlling trustee seeks to be remunerated and if appropriate, an estimate of the amount of that remuneration according to section 70-35 of the Rules.
- Note that, for section 188 authorities that became effective on or after 1 August 2010, subsection 61(3) of the Bankruptcy Regulations requires controlling trustees to:
- give a copy of the proposal to the Official Receiver within 2 business days of the proposal being finalised
- send a copy of the debtor’s proposal to creditors at the same time that it is given to the Official Receiver.
- In practice, controlling trustees may choose to give the Official Receiver a copy of the proposal at the same time as the statement of affairs and the controlling trustee authority. Once the section 188 authority is registered by the Official Receiver and an administration number provided to the controlling trustee, it is acceptable for the proposal to then be sent to creditors.
- After the meeting, a copy of any special resolution passed under subsection 204(1) of the Bankruptcy Act is required to be filed with the Official Receiver within 5 business days after the date on which the resolution was passed. The consent of the PIA trustee is also to be filed should creditors resolve to accept the proposal.
- Pursuant to subsection 189(1B) of the Bankruptcy Act, within 7 days of becoming aware of an event that causes the control period to end, the controlling trustee must file with the Official Receiver a written notification that the control has ended.
- The controlling trustee must call a meeting of creditors to consider the debtor’s proposal.
- Pursuant to subsection 75-27(1) of the Rules, the meeting must be held not more than 30 business days after the relevant consent or approval was given.
- The controlling trustee determines a person’s entitlement to vote. In accordance with subsection 75-100(2) of the Rules, a controlling trustee must discharge this function with propriety, having regard to the merits of a creditor’s claim and act impartially and independently without regard to the debtor’s wishes.
- The meetings procedures are set out in Subdivision C, Division 75 of Part 3 of the Rules.
Notice to be lodged with the Inspector-General for publication
- Subsection 75-40(4) of the Rules requires that first meeting of creditors that is convened under Part X of the Bankruptcy Act be advertised on the AFSA website.
- Notice of a meeting of creditors needs to be lodged with AFSA at least 10 business days before the scheduled meeting date. This must be done via the form in AFSA’s Online Services portal.
- Publishing details of a creditors’ meetings is a cost recovered fee service, consistent with the Australian Government Cost Recovery Guidelines, which require agencies to set charges to recover the costs of products or services where it is efficient to do so. The fee for advertising a meeting is $260 (GST inclusive), as per section 2A.01 of the Bankruptcy (Fees and Remuneration) Determination 2015.
- From 1 October 2020, the fee for advertising creditor meetings can only be paid on account. A monthly invoice will be issued to each practitioner for all publishing requests received in the month.
- The meeting details will be published on the creditor meetings page of the AFSA website.
- The meeting details will be removed 5 business days after the meeting date.
The duty to investigate and report
- As creditors are generally not in a position to obtain information, they rely almost exclusively on the controlling trustee to provide relevant information in the report. However, in carrying out investigations, the controlling trustee is limited by time and the information available to them.
- It is difficult to prescribe the extent of investigations needed to meet the requirements. The extent of the controlling trustee’s inquiries will depend on the individual circumstances and complexity of the debtor’s affairs.
- Sections 42-220 and 42-225 of the Rules outline the minimum detail to be investigated and matters to be included in a controlling trustee’s report to creditors, pursuant to section 189A of the Bankruptcy Act.
- Pursuant to paragraphs 189A(1)(a) to (c) of the Bankruptcy Act, the controlling trustee’s report must include the following content:
- a summary of and comment on the information about the debtor’s affairs that is available to the controlling trustee
- a statement as to whether the controlling trustee believes that creditors’ interests would be better served:
- - by accepting the debtor’s proposal for dealing with their affairs under Part X, or
- - by the bankruptcy of the debtor
- naming each creditor who was identified as a related entity of the debtor in the debtor’s statement of affairs.
- Controlling trustees may utilise sections 77,77A, 77AA, 77C and 81 of the Bankruptcy Act to empower adequate investigations.
- In accordance with subsection 42-220(2) of the Rules, if the debtor’s property includes significant real estate, company structures or motor vehicles, the controlling trustee must search the appropriate registries for information about the property and obtain independent expert advice about the value of the property.
