Beware the Double D’s – Directors’ Duties!


If you are a director of a UK company that is a big deal. To whom much is given much is EXPECTED and the Companies Act 2006 did not forget about this! Shareholders of a company delegate the day-to-day management of the company to the directors so EFFECTIVELY the directors ARE the company. This is why the law has prescribed certain expectations for directors.

BASIC POWERS

Firstly, let’s ensure that you understand the basic power and authority of directors.

Directors work as a board (basically a team). The BOARD OF DIRECTORS may (if the articles of association permit, as they generally will) delegate powers to a committee of board members (sub team) or to an individual director (so this individual director can make particular decisions without referring to the board).

An EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR is an employee (of the company) with specific powers delegated to them either by a resolution (decision) of the board or under their service contracts.

A NON-EXECUTIVE director is, as the name implies, a director to whom no executive powers have been granted by the board. HOWEVER they can VOTE at board meetings and still have the same duties as executive directors. A non-executive director is usually an expert of some sort who acts as a check on the executive directors by using their particular expertise to vote at board meetings.

A MANAGING DIRECTOR (sometimes called a chief executive) is granted more extensive executive powers by the company’s articles of association or by board resolution. As the name suggests,  a managing director manages the other directors.

IF you are a director, you should know and understand the extent of your powers within your company or else you could fall foul of an array of liability. The golden rule is to never act beyond your powers. Take any issues to the board if you are unsure.

STATUTORY DUTIES

As stated in my previous post, the Companies Act 2006 is really your wikipedia for UK Company Law and it is a great start for understanding your role as a director. A director’s general duties are owed to the company and NOT to the individual shareholders. It is the company that will have the right of action against a director if he or she misuses their position.

The Companies Act 2006 codifies certain key duties, as follows:

  1. Duty to act within powers (section 171);
  2. Duty to promote the success of the company (section 172);
  3. Duty to exercise independent judgment (section 173);
  4. Duty to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence (section 174);
  5. Duty to avoid conflicts of interest (section 175);
  6. Duty not to accept benefits from third parties (section 176); and
  7. Duty to declare interest in proposed transaction or arrangement (sections 177 to 185).

All of the above are designed to prevent directors abusing the position they hold within a company. Some of them may seem pretty obvious but you’d be surprised! Parliament didn’t pass the Company Directors’ Disqualification Act 1986 for nothing! In my experience, directors generally tend to fail to understand the restraints of 6 and 7 (go read these sections).

CODE OF CONDUCT

Alongside the statutory duties there is also what is known as the ‘code of conduct’ for directors. These include but are not limited to:

  • The likely consequence of any decision in the long term – so you have to demonstrate that you have thought about the future impact of your decisions for the company;
  • The interests of the company’s employees;
  • The need to act fairly as between members of the company; and
  • The impact of the company’s operations on the community and the environment.

Basically, directors have a lot to consider when they act. WHY should you CARE? Well sadly, directors are personally liable if they fail to comply with their duties. PERSONALLY (urgh) AND a director can even face criminal charges. That said, if you are a director, you can protect yourself by always taking difficult decisions to the board – you know, a problem shared is a problem halved…BUT if you ALONE are the board, it is important to document WHY you make a particular decision, to demonstrate that you have considered the code of conduct and the statutory duties.

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