In normal circumstances each year there are thousands of companies which end up (voluntarily or otherwise) in some form of external administration.

In the middle of a pandemic, you would expect that this figure would increase.

Contrary to this however, the figures of insolvency appointments have dropped in 2020. This means that even the usual number of external administrations have fallen from pre-pandemic times let alone the additional expected insolvencies of many businesses severely impacted by the pandemic.

What are the figures?

ASIC has recently released the insolvency statistics for 2020[1].

The ASIC figures show that insolvency appointments nationally in July – December 2020 are down between 30% to 62.5% for the same period the prior year[2].

Insolvency appointments for 2020


Insolvency appointments for 2019




518 1,061


426 998


567 942


365 974


431 1,020


649 923


The numbers become even more surprising when you look at industries such as accommodation and retail where you would expect an increase in pandemic related insolvency appointments[3]:


Insolvency appointments for July  - December 2020


Insolvency appointments for July – December 2019


Accommodation & food services


269 524
Education and Training


25 84
Rental, hiring & real estate services


73 83
Retail Trade


127 274
Wholesale Trade


58 69

What does this mean?

It is concerning that not even the normal number of businesses are entering into some form of external administration.

It is clear that many businesses are relying heavily on the Government’s pandemic relief packages. The figures may also be a reflection of the attitude of the ATO and the banks who are significant instigators of non-voluntary insolvency appointments.

The result, however, is that there are likely to be many insolvent companies currently trading (“zombie companies”). The concern with these zombie companies, is that when an insolvency practitioner is ultimately appointed, the number and dollar amount owed to creditors (often trade creditors, employees and the ATO) is significantly more than if these companies had an external administrator appointed earlier.

It is likely when the Government relief cuts out (and the ATO and the banks become more aggressive in their enforcement measures) that there will be an avalanche of insolvency appointments. Unfortunately many trade creditors who traded with these zombie companies will be brought down too and there is likely to be a cascade effect with more and more businesses placed into some form of external administration.

For more information on how businesses can protect themselves from some of the fallout, we have provided some useful tips in our article ‘Three strategies to get paid in 2021’.



[1] Insolvency statistics - Series 2 Insolvency appointments | ASIC - Australian Securities and Investments Commission

[2] Insolvency statistics - Series 2 Insolvency appointments | ASIC - Australian Securities and Investments Commission

[3] Insolvency statistics - Series 1A Companies entering external administration - by industry | ASIC - Australian Securities and Investments Commission

About the Author

Catherine Ballantyne

A business disputes specialist, Catherine is a trusted advisor to businesses and individuals in obtaining successful outcomes. Businesses rely on Catherine as a trusted advisor as well as lawyer in guiding them through complex litigation and disputes.

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