The Comprehensive Guide to Section 423 of the Insolvency Act – Safeguarding Against Fraudulent Transfers

Piercing the Corporate Veil in Transactions to Defraud Creditors

Problem: Creditors often encounter the challenging problem of debtors intentionally transferring assets to third parties, typically friends or family members, to avoid their financial obligations. This issue arises when a debtor, foreseeing a potential or existing debt claim against them, decides to place assets out of the creditor’s reach. Such transactions are usually carried out at significantly undervalued prices or even as gifts, making it difficult for creditors to recover what is owed to them.

For example, a company facing insolvency might transfer property to a director’s relative for a fraction of its value or as a gift, explicitly to avoid paying creditors. This practice not only jeopardises the creditors’ financial recovery but can create distrust in the business environment, necessitating legal remedies to address and rectify such unjust situations.

The evasion is not just detrimental to the creditor’s ability to recover debts but also undermines the legal framework designed to ensure fair and equitable debt repayment.

Solution: Section 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986 however provides a solution to reverse or annul those transactions that have the intention to defraud creditors by putting assets out of reach.

When a creditor successfully proves that a transaction was conducted with the intent to defraud, the Court can order remedies that may include the restoration of assets to their original state or the payment of compensation to the victims.

What is the Corporate Veil?

The corporate veil refers to a fundamental legal principle that a company is a separate legal entity from its shareholders, directors, and employees. This distinction means that in most circumstances, a company’s liabilities, debts, and legal actions are its own, not those of the individuals behind it. In simple terms, the corporate veil shields individuals from personal liability for the company’s obligations, protecting personal assets from corporate creditors or legal claims.

The concept is crucial in encouraging entrepreneurship as it allows individuals to take business risks without fear of personal bankruptcy from potential business failures. However, there are instances where the corporate veil can be misused, particularly when individuals hide behind the veil of incorporation to commit fraud or illegal acts, including the evasion of debts.

An example of this misuse would be a director transferring company assets to themselves or family members for less than market value, knowing the company is facing insolvency and likely claims from creditors. In this situation, the director is using the corporate entity as a shield for fraudulent activity. In such cases, legal action might be taken to “pierce” or “lift” the corporate veil, scrutinising the actions of the individuals behind the company to hold them personally accountable and ensure justice for creditors or other aggrieved parties.

What is Section 423 of the Insolvency Act?

Section 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986 is aimed at preventing and reversing transactions that were made to defraud creditors. It provides that:

Transactions defrauding creditors.

(1) This section relates to transactions entered into at an undervalue; and a person enters into such a transaction with another person if—

(a) he makes a gift to the other person or he otherwise enters into a transaction with the other on terms that provide for him to receive no consideration;

(b) he enters into a transaction with the other in consideration of marriage or the formation of a civil partnership; or

(c) he enters into a transaction with the other for a consideration the value of which, in money or money’s worth, is significantly less than the value, in money or money’s worth, of the consideration provided by himself.

(2) Where a person has entered into such a transaction, the court may, if satisfied under the next subsection, make such order as it thinks fit for—

(a) restoring the position to what it would have been if the transaction had not been entered into, and

(b) protecting the interests of persons who are victims of the transaction.” (emphasis added)

Section 423 of the Insolvency Act therefore allows the Court to set aside transactions at undervalue entered into by a person or company to put assets beyond the reach of creditors or otherwise prejudice their interests. This includes transactions made as gifts or for considerably less than the asset’s worth, where the intent is to avoid financial obligations.

The application of Section 423 is a key mechanism for piercing the corporate veil in cases where individuals or companies misuse the separation between corporate and personal identities. While the corporate veil typically protects individuals, preventing personal liability for the company’s debts, Section 423 empowers courts to look beyond the façade of corporate transactions. It scrutinises the substance and intent behind transactions to ensure that the corporate form is not used as an instrument of fraud or evasion of legal obligations.

For example, consider a company nearing insolvency, where a director transfers company property to a family member for a nominal sum. Ordinarily, the director might be protected from personal liability for the company’s debts. However, if this transaction is challenged under s423 Insolvency Act, the Court can “lift” the corporate veil to examine the director’s conduct. If the Court finds the transaction was intended to defraud creditors, it can reverse the transfer or order compensation, ensuring that the director cannot hide behind the company to evade responsibility for creditor debts.