- Pursuant to subsection 42-220(3) of the Rules, if the debtor was or is involved in significant corporate or trust activity, the controlling trustee must take appropriate steps to identify the assets of the debtor that will be subject to the PIA, including making inquiries of third parties such as solicitors, accountants, creditors, associated entities and financial institutions, to establish whether there is any divisible property or antecedent transactions.
- In addition, sections 42-215 and 42-225 of the Rules prescribe that the following information must also be included in the section 189A report as a minimum:
- the debtor’s name, date of birth, address and occupation
- information about each matter mentioned in subsection 188A(2) of the Bankruptcy Act (i.e. the proposed elements or required contents of the PIA)
- the basis on which the debtor’s property has been valued
- the kind of investigations the controlling trustee has carried out and whether any other matters need to be investigated
- the reasons for the controlling trustee’s opinion about whether creditors’ interests would be better served by accepting the debtor’s proposal or by the bankruptcy of the debtor.
- It is also expected as best practice that the following information be included in section 189A reports:
- comparison of the estimated dividend under the PIA proposal and bankruptcy
- a list of all creditors and the amount of each debt
- details of the controlling trustee authority, including the relevant dates and its effect
- a brief financial history of debtor including cause of insolvency.
- Four main cases that provide parameters on what is expected of controlling trustees’ investigations and reports are discussed below.
- In McDougall, the controlling trustee identified the existence of a family trust, set out a number of the trust’s activities and made it clear in the report that, in the event of bankruptcy, the trustee would most likely have access to trust assets, pursuant to section 139D of the Bankruptcy Act.
- The controlling trustee’s report recited the debtor’s description of how his financial difficulties had arisen and his explanation of the circumstances in which specific debts disclosed by his statement of affairs had been incurred. The report noted that the debtor had no immediate prospects of being able to pay his debts and had therefore submitted a proposal for consideration by his creditors. The report recommended that creditors not accept the proposal.
- The primary judge, Goldberg J, examined whether the trustee’s report set out sufficient information. It was submitted by the applicant that:
the report showed that the Trustee had not made enquiries in relation to the Debtor’s family trust.
- Goldberg J’s conclusions, however, were as follows:
It is apparent from the report that the Trustee had identified the existence of the family trust company and the report set out a number of its activities and affairs. Further, the Trustee made it clear in paragraph 19 of the report that in the event of bankruptcy of the Debtor, the Trustee “would most likely have access to the assets of The Stuart McDougall Family Trust pursuant to provisions of Section 139D of the Act”. I therefore reject the submission that the report shows that the Trustee had not made all necessary enquiries in relation to the Trust within the time available to him. In any event, upon the proper construction of s 189A(2)(b) the Trustee was only obliged to set out such information relevant to the affairs of the Debtor as was available to him. His only obligation to set out such information as was necessary to give a true and fair view of the Debtor’s affairs was if that information was, in fact, available to him.
- When the matter went to appeal on other grounds Ryan, Whitlam and Marshall JJ went on to highlight and confirm comments made in an earlier decision:
A controlling trustee has marked advantages over the general body of creditors. His position as controlling trustee gives him access to the business and financial records of the debtor (s 189(1)). The debtor is required to furnish him with such information with respect to any of the debtor's examinable affairs as the controlling trustee requires, and to comply with any directions given to him by the controlling trustee (s 189(2))....
The controlling trustee may, with the consent in writing of the debtor, obtain such advice or assistance as he thinks necessary (see s 190(5A)).
The controlling trustee can explore the possibility that there may be antecedent transactions by the debtor which may be set aside, to the benefit of the creditors, in the course of the administration of his estate, if an order of sequestration were made.
- McDougall then is a useful guide, particularly where companies and trusts are involved, supporting the view that enquiry is necessary to ascertain and report on their activity, their worth, the debtor’s involvement and major transactions involving the debtor; in order to allow the trustee to comment on the effect of bankruptcy, particularly in respect to section 139D of the Bankruptcy Act, possible deeming of income and contributions, and possible voidable transactions.
