Director's Friend

THE DIRECTOR’S FRIEND BLOG - ‘Directors assumption of personal liability’

Director's Friend

This is the next in the series of blogs for the Director’s Friend blog.

The case:

This is a discussion about a recent case decided in the Chancery Division of the High Court – Situl Devji Raithatha (as Liquidator of Halal Monitoring Committee Limited and Mir Nazeer Ahmed Baig and others a judgment by Chief Registrar Briggs.

Summary:

The company The Halal Monitoring Committee Limited (the ‘Company’) was incorporated as a community project ensuring that the meat and poultry consumed by the Muslim community was Halal.  The Company was intended to be run on a not for profit basis. The Company did not register for VAT. HMRC asked that the Company register for VAT. It did not do so. A VAT Assessment was raised and not paid. HMRC presenting a winding up petition that was not opposed by the Company. A winding up order was made on 30 April 2012.

So, were the directors of the Company liable for the failure to register for and pay VAT?

Section 212 of the Insolvency Act 1986 (the ‘Act’)

In the Director’s Friend earlier blog this section of the Act was explained. Whilst the Chief Registrar does not refer specifically to this law it is likely that the claim advanced was for Misfeasance under this section of the Act.

The pleaded issue for the Court to decide was in circumstances where HMRC had submitted a proof of debt; the Company suffered a loss as a result of the failure to register for VAT in 2005 and collect in that VAT. The Liquidators case was that as a consequence the directors acted in breach of duty of care, skill and diligence owed to the Company (and so were personally liable).

The directors admitted the failings in respect of VAT. They took issue that they had breached their duty to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence. Amongst other technical arguments put the directors argued that they were non- specialist volunteers and were entitled to rely upon independent specialist advice. The directors also relied upon the Company accountants to advice. The latter argument was a key part of the defence.

The judgment:

At paragraph 27 the Chief Registrar proceeded on the basis that the Company should have been registered for VAT from 2005. The Registrar went on to consider whether the directors had acted in breach of section 174 of the Companies Act 2006 (which is a part of the presumed claim for Misfeasance claim).

The Chief Registrar considered the evidence and law at paragraphs 28 to 34 and observed at paragraph 34 that:

… part of the modern landscape of corporate responsibility is to place on directors the obligation to ensure adequate monitoring and supervision of delegates’

 At paragraph 35 the Chief Registrar found:

In my judgment the duty of the Directors to acquire and maintain sufficient knowledge and understanding of the Company’s business to enable them to discharge their duties as director, is inescapable. It may seem harsh on the facts of this case that an incoming, inexperienced director should acquire the necessary knowledge and understanding of the Company’s operations, and ensure that it is compliant with issues as wide ranging as trading standards, health and safety and taxation.’

At paragraph 36 the Chief Registrar went on:

The Directors were not required to obtain the specialist knowledge of an accountant but needed, in my judgment to ask if the Company had an exemption for VAT rather than assume the situation. Reliance on the accountant’s silence demonstrates, objectively, a lack of care, skill and diligence.’

 37. … The Directors worked on an assumption and did not take any or any proper steps to discharge their duty of care and skill… The Directors obtained no advice but made an incorrect assumption and took no steps to validate the assumption.’

It was found that there was a loss to the Company caused by the failure to collect in VAT as the VAT will have to be met from its own resources rather than from customers (as per paragraph 42).

The directors should have asked the Company accountants about liability for VAT on the supplies (per paragraph 45). It was found at paragraph 46 that the Company should have been collecting in VAT from April 2010.

As to the directors’ request for relief under section 1157 of the Companies Act 2006 also failed (per paragraph 56) due to the failure to explore the tax position or to take advice which were found to be unreasonable steps.

The Director’s Friend comments:

This case is a harsh lesson for directors of a company. The Directors Friend says that if you wish to be appointed a director of a company then you must understand your duties to the company. The directors in this case have been made personally liable for the loss of VAT when the company did not register.

The directors assumed without checking that the company was not liable for VAT. They did not seek advice. They should have done so.

Therefore, the Director’s Friend says that three lessons need to be drawn from this case:

  1. Do not sign up to being a director without first understanding your duties;
  2. If you want to rely upon professional advice then you must ask for it; and
  3. If you delegate then you must monitor and supervise that delegation.

No doubt this has been a very expensive and harsh lesson for these directors.

WHAT TO DO NOW:

If you are faced with:

  • worrying insolvency issues with your company;
  • a claim against you for misfeasance / breaching your duties as a director to a company or any claim for personal liability; and / or
  • director disqualification

then please talk to me today on +44 (0)1992 558411.  That is in order to protect your position without delay.  The earlier that you speak with me the more that I can likely help.

