ATO Director Penalty Notices (Part 1 in a series)

Director penalty notice part 1

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on director penalty notices. You can read Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

ATO Director Penalty Notice

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is able to recover a company’s unpaid PAYG Tax and superannuation from the company’s directors by issuing any or all of the directors with a Director Penalty Notice.

There are two types of Director Penalty Notice which the ATO can issue to a company’s directors in the following circumstances.

21-Day DPN – PAYG Tax or Superannuation Unpaid but Returns Lodged Within Three Months

A company is generally required to:

  • Pay required amounts of PAYG Tax to the ATO by due dates.
  • Lodge Business Activity Statements (“BAS”) with the ATO each quarter (or lodge monthly Instalment Activity Statements) reporting the amount of PAYG Tax payable to the ATO.
  • Pay superannuation contributions for its employees by due dates.
  • If the company fails to pay superannuation contributions by due dates, lodge a Superannuation Guarantee Charge Statement (“SGC Statement”) with the ATO.

If a company fails to pay PAYG Tax and superannuation, but it lodges its BAS and SGC Statements within 3 months of due dates, the ATO is able to issue a Director Penalty Notice to the company’s directors. The directors of the company can become liable to the ATO for the amount of PAYG Tax and/or superannuation claimed in the Director Penalty Notice. However, the directors can avoid personal liability under this type of notice if:

  • The PAYG Tax or superannuation is paid; or
  • The company is placed in liquidation or voluntary administration within 21 days of the date of the Director Penalty Notice.

“Lockdown” DPN – PAYG Tax or Superannuation Unpaid and Returns not Lodged Within Three Months

If a company fails to pay PAYG Tax and superannuation and it also fails to lodge its BAS and SGC Statements within 3 months of due dates, the directors are automatically personally liable for unpaid PAYG Tax and superannuation. In these circumstances:

  • The ATO can issue a Director Penalty Notice to recover unpaid PAYG Tax and Superannuation from the directors.
  • Placing the company in liquidation or voluntary administration will not avoid the directors’ liability.  In fact, the ATO can and will issue Director Penalty Notices after a company is already in liquidation or voluntary administration.
  • The ATO can also estimate a company’s liability for PAYG Tax and superannuation and then issue a Director Penalty Notice based on these estimates of liability.

What Happens if You are Liable Under a Director Penalty Notice?

If you become liable under a Director Penalty Notice then the ATO will treat your liability just as it would treat any ordinary tax debt payable. The ATO can and commonly will:

  • Commence legal proceedings against you and obtain a Judgment for the amount of the debt.
  • Use the Judgment to issue a Bankruptcy Notice and then subsequently make you bankrupt.
  • Garnishee funds from your bank account or from your wages.

If a company has multiple directors, the ATO will often target its recovery action at the director or directors which it considers has the best ability to pay. The ATO will have certain information on a director’s personal financial position based on the director’s past Income Tax Returns.

What Can You Do to Avoid Director Penalty Notice Liabilities?

The following tips will help directors avoid personal liability under Director Penalty Notices:

  • If a company is facing financial difficulty, obtain professional advice at an early stage. A professional advisor will be able to advise on risks associated with the continued trading of the company including risks associated with Director Penalty Notices.
  • Lodge BAS and SGC Statements on time or at worst within 3 months of them being due.  If these lodgements are made but required amounts are not paid then directors will still have 21 days from the date of a Director Penalty Notice to place a company into liquidation or voluntary administration to avoid personal liability.
  • Make sure directors’ postal addresses are up to date in records maintained by the ASIC.  Director Penalty Notices are issued to directors’ personal addresses as recorded with ASIC. Non-receipt of a Director Penalty Notice due to a change of address is not a defence to a claim by the ATO.
  • Note that if a liquidator or voluntary administrator is to be appointed to avoid liability, the time to make such an appointment is within 21 days of the DATE of the Director Penalty Notice, not 21 days from the date of receipt of the notice.
  • If a Director Penalty Notice is received act promptly in obtaining advice from a qualified professional.

What Can You Do if You are Liable Under a Director Penalty Notice?

If you are liable under a Director Penalty Notice then:

  • You should promptly obtain advice from a qualified professional.
  • You can negotiate a personal payment arrangement with the ATO for the amount of the director penalty debt.  We have assisted numerous company directors to negotiate these types of payment arrangements.
  • If there are other directors of the company, seek that they make a contribution to the ATO to pay a proportionate part of the liability.
  • Consider whether it may be possible to put forward a proposal for a Personal Insolvency Agreement.
  • If there are no other alternatives, consider filing for bankruptcy.

Director Penalty Notice – Further Information and Advice

Given the serious effects, the Director Penalty Notice regime may have on company directors’ personal financial positions, directors and their advisors should obtain appropriate advice and assistance when faced with the circumstances set out in this article.

If you are seeking advice or assistance regarding a Director Penalty Notice, please contact us on 07 3822 7201 for a confidential conversation about how we can help.



This post originally appeared on the site of Pearce and Heers, an insolvency accountant that Brisbane Business Accountant works closely with.