- In Messina, Goldberg J (who also was the primary judge in McDougall ) had to firstly decide whether a creditor was entitled to vote at the meeting. He decided that the creditor, a related entity, was not a creditor and not entitled to vote. He was then asked to decide whether the controlling trustee had failed in his duty by admitting the creditor to vote purportedly without adequately investigating the debt. Goldberg J stated:
... Although the trustee made a number of mistakes in relation to the work he undertook, I am satisfied that the information supplied to Mr Burridge and the trustee and the circumstances surrounding that information was such that the trustee did not act in breach of such duty as was imposed on him by s 190(2)(b) of the Act to make enquiries and investigations in connection with the debtor's property and examinable affairs ...
... It must be remembered that the trustee has a limited time within which to make the enquiries and carry out the investigations as the creditors' meeting must be held not later than 35 days after the authority is signed by the debtor: s 194(1)(a) of the Act.
The trustee does not have the time, and is not under an obligation, to undertake an audit of the debtor’s affairs. As Olney J said in Re Horne; Ex parte Deputy Commissioner of Taxation v Horne and Pratt* (supra):
“What is clear is that the legislation does not require the controlling trustee to audit the debtor's statement of affairs and to certify to the creditors the correctness or otherwise of the statement. His power to inquire and investigate is limited to matters he considers necessary. In every case it will be for the controlling trustee consistent with his duty to the creditors to determine what inquiries and investigations are necessary. The trustee's ultimate function is to ensure that he can express the opinion required by s 189A(3) with such a degree of authority that the creditors can confidently act upon the opinion if they so desire.”*Re Horne; Ex parte Deputy Commissioner of Taxation v Horne and Pratt (unreported, 10 May 1996)
- The controlling trustee made enquiries of the debtor and his accountant, who was also the accountant for the family company claiming to be a creditor, asked for evidence from the accountant and prior to the meeting saw a company balance sheet. The Court thought this to be sufficient enquiry into those particular issues and appropriate reporting.
- In Moustafa, Marshall J outlined the powers and responsibilities of a controlling trustee. This case puts the Court’s views quite firmly in relation to what is expected of a controlling trustee’s report:
The purpose of the controlling trustee’s report is to fully apprise the creditors as to the debtor’s affairs so that the creditors can make an informed decision on whether their best interests would be served by accepting the debtor’s proposal or by bankruptcy of the debtor. It is essential for the controlling trustee to ensure that all facts material to the debtor’s affairs are brought to the attention of the creditors in the report and that the statement of belief of the controlling trustee is properly based.
- As a result of repeated errors identified by AFSA Enforcement and Practitioner Surveillance across a range of personal insolvency matters (including the failure to adequately investigate and report on debtor’s affairs in section 189A reports), the Inspector-General convened a disciplinary committee to consider Mr Luke Ching Wong’s continued registration as a trustee.
- By Committee Report dated 5 September 2006, it was decided that Mr Wong should cease to be registered as a trustee under the Bankruptcy Act.
- Mr Wong appealed the committee’s decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (“the AAT”) where it was argued, on behalf of Mr Wong, that as controlling trustee under Part X, there was limited time and ability to make full enquiries.
- In upholding the committee decision that Mr Wong be deregistered, Mr B H Pascoe, Senior Member of the AAT, stated at :
It is accepted that a trustee under the Act has an onerous duty. Particularly in Part X arrangements, the trustee has limited time and limited coercive powers. However as stated in Muir v Bradley (1984) 57 ALR 155:
“a trustee in bankruptcy is a person who must command and retain the confidence of the court, of the creditors and debtors in bankruptcy proceedings and of the general community. His competence must be, and remain, of a high order.”
- And Mr Pascoe concluded (at paragraph 14):
... having fully considered the report of the Committee, the acceptance of the factual findings of that Committee and the number of breaches relative to the number of files inspected it would be inappropriate to allow Mr Wong to retain his registration.
Investigation and reporting principles
- We can conclude that a controlling trustee is required to carry out investigations and report to creditors pursuant to section 189A of the Bankruptcy Act in a relatively short time frame and that the report is critical to the course of the Part X administration. Controlling trustees should use the powers available to them to undertake some enquiries, and both McDougall and Messina provide a useful guide as to what enquiries might be expected and what should be reported to creditors.
- A number of fundamental principles can be drawn from these cases.
