Law changes to help businesses through COVID-19

In May 2020, the Government passed temporary legislation introducing a wide range of measures to support businesses and other entities through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Acts make changes to the Companies Act and other related legislation to help businesses facing insolvency due to COVID-19 to continue trading, and keep New Zealanders in their jobs.

There’s also relief for companies and other entities facing difficulties in complying with their statutory obligations, or obligations under their constitutions or rules, because of COVID-19.

Business Debt Hibernation

Business Debt Hibernation allows businesses affected by COVID-19 disruptions to apply to get a month of protection while they talk to their creditors — during this period most creditors can’t take legal action to enforce their debts, eg applying for your business to be liquidated. If your creditors agree, you can get a further 6 months of protection.

As part of the Government’s plan to accelerate the economic recovery from COVID-19, rules allowing affected businesses to put their debt on hold have been extended by 10 months. The Business Debt Hibernation scheme was due to expire on 24 December 2020 but is now going through to 31 October 2021.

Learn more about Business Debt Hibernation

Safe harbour for company directors, now expired

The introduction of a ‘safe harbour’ from sections 135 and 136 of the Companies Act 1993 provides relief to company directors facing significant liquidity problems as a result of COVID-19. This temporary provision expired on 30 September 2020 – but is able to be reinstated by regulation if required.

Law changes to aid compliance

Other provisions in the Act give a range of entities relief from both statutory obligations, and obligations in their constitutions and other rules, that would be impossible, burdensome and/or impracticable to fulfil owing to the effects of COVID-19.

Allow certain modifications to constitutions or rules 

Entities are able to make certain modifications to their constitutions or rules (such as calling or holding meetings, rules relating to dispute resolution or waiving, suspending, deferring or reducing fees payable by members). Read the full story

Enable use of electronic means 

Entities are able to make use of electronic means (including electronic voting and the use of electronic signatures) when their constitution or rules don’t permit this. Read the full story

Exemptions from compliance obligations  

Registrars and Ministers have been given the power to grant entities, or classes of entities, exemptions from certain statutory obligations (such as calling or holding meetings and auditing, assurance, or financial reporting or review requirements). Read the full story

Additional changes to insolvency law

Other amendments to insolvency law are included in the Act.

Voidable transactions period of vulnerability reduced

Bringing forward an insolvency-related reform under the voidable transactions regime to reduce the period of vulnerability from 2 years to 6 months, where the debtor company and the creditor are unrelated parties.

Change in the commencement date for the Insolvency Practitioners Regulation legislation

The Insolvency Practitioners Regulation Act 2019 and the Insolvency Practitioners Regulation (Amendments) Act 2019 were originally scheduled to come into force on 17 June 2020. Cabinet agreed to allow the commencement to be deferred and they later came into force on 1 September 2020.

Electronic signatures and the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017

The Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 was amended so that the provisions in that Act relating to electronic signatures apply to security agreements containing powers of attorney. This change applies retrospectively from 21 March 2020.

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We appreciate that circumstances related to COVID-19 may be creating uncertainty or anxiety for you and your business. Further details will be published here as soon as these become available.

Published 3 April 2020, last updated 2 December 2020