This application of Section 423 reinforces the principle that while corporate and personal entities are distinct, the law will intervene to prevent abuse of this separation, maintaining the integrity of commercial transactions and creditor protections.

What are the Requirements for a Claim under Section 423 of the Insolvency Act? Who may apply?

To successfully bring a claim under Section 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986, specific requirements must be met. It provides that:

“(3) In the case of a person entering into such a transaction, an order shall only be made if the court is satisfied that it was entered into by him for the purpose—

(a) of putting assets beyond the reach of a person who is making, or may at some time make, a claim against him, or

(b) of otherwise prejudicing the interests of such a person in relation to the claim which he is making or may make.”

These requirements are pivotal in distinguishing genuine business transactions from those designed to defraud creditors:

  1. Transaction at an Undervalue: The claimant must demonstrate that the person or company entered into a transaction at an undervalue. This means the debtor either made a gift or entered into a transaction where they received significantly less value in return than what they provided. It covers a range of transactions, including the transfer of property, selling assets at less than their worth, or entering into agreements with little or no financial benefit to the debtor.
  2. Intent to Defraud: The most critical element is proving the intent behind the transaction. The claimant must prove that the transaction was entered into to put assets beyond the reach of one or more creditors or otherwise prejudice their interests (Hill v Spread Trustee Co Ltd [2007] 1 BCLC 593). This intention does not need to be the sole or dominant purpose, but it must be a significant purpose of the transaction.
  3. Victim Status: A claim under Section 423 can be brought by anyone who is a ‘victim’ of the transaction. This broad category includes not just creditors directly affected by the transaction but also trustees in bankruptcy, liquidators, and even other third parties who have suffered or may potentially suffer, a loss due to the undervalue transaction. Essentially, the law acknowledges that the detrimental effects of fraudulent transactions can extend beyond direct creditors.

For example, if a company facing insolvency transfers an asset to a director’s family member for free or for less than its market value, creditors or appointed trustees can challenge this under Section 423. They would need to demonstrate the undervalue nature of the transaction and that it was conducted with the intent to prevent creditors from accessing that asset for debt recovery purposes. It should be noted however that insolvency is not a requirement for an application under section 423 to succeed but it may be relevant.

In bringing a claim, the detailed factual matrix surrounding the transaction and the evidence is analysed by the Court, including timing, relationships between parties, financial state of the debtor at the time, and subsequent actions. The court’s approach is to scrutinise the intent and effect, ensuring that the law’s protective measures against fraudulent transfers are applied.

What Relief or Remedy is Available Under Section 423 of the Insolvency Act?

Upon establishing a valid claim under Section 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986, the court has wide discretionary powers to grant appropriate relief or remedies. These remedies are aimed at restoring the position as if the transaction had not occurred and protecting the interests of the victims.  The Court cannot put the victim in a better position or punish the parties that entered into the transaction.

 The nature of relief can vary depending on the circumstances of the case, but typically includes:

  1. Restoration of Assets: The most common form of relief is the reversal or setting aside of the transaction. This may involve returning the transferred assets to the debtor’s estate or undoing the effects of the transaction (Re Paramount Airways Ltd (in liq) [1993] Ch 223). The court can order the recipient of the assets to return them or their value to ensure that creditors have access to the assets for debt recovery.
  2. Compensation: If restoring the original position is not possible or practical, the court might order the payment of compensation equivalent to the value of the assets that were put beyond the reach of creditors. This compensation is aimed at making the victims of the transaction whole to the extent possible.
  3. Injunctions: In some cases, the court might impose injunctions to prevent further dissipation of assets. This is particularly relevant in ongoing cases where there is a risk of further transactions designed to defraud creditors.
  4. Costs Orders: The court may also make cost orders against the parties involved in the fraudulent transaction, especially if it finds that the transaction was carried out in bad faith or with the intent to defraud.

For instance, in the case of Re Paramount Airways Ltd (in liq) [1993] Ch 223, the court used its powers under Section 423 to order the restoration of assets to the company’s estate, demonstrating the practical application of this provision in ensuring that creditors are not deprived of assets due to fraudulent transactions.

It is important to note that the relief granted under Section 423 is designed not just to penalise the wrongdoers but primarily to protect and restore the rights of the victims. The Court’s approach is to carefully balance the interests of all parties involved and ensure that the remedy effectively addresses the injustice caused by the transaction. The aim is to achieve a fair and equitable outcome that deters fraudulent transactions and upholds the integrity of the financial and legal systems.