The fiduciary duty owed to creditors by the controlling trustee must inform preparation of the section 189A report. A controlling trustee must act in an impartial and independent manner and be impartial to the wishes of the debtor. This includes when investigating the debtor’s affairs, reporting to creditors and ruling on the admission of creditors’ proofs of debts for voting purposes.
The purpose of the section 189A report is to apprise the creditors as to the debtor’s affairs so that creditors can make an informed decision on whether to accept the debtor’s proposal.
The report should be fair and unbiased and summarise the material information available to the controlling trustee.
The controlling trustee is not required to audit the debtor's statement of affairs and to certify to creditors the correctness or otherwise of the statement. Their power to inquire and investigate is limited to matters considered necessary. The controlling trustee has a duty to the creditors to determine what inquiries and investigations are necessary. The trustee’s ultimate function is to ensure that they can express the opinion required by subsection 189A(3) of the Bankruptcy Act with such a degree of authority that the creditors can confidently act upon the opinion if they so desire.
- What is considered necessary and material is subject to the judgment of the controlling trustee. However, it is the Inspector-General’s expectation that the “reasonable person” test should apply. For example, where the debtor is the director and shareholder of a private company operating the family business, it is not reasonable to only report the existence of the company and the debtor’s shareholding. A reasonable person would consider that material information would include the company’s assets, a summary of its activities and the debtor’s involvement, whether loans and gifts have been investigated for possible antecedent transactions and whether income contributions were possible.
Fiduciary duties principles
- The provisions of the Bankruptcy Act, Bankruptcy Regulations and Rules relating to trustees’ duties are supplemented by the common law duties of a trustee, which are well established. Several important bankruptcy cases and the principles that can be drawn from them are worth noting.
Adsett v Berlouis
- The findings of Northrop J in Adsett v Berlouis, while relating to the conduct of a registered trustee, has some aspects which have some bearing on controlling trustees. The particular principles that can be drawn from this case are:
1. A trustee is bound to administer that estate in accordance with the Bankruptcy Act and the Rules.
2. A trustee has a dual function: first, to administer the estate in the interests of the creditors and the bankrupt; second, to exercise, as a public duty and for the public welfare, certain powers given, and duties imposed, by the Bankruptcy Act.
3. A trustee in bankruptcy who acts for remuneration is under a duty of care greater than that of a gratuitous trustee.
4. The trustee is required to bring reasonable skill to the performance of their duties.
- In Alafaci, Riley J stated (at page 285):
In order for a trustee to be removed and make good the losses it must be established that the Trustee has been guilty of a breach of duty to act diligently and prudently in regard to the business of the Trust.
- This decision illustrates the following principle:
5. A trustee is required to act with reasonable prudence and diligence and is required to safeguard trust property.
- In Moustafa, Marshall J outlined the powers and responsibilities of a controlling trustee:
…it is a fundamental duty of a controlling trustee to act in an impartial and independent manner. Anything else would undermine public confidence in the administration of a Part X arrangement... The controlling trustee must be impartial to the wishes of the debtor. In this respect, the role or function of the controlling trustee is the same regardless of whether the controlling trustee is a solicitor or registered trustee.
- Principles from the Moustafa case are that:
6. A controlling trustee must act in an impartial and independent manner and be impartial to the wishes of the debtor.
7. The controlling trustee is charged with the function of ruling on any entitlement of any person to vote at a meeting of creditors (see Division 75 and subsection 75-100(1) of the Rules). A controlling trustee must discharge this function with propriety having regard to the merits of a creditor’s claim and without regard to extraneous considerations.
- Principles 6 and 7 above are confirmed by subsection 75-100(2) of the Rules.
Remuneration and costs of controlling trustee
- For guidance on what remuneration notices a controlling trustee needs to send to the debtor and creditors in the course of administering a section 188 authority, refer to Trustee remuneration notifications.
- Money may come into a controlling trusteeship from various sources including:
- advances from debtor or third party specifically to pay controlling trustee’s remuneration
- sale of perishables or carrying on of debtor’s business
- completion of contracts entered into by debtor before commencement of controlling trusteeship (e.g. debtor enters into contract to sell house before commencement of controlling trusteeship. The sale is settled during the controlling trusteeship and the controlling trustee takes control of the proceeds).