The Director’s Friend is a Hertfordshire / London based solicitor and a full member both the Insolvency Lawyers Association and the Association of Business Recovery Professionals.

Until the next time...

THE DIRECTOR’S FRIEND


Director's Desk

THE DIRECTOR’S FRIEND BLOG - No ‘Wrongful Trading’ here

Directors Desk
The Director's Friend

This is the next in the series of blogs for The Director’s Friend blog.

The case:

 This is a discussion about a recent case decided in the Chancery Division of the High Court – (1) Nicholas William Nicholson and (2) Stratford Edward Hamilton (As Joint Liquidators of Main Realisations Limited) and (1) Thomas Geoffrey Fielding and others a judgment by Deputy Registrar Prentis (it would appear unreported).

Summary

 In summary, prior to Mainland Car Deliveries Limited (In Liquidation) (the ‘Company’) being placed into Administration is was alleged by the subsequently appointed joint Liquidators of the Company that the three directors of the Company had caused the Company to wrongfully trade and that they were liable to personally contribute over £2.12M to the assets of the Company. The Deputy Registrar appeared to be less than impressed with the Liquidators evidence and dismissed the application.

Section 214 of the Insolvency Act 1986 (the ‘Act’)

In the Director’s Friend earlier blog this section of the Act was explained.

In summary, the issues that the Court considers includes:

  • Whether the directors of the Company should have known or ought to have concluded that from a date that there was no reasonable prospect that the Company would avoid entering into insolvent liquidation (i.e. not that the Company is insolvent);
  • The focus is on the individual director’s conduct;
  • The maximum loss that the Court can take into account is the loss to the Company (not to creditors) as a result of the liquidation being delayed (net deficiency);
  • How far there is a sufficient connection between the increase in net deficiency and the factors which made the directors decision that the Company should trade on wrongful; then
  • What would be a fair order as between the various Respondents.

The judgment

The Deputy Registrar went through the detail of the evidence in some detail to consider whether or not there was any wrongful trading (paragraphs 54 to 96 of the judgment).

At paragraph 97 the Deputy Registrar found:

The hallmark of the Company’s correspondence with HMRC is that of ongoing detailed consideration of its position, entirely consistent with the evidence of Mr Fielding and Mr Tait that the directors were constantly monitoring and discussing the situation. They were doing so backed by exemplary management accounts prepared by Mr Tait, and they were taking tough decisions: laying off staff, laying up trucks.

 98. All this was against a background of an uncertain financial world, oscillating fuel prices, and an industry entering a significant downturn of uncertain duration. The evidence is that the directors were doing their best to take account of those, and they cannot be criticised for not predicting their full effect.

At paragraph 105 the Deputy Registrar was mindful of the fact that HMRC (a large creditor) ‘… was willing even in early 2009, after multiple failures of the Company to meet its promises, to enter into a further time to pay agreement.

The Deputy Registrar’s observations

The Deputy Registrar did not appear impressed that a deficiency account had not been prepared by the joint Liquidators (per paragraph 112) nor was an explanation provided as to why not.

In addition, he observed at paragraph 112:

I am left without any real clue as to what losses would have been incurred anyway consequent on an earlier liquidation.

The Deputy Registrar was also less than impressed (at paragraph 113):

Next, it seems to me that to rely now without qualification on the statement of affairs in the administration, prepared more than 7 years ago, is utterly inappropriate. Quantum is not an assessment of a notional figure. It is in this context assessment of the loss to the Company caused by ongoing trading.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the application was dismissed.

The Director’s Friend comments

This is another application for wrongful trading that has failed due to a lack of the required evidence being put forward by the Liquidators. The Court did not appear impressed in this case with that lack.

The Director's Friend says that from the perspective of the directors it would appear fortunate that there was enough contemporaneous evidence in the Company’s correspondence with HMRC to explain the position. The directors were constantly monitoring and discussing the situation backed up by the exemplary management accounts prepared by one of the directors. The situation that the Company found itself in was not found to be the fault of the directors.

Finally, there is no reference to possible consequent director disqualification for participation in wrongful trading, however, with this type of claim there is always a risk of being subject to director disqualification as well. Please see the Director's Friend earlier blog for more details.

What to do now

If you are faced with:

  • worrying insolvency issues with your company;
  • a claim against you for wrongful trading or perhaps misfeasance; and / or
  • director disqualification

then please talk to me today on +44 (0)1992 558411.  That is in order to protect your position without delay.  The earlier that you speak with me the more that I can likely help.

I am a Hertfordshire / London based solicitor and a full member both the Insolvency Lawyers Association and the Association of Business Recovery Professionals.

Until the next time...

THE DIRECTOR’S FRIEND