What is the Limitation Period for bringing a Claim under Section 423 of the Insolvency Act?

The limitation period for bringing a claim under Section 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986 is a crucial aspect that potential claimants must consider. Unlike many other provisions within the Insolvency Act which have specific time limits, Section 423 itself does not explicitly state a limitation period. However, the courts have provided guidance through the case law that has developed.

Generally, the limitation period for claims under Section 423 is governed by the Limitation Act 1980, specifically under Section 21(1). This section provides that there is no time limit for bringing actions to recover trust property or in respect of any breach of trust, except in the case of fraud. Given the nature of Section 423, involving transactions at an undervalue to put assets beyond the reach of creditors, claims under this section are often treated similarly to claims involving fraud or breach of trust.

Therefore, the courts have generally interpreted that:

  1. No Specific Limitation Period: There is no explicit limitation period stated in Section 423. Therefore, claims are generally guided by the principles applicable to fraudulent breach of trust under the Limitation Act 1980. While Section 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986 does not specifically deal with trust law, it addresses transactions defrauding creditors. When such transactions are carried out by trustees or similar parties in a manner that involves a fraudulent breach of trust, then the principles under Section 21(1) might be invoked to argue that there is no limitation period for bringing an action.
  2. Six-Year Limitation May Apply: However, where the claim does not involve an element of trust or fraud, a 6 year limitation period from the date the cause of action accrued may apply, as it would for many other torts or breach of contract claims. This period is stipulated under sections 2 and 5 of the Limitation Act 1980, for torts and contracts respectively.
  3. Section 36 of the Limitation Act 1980: This section provides that if an action is brought to recover any money secured by any mortgage or charge or to recover the property subject to such mortgage or charge, then, in the case of fraud or fraudulent breach of trust, the limitation period does not commence until the plaintiff has discovered the fraud or could with reasonable diligence have discovered it.
  4. Court Discretion: It is important to note that even where a limitation period might technically apply, courts have discretion under Section 423 to make orders as they see fit. This means that in some circumstances, even where a technical limitation might have passed, the courts could consider the conduct of the parties and the nature of the transaction and determine the claim.

Invest Bank PSC v Ahmad Mohammad El-Husseini – Wide Application of Section 423 Insolvency Act

The recent court decision in Invest Bank PSC v Ahmad Mohammad El-Husseini [2023] EWCA Civ 555 provides an insight into the Court’s approach when dealing with transactions designed to defraud creditors and the wide application of Section 423 of the Insolvency Act to pierce the corporate veil.


Invest Bank PSC, a public shareholding company in the UAE, brought two appeals from the High Court proceedings against Ahmad Mohammad El-Husseini, a Lebanese businessman, over debts alleged to be around £20 million, arising from personal guarantees connected to credit facilities for two UAE companies.

The Bank aimed to enforce judgments it had obtained in Abu Dhabi and sought relief against Ahmad and various associated parties for assets it believed were transferred to evade creditor claims.

The contentious assets included two London properties (9HP and 32HP), proceeds from the sale of a third property (18HP), shares in a UK company (Commodore UK), and US$15 million in cash said to have been held by Medstar, a Lebanese company controlled by Ahmad.

Issues Before the High Court

There were two issues that the High Court had to determine:

  1. Section 423 Applicability: Whether a debtor can enter into a transaction within the meaning of Section 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986 if his acts are legally those of a company.
  2. Beneficial Ownership: Whether a transaction can be under Section 423 if the assets are not beneficially owned by the debtor.

The High Court, in its initial ruling, decided that Section 423 is not applicable unless the debtor acted separately in a personal capacity and not merely as the company’s instrument. It also held that a transaction could be entered into under Section 423 even if the assets were not beneficially owned by the debtor. However, the High Court decision was appealed by the Bank to the Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal Decision

The Court of Appeal concluded that the High Court’s ruling was too restrictive. It overturned the High Court decision and decided in favour of the Bank, stating that actions by a debtor through a company he controls could fall within the terms of Section 423.

The Court emphasised the broad language of Section 423, suggesting that excluding such acts would undermine the legislation’s purpose to prevent debtors from prejudicing creditors’ interests using company structures.

The Defendants’ appeal regarding beneficial ownership was dismissed, with the Court finding that the interpretation requiring beneficial ownership was incorrect and overly restrictive, and not mandated by the statutory language.

