A director is somebody who manages a company on a day to day basis. They are the human agents of an artificial person (the company). Despite there being various types of director, they are all generally subject to the same legal controls on their actions.
Setting up a business as a limited company is very appealing to individuals if, as is the case with many small businesses, they would be both shareholders and directors of the company. This is primarily because the liability of the shareholders of the company is limited to their investment in the shares in the business - the shareholders and the company are 2 very distinct legal entities in the eyes of the law.
However, a very common error or misconception held by owner managed companies (where the directors are also the shareholders) is that that this limitation of liability also extends to their role as directors in addition to shareholders. This is false.
A director of a company must act in accordance with the company’s constitution and only exercise powers for the purposes for which they are conferred.
A company’s constitution is its articles of association.
The directors should make decisions which are in the best interests of the company. They should also consider the impact of those decisions on shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers and the environment.
A director must avoid a situation in which he/she has, or could have, a direct or indirect interest that conflicts, or may possibly conflict, with the interests of the company.
A director may seek professional advice as long as he/she exercises their own judgment in deciding how to proceed based on that advice.
Directors should act in a way a reasonably diligent person would behave based on their general knowledge, skill and experience.
A director must not accept a benefit from a third party given by reason of his/her being a director or by his/her doing anything as a director.
If a director is in any way, directly or indirectly, interested in a proposed transaction or arrangement with the company then he/she must declare both the nature and extent of this interest to the other directors before the company enters into the transaction or arrangement.
General duties are owed by the directors to the company.
It is the board’s decision whether or not to take action against a particular director in the event of a breach.
Breach of duty may also give a company grounds to dismiss a director as an employee and the director could face disqualification proceedings, preventing him/her from acting as a director, or being involved in the management, of another company.
In some circumstances, the shareholders can step in and bring an action in the name of the company to recover loss on behalf of the company. Such claims are usually considered if the directors as a whole choose not to proceed against the director in breach.
Directors must keep adequate and accurate company accounting records. The records must show and explain transactions and disclose the company’s financial position with reasonable accuracy. As a minimum, accounting records must contain day to day entries of all sums of money received and expended by the company as well as a record of the assets and liabilities of the company.
Failure to keep proper accounting records is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or a fine. For persistent failure a director may be disqualified
Every company is required to keep certain statutory registers and to provide access to them. These must be kept at the company’s registered office or at some other place notified to Companies House.
These registers include:
Failure to maintain the records or submit a return within the required timescales will result in the directors being liable to a fine.
Data protection legislation sets out how personal data must be handled and relates to the collection, recording, use, storage, disclosure and destruction of personal data held by the company. Companies must be able to provide evidence that the legislation has been complied with.
Directors could potentially face personal liability of a criminal nature should anybody within the company commit a breach of the legislation.
Directors owe duties to their employees and to persons not in their employment but who may be affected by their undertaking (such as contractors, visitors to their site, etc). These duties stem from the Health and Safety at Work Act and related legislation.
Where an offense under any health and safety legislation is committed by a company and it is considered to have been attributable to the neglect of any director of the company, that person, as well as the company, will face proceedings for breach of the relevant health and safety legislation.
If convicted, penalties range from a fine to imprisonment for up to two years and disqualification from acting in the capacity of a director for up to 15 years.
A director must ensure that the company has reasonable prevention procedures in place in order to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion.
The Bribery Act imposes various obligations on a company and its directors.
Companies could face an unlimited fine and individuals could face an unlimited fine as well as a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Directors should conduct regular risk assessments and ensure that adequate procedures are in place to prevent bribery.
All companies have an obligation to file documents and updates with Companies House at certain intervals.
These are usually annual filings or a filing that is required as a result of a particular event or change to the company. It is the responsibility of the company’s directors to know when these filings are required and to ensure that these filings occur on time.
A director can be fined, prosecuted or disqualified if he/she does not meet his/her responsibilities.
If annual filings are not made then Companies House may assume that the company is no longer carrying on business or is no longer in operation. This may result in steps being taken to strike the company off the register. The effect of this is that the company is deemed to no longer exist and all assets become property of the Crown.