Bankruptcy is a legal financial status that can have positive and negative effects. It is strongly recommended that a debtor who is considering bankruptcy seek advice from an independent and qualified source. Bankruptcy can affect a person’s ability to get credit and employment opportunities.

Contributors

Paul Latimer

Adjunct Professor, Swinburne Law School

Who administers the bankruptcy law?

Last updated

1 June 2021

Overview

The Bankruptcy Act is a Commonwealth Act that applies in all states and territories. The relevant courts are the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit Court (s 27 Bankruptcy Act). The Family Court also has jurisdiction under the Bankruptcy Act where the trustee is a party to family law property or spousal maintenance proceedings. Both the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit Court can transfer proceedings to the Family Court and the Family Court of Western Australia (ss 35, 35A, 35B Bankruptcy Act). (For the contact details of these courts, see ‘Contacts’ at the end of this chapter.)

The Bankruptcy Act creates the roles of Inspector-General in Bankruptcy, Official Receiver, and Official Trustee in Bankruptcy. AFSA undertakes each of these roles. AFSA is an executive agency in the Attorney-General’s portfolio that manages the application of bankruptcy laws through the delivery of personal insolvency and trustee regulation and enforcement (see ‘Contacts’ at the end of this chapter).

When a person becomes bankrupt, all their divisible property (see ‘Divisible property’, below) vests in (i.e. ownership rights are moved to) the Official Trustee in Bankruptcy (AFSA), which is the trustee for the majority of bankruptcies. Debtors who enter voluntary bankruptcy can nominate a private registered trustee to manage their bankruptcy. Current policy is to give preference to registered trustees over the official trustee.

The trustee can require a bankrupt to provide all financial documents and any other information relevant to the bankruptcy. The trustee can ask the bankrupt to hand over their passport.

A trustee in bankruptcy also has the power to:

  • investigate the conduct and dealings of the bankrupt and the reason for bankruptcy; and
  • seize and sell certain assets and distribute the proceeds.

AFSA’s website (www.afsa.gov.au) is very useful; it includes legislation, statutory forms, indexable amounts, statistics and comment on recent events.

AFSA as trustee vs a private trustee

A non-business bankrupt with no assets who has bank­rupted via a debtor’s petition usually has AFSA as their trustee rather than a private trustee.

A private registered trustee usually becomes trustee at the request of a petitioning creditor or debtor before the debtor becomes bankrupt. In some cases the creditor can ask for a private registered trustee to replace AFSA as the trustee after the debtor becomes bankrupt (ss 156A, 157). It can be an advantage for a debtor to not have a private trustee, as the trustee’s fees can be significant.

Complaints about independent trustees

Anybody who is concerned about a trustee or any other aspect of their bankruptcy administration can complain to AFSA, which reports directly to the Inspector-General. AFSA will investigate complaints against private trustees and against AFSA itself.

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