The ruling significantly clarifies the applicability of Section 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986, expanding the scope to include transactions conducted by individuals through companies they control. It emphasises the wide and protective aim of the Act to safeguard creditor interests against unfair asset disposals. It ensures that individuals cannot evade liabilities simply by engaging in transactions through a company they control, thus upholding the integrity of financial obligations and creditor rights​.

How to Start a Section 423 Insolvency Act Claim

Starting a claim under Section 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986 involves a series of steps that require careful consideration and preparation. The process is not only about proving the case but also about understanding the legal framework and the evidence available.

  1. Identify the Transaction and Gather Evidence: The first step is to identify the transaction that you believe was made to defraud creditors, and the value. It might be a transfer of property, sale of assets, or any other transaction that has put assets out of reach. Gather all relevant evidence, including financial records, contracts, correspondence, and witness statements that can support the claim that the transaction was at an undervalue and intended to defraud creditors. It would also be sensible to obtain any valuation evidence to support the claim.
  2. Legal Assessment and Strategy: Consult with our expert insolvency lawyers at Go Legal. We can assess the merits of your claim and advise on the likelihood of success. We will also create a strategy for success at the very outset. Call us for a Free Consultation on 0207 459 4037 today.
  3. Filing the Claim: Our expert insolvency lawyers will prepare the application to the High Court under Section 423 together with all the necessary evidence proving the claim.

It is important to note that starting a Section 423 claim can be complex. It requires a thorough understanding of the legal principles, careful preparation of evidence, and strategic legal representation. The stakes are often high, as the outcome can significantly impact the recovery of assets or the resolution of liabilities for creditors. Therefore, engaging our expert insolvency litigation lawyers will ensure that you have the best counsel for your claim.

Our lawyers can often act on a fixed fee or ‘no win no fee’ basis, please call us for a Free Consultation on 0207 459 4037 today.

Tips on Avoiding Section 423 Insolvency Act Claims

To mitigate the risk of being subjected to a Section 423 Insolvency Act claim, both individuals and businesses should engage in transparent and fair financial practices within the business particularly when there is insolvency risk including:

  1. Maintain Clear and Accurate Financial Records: Keep detailed and accurate records of all transactions, especially those involving significant assets or changes in ownership. This transparency can serve as evidence of legitimate business practices and intentions if ever questioned.
  2. Conduct Fair Market Value Transactions: Ensure all transactions, especially those involving insiders like family members or related companies, are conducted at fair market value. It may be advisable to obtain independent valuations to demonstrate the fairness and legitimacy of transactions.
  3. Seek Professional Advice: Before engaging in any significant transaction, especially in times of financial difficulty, seek advice from legal and financial professionals. They can guide you on how to structure transactions in a way that is lawful and less likely to be challenged.
  4. Avoid Preferential Treatments: Be cautious of transactions that could be seen as giving preferential treatment to certain creditors or parties, particularly when insolvency is a risk. Such transactions might be scrutinised and potentially reversed under Section 423.
  5. Understand the Implications of Insolvency: If facing potential insolvency, understand the legal implications and the duties this imposes, particularly regarding asset disposal. Directors and individuals must not engage in transactions that could be interpreted as an attempt to defraud creditors. Our expert insolvency lawyers will be able to assist to help reduce the risk of any clawback of transactions under section 423 of the Insolvency Act.
  6. Regular Legal Compliance Checks: Regularly review your company’s or personal financial dealings with a legal lens, especially when the financial situation changes or before undertaking significant transactions. This proactive approach can help identify potential issues before they become problematic.

By following these practices, individuals and companies can reduce the risk of engaging in transactions that could later be challenged under Section 423. The consequences of a Section 423 claim can be severe, including the reversal of transactions and potential personal liability, so taking steps to avoid such claims is not only wise but essential for long-term stability and reputation.

Free Consultation with Expert Insolvency Lawyers

Section 423 of the Insolvency Act 1986 plays a crucial role in financial transactions and insolvency law. It can provide a legal remedy to address and reverse transactions that are designed to defraud creditors, ensuring that assets are rightfully available for debt recovery.

If you believe you have been affected by a transaction that falls under Section 423, or if you are considering making a transaction that might later be scrutinised, it is imperative to seek legal advice.

Our expert insolvency and debt recovery lawyers are here to help. Please call us for a Free Consultation on 0207 459 4037 today.


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