- Controlling trustees have no authority other than Division 60 of the Schedule to draw remuneration from money held in a controlling trusteeship. It should be noted that, once a controlling trusteeship ends because one of the events outlined in subsection 189(1A) has occurred, resolutions by creditors approving the former controlling trustee’s remuneration are not effective.
- Some controlling trustees – in particular, solicitors who become controlling trustees – receive money from debtors or third parties before the relevant controlling trusteeship commences. That money is intended as remuneration for work performed before and during the controlling trusteeship. The portion of that money applied as remuneration for the controlling trustee must be determined under Division 60 of the Schedule. Normally, this would require a resolution of creditors.
- If no money has been received in a controlling trusteeship before it ends pursuant to subsection 189(1A), the controlling trustee can claim for remuneration in the subsequent bankruptcy (if one results). The controlling trustee ranks behind the trustee of the bankruptcy for remuneration and costs.
Handling money and record keeping
- Division 65 and Subdivision C of Division 70 of the Schedule prescribe the money handling and record keeping duties of controlling trustees.
- Detailed guidance on these duties is available in Trustees’ guidelines relating to handling money and keeping records.
- The controlling trusteeship is a separate administration from the PIA that may ensue from it. Consequently, even in cases where a registered trustee is initially the controlling trustee of the debtor’s property and then becomes trustee of an ensuing PIA, separate records and bank account should be kept for each administration.
- Controlling trustees must hand to the debtor, third party or trustee of the debtor’s PIA or bankruptcy, as appropriate, any property (including balances of bank accounts opened) remaining when the controlling trusteeship ends. It ends on the occurrence of one of the events detailed in subsection 189(1A). Once the controlling trusteeship has ended, the controlling trustee has no right to deal with any of the debtor’s property previously under their control.
Application of the Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Act
- The Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Act 1997 (“the Estate Charges Act”) applies to controlling trustees.
- Generally, money received by a controlling trustee is subject to realisations and interest charges.
- This requires controlling trustees to annually remit (for each financial year 1 July to 30 June) to AFSA:
- the relevant realisations charge, imposed on “amounts realised” in their capacity as controlling trustee
- any interest earned on money held.
- The receipt of money to cover controlling trustee’s remuneration are subject to the Estate Charges Act.
- Part 15 of the Bankruptcy Regulations contains provisions relating to the Estate Charges Act. These provisions deal with the mode of payment of the charges and penalties, overpayments, information to accompany documents and lodgment of requests for remission.
- There have been cases where a PIA proposal calls for the creation of a creditors’ trust whereby the debtor’s obligations to creditors are transferred to the trust. Those creditors then become beneficiaries of the trust. A trustee of the trust is appointed which in the case of a PIA would normally be the trustee of the PIA.
- The principal reason behind a creditors’ trust in a PIA is to free the debtor from their obligations and insolvent status and thus allow them to be in a position to continue to manage a corporation.
- Essentially, the PIA is completed once the debtor fulfils their obligation to create the trust and upon the PIA being executed. Creditors’ rights are then converted to rights as unit holders under the trust and not under the PIA. Creditors lose statutory protection of the Bankruptcy Act.
- It is incumbent upon a controlling trustee to ensure that their section 189A report makes creditors aware that their rights against the debtor are extinguished upon execution of the PIA and that they may have less or no legal rights if the creditors’ trust obligations are not fully complied with by all relevant parties.
- In Parkview Constructions Pty Limited, although it involved a corporate administration, the Court was critical of the situation that resulted from the implementation of a creditors’ trust. In that case, a creditor applied to set aside the deed of company arrangement (“DOCA”) of Sydney Civil Excavation Pty Limited.
- The Court ultimately found that it was unable to assist the creditor given the DOCA had already been terminated and replaced with the creditors’ trust. The Judge considered it a matter of concern that:
protective aspects of Pt 5.3A…can be avoided by the creation through a deed of company arrangement of a parallel but essentially unregulated regime of administration.
- The Court further provided a clear warning to administrators about their disclosure obligations when recommending a DOCA that will lead to a creditors’ trust. Administrators:
bear a heavy burden of explaining to creditors the implications of the shift from a regime incorporating a court administered scheme of creditor protection to one in which creditors become passive trust beneficiaries.
