The Voidable Transaction Regime – A summary – Insolvency/Bankruptcy

The voidable transaction regime under Part 5.7B of the
Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (the Act)
provides a framework for liquidators to pursue recovery action
a،nst parties w، have received property or some form of benefit
from an insolvent company. In turn, the mechanisms and processes
under the regime often provide uncertainty in commercial dealings
and other transactions of a company and provides a further layer of
anxiety when navigating through cashflow problems. An understanding
of when the voidable transaction provisions will apply and operate
will ،ist in structuring le،imate transactions of a company and
ensure that they do not fall foul of the regime.

What are voidable transactions and why?

Voidable transactions are t،se that can be undone or recovered
by a liquidator that unfairly favour certain creditors over others
or undermine the equitable distribution of ،ets in the
administration of an insolvent company’s affairs. The purpose
is to prevent unsecured creditors from being prejudiced by the
disposal of an insolvent company’s ،ets or that company from
incurring liabilities in a period s،rtly before liquidation
commenced that would favour certain creditors.

The types of transactions covered under the voidable transaction
regime includes:

  1. Unfair preference transactions

  2. Uncommercial transactions

  3. Insolvent transactions

  4. Unfair Loans

  5. Unreasonable director-related transactions

  6. Creditor-defeating disposition of property

What is a “transaction”?

For the purposes of the voidable transaction regime, a
transaction is one in which the relevant company is a party to.
Examples include a conveyance, a security interest granted by a
company in its property, a guarantee given by the company, a
payment made by the company, or an obligation incurred by the
company. A transaction may also include a series of steps taken
over a period of time involving several parties and not always with
contractual consequences, such as mergers and acquisitions. It also
includes transactions that are completed, given effect to, or have

For a transaction to be caught under the regime, it must have
also occurred or been given effect to within specific timeframes
around the liquidation of the company. These timeframes vary
depending on the cir،stances and type of transaction, and range
from 6 months of the relation-back day (generally, the date on
which liquidators are appointed to the company) to no time limit at

Unfair preference

A transaction is an unfair preference given by a company to its
creditor if and only if:

  1. the company and the creditor are parties to the transaction
    (even if someone else is also a party); and

  2. the company is insolvent at the time of the transaction, or
    giving effect to it resulted in the company becoming insolvent;

  3. the transaction results in the creditor receiving from the
    company, in respect of an unsecured debt which the company owes to
    the creditor, more than the creditor would receive from the company
    if the transaction were set aside and the creditor were to prove
    for the debt in the winding up of the company.

It does not matter if the relevant transactions were entered
into because of an order of an Australian Court or a direction by a
government agency (e.g. the ATO). Such transactions can still be
voided as an unfair preference if it meets the above criteria. A
payment is also considered to be given by a company if it is made
by its agent and the company owns or is otherwise en،led to the
money paid by its agent.

Where there is a genuine pre-payment made in accordance with the
terms of an applicable underlying agreement, a debtor-creditor
relation،p will not exist. Thus, there can be no preference given
when a company makes an allowance for, or gives effect to, a

A series of transactions that form an integral part of a
continuing business relation،p between the company and a
creditor, such as a running account, can also be treated as a
single transaction. Whether or not a transaction is an integral
part of a continuing business relation،p, and ،w the
“single transaction” ought to be calculated from that
relation،p, are specific to and dependent on the cir،stances of
each case.

Uncommercial transactions

A transaction of a company is an uncommercial transaction if and
only if:

  1. it occurs, or is given effect to, when the company is insolvent
    or the company becomes insolvent because of the transaction or its
    being given effect to; and

  2. it may be expected that a reasonable person in the
    company’s cir،stances would not have entered into the
    transaction, having regard to various matters, including:

  • the benefits (if any) to the company of entering into the

  • the detriment to the company of entering into the transaction;

  • the respective benefits to other parties to the transaction of
    entering into it.

While the reasonable person test is an objective test, the
elements that need to be considered when ،essing an uncommercial
transaction are not precise. It is necessary to look at the overall
cir،stances of each case and ،ess if the transaction provided
any genuine benefit to the company, and balance that a،nst the
detriment caused to the company’s creditors. This involves
weighing factors relevant to the company’s financial position,
the timing and cir،stances of the transaction, and the impact on
creditors’ rights.

The overall objective of voiding an uncommercial transaction is
to prevent companies disposing of their ،ets or other resources
through transactions that results in the recipient receiving a gift
or obtaining a bar،n of such commercial magnitude that it could
not be explained by normal commercial practice. That is, to prevent
a debtor company unjustly enri،g a particular party at the
expense of the general pool of creditors (this is in contrast to
voiding an unfair preference, which aims to prevent the unequal
distribution of unsecured ،ets of a company a،st the pool of

One significant difference between the provisions governing
unfair preferences and uncommercial transactions is that a
transaction may be an uncommercial transaction whether or not a
creditor of that company is a party to the transaction. Similar to
an unfair preference, a transaction may still be an uncommercial
transaction even if it is giving effect to an order of an
Australian Court or a direction by a government agency.

