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Debt Collection Sydney – Statutory Demands and the Expiration of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020 amendments

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020 (Cth) was introduced, which resulted in various temporary changes to the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and Corporations Regulations 2001 (Cth) in respect of statutory demands.

These temporary changes include extending the time period for a company to respond to a statutory demand from 21 days to six months, and increasing the monetary threshold for a creditor to issue a statutory demand from $2,000 to $20,000.

These changes, which came into effect on 25 March 2020, are currently only applicable for a six month period which is due to expire on 25 September 2020. This means that any statutory demands served on or before 25 September 2020 must comply with the temporary changes.

Importantly, these changes only apply to statutory demands which are served between 25 March 2020 to 25 September 2020; not for debts which are incurred during the same period. This means that, on the basis that there are no extensions to these temporary amendments, a creditor can issue a statutory demand pursuant to the original requirements for debts incurred 25 March 2020 to 25 September 2020, as long as the statutory demand is served after 25 September 2020.
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DEBT RECOVERY – HOW FAR CAN YOU GO?

Any customer or client that owes you money outside of normal trading terms is an understandable source of frustration. That frustration is compounded when the individual company involved is clearly more than capable of paying, has not raised any issues with the quality of the products or services you have supplied, and is behaving as though non-payment of debts is a normal and acceptable part of doing business.

Even though the temptation is to adopt a non-compromising, even aggressive method of debt recovery in these cases, it is wise to stop and consider the restrictions imposed on debt recovery in NSW. If you fail to do so you may unwittingly breach legislation designed to protect debtors, and get yourself in more trouble than when you started – which I am sure will only make you even more frustrated!

Consumer protection laws in NSW and across the Commonwealth open up a minefield for those carrying out debt recovery. For example, before setting out to contact a debtor it is necessary for you to ensure:
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When is it too late to collect a debt?

By Ellen Ferris, a Solicitor in Matthews Folbigg’s Insolvency, Restructuring and Debt Recovery Group.

When life gets busy, sometimes we put off important jobs to deal with more pressing matters. But when it comes to debt collection, this can only be put off for so long before debts become ‘statute barred‘. At this point the debts the subject of debt collection are no longer capable of being collected.

Most States and all Territories have time limits within which debt collection must be completed. In New South Wales, if too much time passes and the limitation period expires, section 63 of the Limitation Act 1969 (NSW) extinguishes the debt, meaning recovery of the debt is no longer possible..

In NSW, as in most states, the debt collection clock generally starts running from the date the cause of action first accrues. This is often the date of default; when the debtor fails to repay the debt, although there are some traps for the inexperienced in debt collection (for instance debts without a due date or which are ‘at call’). Once a default has arisen the creditor then has 6 years to commence the debt collection process formally, after which time the legislation restricts recovery, the debt becomes statute barred, and debt collection almost certainly impossible.
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Money for Nothing? Or, Something Instead of Nothing.

By Ellen Ferris, a Solicitor in Matthews Folbigg’s Insolvency, Restructuring and Debt Recovery Group.

Before commencing potentially costly court proceedings, there are a number of debt recovery options which should be canvassed by a wise creditor. One such option is that of a payment plan, or payment arrangement.

The benefits of a payment plan include;

  1. Regular payments from the debtor assisting with cashflow;
  2. Debtors are more likely to be able to repay a debt when it is broken down into smaller repayments;
  3. Potentially keeping relationships with valued customers;
  4. Opens up a channel of communication with the debtor;
  5. Avoiding disputes over the amounts owing.

A payment plan can take the form of an informal arrangement, or even just simply letting the debtor pay the debt off in smaller amounts without objecting or suing for the balance. On the other hand the terms may be set out in a formal deed.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, and much will depend upon which of the benefits set out above are most attractive to the creditor.
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COVID-19 –What Debt will Scuttle Passage to the New Safe Harbours?

By Ellen Ferris, a Solicitor in Matthews Folbigg’s Insolvency, Restructuring and Debt Recovery Group.

Amendments in March of this year have brought about changes to the Corporations Act 2001 which allow for an additional temporary safe harbour to protect directors from insolvent trading, –  see our blog here.

However, companies do not automatically qualify for the protection. To qualify, the debt must be incurred as follows:

  • In the ordinary course of the company’s business;
  • During the six month period starting from the date the new law commenced (being 24 March 2020); and
  • Before any appointment of an administrator or liquidator.

The evidentiary burden of proof is on the person seeking to rely on the safe harbour relief, which means that it will be up to directors to make sure they obtain and keep evidence that their debt meets the criteria.

According to the explanatory memorandum in respect of the amending legislation, a director will be taken to have incurred a debt in the ordinary course of business if the debt “is necessary to facilitate the continuation of the business during the six month period that begins on commencement of the subparagraph”. This is narrower than the criteria for the existing safe harbour provisions, which focus on debts incurred in the pursuit of a course of action likely to lead to a better outcome for the company than liquidation. The Explanatory Memorandum gives the following examples for debts incurred in the ordinary course of business:
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The “arid technicality” of Bankruptcy Notices?

By Andrew Hack, Solicitor, and Stephen Mullette, Principal, of Matthews Folbigg Lawyers, in our Insolvency, Restructuring and Debt Recovery Group.

At a high level the process for applying to make someone bankrupt may appear simple and straightforward. But, as the old adage goes, the devil is in the detail. At a granular level, the rules in bankruptcy proceedings are rather technical and procedures must be strictly adhered to. Often enough, a party will make a mistake where the consequence is they must start all over again, adding to lost time and increased costs.

The recent judgment of Metledge v Hopkins [2020] FCA 561 is one such case. The creditor, Ms Metledge, applied to the Federal Court of Australia for a sequestration order against the debtor, Mr Hopkins – that is, an order placing the debtor into bankruptcy and for a trustee to be appointed over his property. The creditor relied on the debtor’s failure to comply with a Bankruptcy Notice.
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When its better to get something than nothing, the use of Payment Arrangements in recovering your debt.

By Renee Smith a Solicitor of Matthews Folbigg, in our Insolvency, Restructuring and Debt Recovery Group

When looking to recover funds from a Debtor there are numerous ways in which it can be recovered. All of those options should be canvassed and considered carefully. One of those options is an agreed payment arrangement.

Benefits of entering into a payment arrangement include the ability to receive regular periodic payments of funds from the Debtor as well as the ability to monitor the Debtor for any changes in their financial situation. In setting a frequent payment schedule such as weekly or fortnightly, any sudden changes in the Debtor’s financial situation such as the Debtor going into Bankruptcy or the Debtor Company going into external administration can be found out and acted upon quickly. An obvious disadvantage of entering into a payment arrangement is that depending on the amount of the debt owing, it can take some time for the outstanding debt to be paid in full.
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