- The principles drawn out of Parkview have equal application to controlling trustees reporting to creditors on draft PIA proposals involving the creation of a creditors’ trust.
- AFSA’s role in monitoring controlling trustees is outlined in Monitoring and inspection of bankruptcy trustees and debt agreement administrators. This includes reviewing documentation filed by the controlling trustee before the meeting as well as attending meetings when considered appropriate (or requested to by a relevant stakeholder).
- Common errors identified by AFSA in the course of its proactive monitoring and meeting attendances are listed below to provide guidance to controlling trustees.
Failure to refer offences
- Controlling trustees are reminded of their duties in paragraphs 190A(1)(d) and (e) of the Bankruptcy Act to consider whether the debtor has committed an offence against the Bankruptcy Act and, if so, to refer the appropriate evidence to AFSA or the relevant law enforcement authorities.
Not giving effect to the authority
- There have been occasions where a debtor has not given the controlling trustee a statement of affairs and/or a proposal before the controlling trustee consents to exercise the power under the authority. As a result, the controlling trustee authority is ineffective, pursuant to subsection 188(2C) of the Bankruptcy Act. This invalidates the controlling trusteeship and, by implication, any resolutions passed at the meeting and any subsequent actions taken.
- Where an ineffective authority is identified prior to the meeting being held, or if the meeting is held prior to the PIA being signed, the debtor and creditors should be advised and the process started again. In these circumstances, the debtor would not be prevented from signing another authority for 6 months in accordance with subsection 188(4) of the Bankruptcy Act. Where an ineffective authority is identified after the PIA is signed, the PIA trustee would need to seek legal advice and take steps which may involve applying to the Court for approval or directions.
- The costs associated with the ineffective authority, including the controlling trustee's and PIA trustee’s costs and remuneration together with any Court costs, cannot be charged to the administration. This demonstrates the importance of ensuring that the debtor completes a statement of affairs and draft proposal prior to the controlling trustee signing a section 188 authority.
Not holding the meeting within 30 business days of the authority becoming effective
- On occasion, controlling trustees have either convened or held the meeting outside the required period from when the authority became effective. This may invalidate any resolutions passed at the meeting and necessitates the controlling trustee making application to the Court for approval for an extension of the relevant period. The costs associated with the application to Court and the further meeting to begin the process again to rectify this error are not to be charged to the estate.
Inadequate investigations leading to incomplete reports
- On occasion, controlling trustees have sent section 189A reports to creditors that did not contain a complete picture of all material matters concerning the debtor’s affairs. These matters, amongst other things, normally concern:
- property not disclosed by the debtor on their statement of affairs, where independent asset searches undertaken by the controlling trustee that would have identified this property
- income incorrectly disclosed by the debtor on their statement of affairs, where obtaining the most recent payslip would have verified the true income of the debtor
- antecedent transactions not investigated.
- The result of an incomplete section 189A report is that creditors are not able to make an informed decision as to the debtor’s PIA proposal. In these cases, AFSA will request the controlling trustee to provide a supplementary 189A report to bring creditors fully up to date at no further cost to the administration. It is likely this will also necessitate the adjourning of the meeting, again at no further cost to the administration.
- Controlling trustees are also reminded of their duty pursuant to paragraph 189A(1)(b) of the Bankruptcy Act to state whether they believe that the creditors’ interests would be better served by accepting the debtor's draft PIA proposal or by the bankruptcy of the debtor. It is expected that this belief is stated without qualification.
Determining voting entitlements at the meeting
- It is important that the voting entitlements of various creditors, particularly related parties’ claims, are investigated as much as possible before making a final determination as to the validity of the claim. Where sufficient doubt exists as to a claim’s validity, the determination of which could influence the outcome of the PIA proposal, consideration can be given to adjourning the meeting to give the controlling trustee sufficient time to further investigate the merits of the claim.