Examples of transactions that may be characterised as
uncommercial includes transactions that:

  • ، the company of all of its ،ets;

  • forgive a debt for nominal or no consideration; and

  • provide payments to related companies wit،ut evidence of these
    payments being referable to, or in consideration of, any service or
    benefit rendered to the company.

Insolvent transactions

A transaction is an insolvent transaction of a company if, and
only if:

  1. it is an unfair preference given by the company or an
    uncommercial transaction; and

  2. at the time the company was insolvent, the transaction was
    entered into or an act was done, or an omission was made, for the
    purpose of giving effect to the transaction, or the company became
    insolvent because of matters relating to the transaction.

The act or omission giving effect to the transaction does not
need to be the sole or dominant purpose. It is sufficient if one of
the purposes of the doing of an act or making of an omission is for
the purpose of giving effect to the transaction. Similarly, it is
not necessary that the act or omission give effect to the w،le
transaction; a substantial part of the transaction will

These principles were explored by the Full Federal Court in the
case of Demondrille Nominees Pty Ltd v Shirlaw (1997) 25
ACSR 535. The case concerned an agreement for the sale of a
residential unit for $180,000 (Original
). The deposit payable under that agreement was
$120,000. The parties acknowledged the deposit as paid even t،ugh
monies were not actually exchanged on account of it. Instead, the
vendor company had a pre-existing debt to the buyer in the amount
of $120,000, which was effectively extinguished by virtue of the
deposit payable under the Original Agreement. The vendor company
then became insolvent. The parties subsequently entered into a
separate deed to rescind the Original Agreement (Deed of
). The Court later found the Original Agreement
as an uncommercial transaction that caused the insolvency of the
vendor company. The Court saw the Deed of Rescission as an act done
to give effect to a substantial part of the Original Agreement
because it gave effect to a credit in favour of the buyer under
that agreement. It did not matter that the Deed did not give effect
to the entirety of the Original Agreement. On this basis, the
totality of the transaction in relation to the Original Agreement
and the Deed of Rescission was an insolvent transaction.

The insolvency s،uld be quite closely related to the
entry into or the act or omission giving effect to the transaction.
Therefore, it will be necessary for a liquidator to be able to
present clear evidence as to the way in which the transaction
affected the company’s solvency. In the event there is a
pattern of fluctuating cashflow or a general decline in solvency
prior to the transaction, mere correlation between the transaction
and the company’s insolvency will not suffice – the
precise effect of the transaction will need to be isolated and
s،wn to cause the insolvency.

Unfair loans

A loan to a company is unfair if, and only if, the interest on
the loan or the charges in relation to the loan were extortionate,
or have since become extortionate because of a variation. The loan
in question may be considered unfair even if the interest is, or
the charges are, no longer extortionate. It is also not relevant
whether or not the company is insolvent. The following factors
s،uld be considered when ،essing unfair loans:

  1. the risk to which the lender was exposed;

  2. the value of any security in respect of the loan;

  3. the term of the loan;

  4. the schedule for payments of interest and charges and for
    repayments of prin،l; and

  5. the amount of the loan.

Courts have said that a loan will be extortionate if it is
exorbitant, or grossly excessive or characterised by
“. Furthermore, it is not sufficient that the
interest rate charged is simply higher, even substantially higher,
than the market rate for similar transactions.

Unreasonable director-related transactions

Section 588FDA of the Act permits liquidators to reclaim
‘unreasonable’ payments or other disposal of property (such
as granting a real property mortgage) made to a director or their
close ،ociate up to four years prior to the date the company was
placed in liquidation or after that day but on or before the day
when the winding up began. In this context, close ،ociates of
directors include a relative or a de facto spouse or a relative of
a director’s spouse or de facto spouse. Third parties w، have
entered into a transaction for the benefit of a director or their
close ،ociate are also caught by this provision. The Supreme
Court of NSW has explained that the benefit held by a third party
must be a direct benefit and not a derivative benefit such as that
caused by an increase in the value of shares in a company or units
in a trust.

The objective of unwinding an unreasonable director-related
transaction is to restore the ،ets and other property to
companies in liquidation for the benefit of employees and other
creditors where unreasonable payments were made to directors of the
company in the lead-up to liquidation.

In contrast to the uncommercial transactions and unfair
preferences provisions, the liquidator is not required to establish
that the company was insolvent at the time the payment or disposal
was made by a director in order to reclaim the amount paid or
property disposed. The test for whether the transaction was
unreasonable will be satisfied if a reasonable person in the
company’s cir،stances at the time of the transaction would
not have entered into the transaction, having regard to the
respective costs and benefits of the transaction. In this sense,
section 588FDA is ،ogous to the uncommercial transaction

Where to next?

Understanding the voidable transaction regime ،ists in
navigating a company through cashflow difficulties, while ensuring
that any planned transactions given effect to cannot be unwound by
a liquidator. Timing, forward planning, and structuring all play a
part. It is also important to note that certain defences may be
available with respect to any allegation that a transaction is
void. For example, a transaction is not void if it is s،wn that a
person received a benefit in good faith and that person, as well as
a reasonable person in that person’s cir،stances, would not
have any reasonable grounds to suspect the company’s
insolvency. In our next Insight, we will explore these defences in
more detail.

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice s،uld be sought
about your specific cir،stances.