Not obtaining consent of the PIA trustee before the meeting
- In accordance with section 215A of the Bankruptcy Act, the controlling trustee needs to ensure that the consent of the proposed incoming PIA trustee is obtained prior to the meeting. This provision renders the resolution to nominate the PIA trustee void unless consent is given prior to the meeting. However, where the appropriate consent is not obtained:
- the Court may, on application of the nominated person(s) or interested party, declare the resolution to nominate the PIA trustee not to be void (subsection 215A(2) of the Bankruptcy Act)
- pursuant to subsection 306(2) of the Bankruptcy Act, any act done by the PIA trustee in good faith is not invalidated by reason of this “irregularity”.
- This paper outlines a broad principles-based framework that is aimed at clarifying the roles and duties that the Inspector-General expects of controlling trustees, including the Official Trustee.
- When it is found that a controlling trustee has erred and not properly performed their duties or exercised their powers, AFSA will consider:
- the importance of the duty or power exercised incorrectly
- the seriousness and impact of the action, including the impact the failure to comply has on a particular estate or related parties and on the integrity of the personal insolvency system
- a controlling trustee’s performance history - whether the controlling trustee has previously failed to comply, been advised and continues to make the same errors.
- Action that may be taken depends upon the seriousness of the breach. One-off errors in judgment of minor importance or impact, breaches that are not material and temporary and technical errors that have minor or no impact on the quality of the administration or parties are to be dealt with through reporting, counselling and guidance.
- In the most serious matters where controlling trustee conduct demonstrates a pattern of indifference to the legislative requirements, a lack of knowledge of the law and a disregard for standards published as a guide to practitioners, such conduct is inconsistent with the high standard expected of a controlling trustee and would not be tolerated by the Court, nor will the Inspector-General tolerate such conduct. This is so even where there is no bad faith or dishonesty on the trustee’s part. In such cases, strong disciplinary action will be taken.
 Subsections 5(2), 5(3) and 187(1A) of the Bankruptcy Act
 Subsection 188(4) of the Bankruptcy Act
 See Re Hawkes; Ex p Bird (1984) 1 FCR 24
 In Cervantes PL v Moutidis  FMCA 1023, it was held that “it is an essential requirement of (an) authority that the person authorised should be clearly named and that person ought to be a person specified by section 188, namely a registered trustee, a solicitor or the official trustee”
 Paragraph 40(1)(i) of the Bankruptcy Act
 Subsection 188(3) of the Bankruptcy Act
 Subsection 189(1) of the Bankruptcy Act
 Subsection 190(2) of the Bankruptcy Act
 Section 189AB of the Bankruptcy Act
 Subsection 268(7) of the Bankruptcy Act
 Subsection 188(5) of the Bankruptcy Act
 Subsection 75-27(2) of the Rules
 Refer to Remuneration entitlements of a registered bankruptcy trustee and Trustee remuneration notifications for specific details regarding controlling trustees’ remuneration entitlements and notification obligations
 Subparagraph 62(3)(a)(i) of the Bankruptcy Regulations
 Subsection 190(1) of the Bankruptcy Act
 Subsection 75-100(1) of the Rules
 Made under subsection 75-25(1) of the Schedule
 See sections 75-27 and 75-20 of the Rules
 In Subdivision D – Standards for controlling trustees of Division 42 under Part 2 of the Rules
 Subsection 211(1) of the Bankruptcy Act
 Paragraph 189A(1)(b) of the Bankruptcy Act
 Under former section 155H of the Bankruptcy Act, now replaced by sections 40-45 to 40-50 of the Schedule
 Re Noel Adsett v Harry Berlouis; Raymond Louis Berlouis; Armande Celisca Berlouis; Lionel Jean Berlouis; Kathleen Rosemary Berlouis; Joseph Louis Berlouis; Wilson Joseph Wilde and Ernest George Harris  FCA 368
 Re Alafaci; Registrar in Bankruptcy v Hardwick  9 ALR 262
 See Subdivision E of Division 60 of the Schedule
 Under section 60-10 of the Schedule
 See paragraph 109(1)(b) of the Bankruptcy Act
 See section 42-95 of the Rules
 See subsections 5(1) and 6(1) of the Estate Charges Act
 See sections 6A, 7 and 8 of the Estate Charges Act for the definition and basis of calculation
 Hugh David Ramsay v Official Receiver in Bankruptcy (Federal Magistrates Court, 26 November 2009)