Shareholder disputes

What are the most common types of shareholder disputes?

There are many reasons for shareholder disagreements. Here are some examples:

Directors act in breach of an agreement

If a director breaches the terms set out in a shareholder agreement or articles of association this can lead to a dispute.

Lack of communication with minority shareholders

Every shareholder in a company has the right to be informed about the business's financial affairs. Disputes may arise when majority shareholders make decisions without discussing them with minority shareholders (those who own less than 50% of a company).

Shareholders fall out

When shareholders are locked in a disagreement over a specific issue, or there is a clash of personalities, relationships can break down completely. Until matters are settled, it can be very difficult for those involved to run a business properly.

Unfair pay

If one shareholder is drawing more money from the business than the other shareholders, then this can lead to a dispute. For instance, the largest shareholder might draw a higher proportion of dividends from the business than the other shareholders think is fair.

A dispute might also arise if a shareholder diverts clients towards another business that they own or control.

Have a question or need some help?

Contact our expert team today and receive your free initial assessment

What are the legal rights of shareholders?

Shareholders' rights are set out in the Companies Act 2006.

The rights of shareholders vary depending upon the percentage of a business they own and the type or classes of shares they own. 

However, every shareholder has the following basic rights under the Act:

General meetings and voting

Every shareholder has the right to be informed that an annual general meeting or an extraordinary general meeting is taking place, and they have the right to attend. If a shareholder cannot attend a meeting, they have the right to send a proxy in their place.

Shareholders normally have the right to vote, but this depends upon whether they own voting shares.

Company profits

Shareholders have the right to receive a share of a business's profits. This is usually paid as dividends, although some classes of shares may not qualify for dividends.

Annual report, accounts and other documents

Shareholders have the right to receive a copy of the company's annual report and accounts upon request. Most businesses also issue shareholders with a copy of their share certificate, although there is no legal requirement for them to do so. However, a shareholder's name must be listed in the business's register of members to prove they are a shareholder.

Shareholders have the right to see the company's articles of association which may set out any additional rights they have. They can also see the terms of directors' service agreements, directors' indemnity provisions, records of resolutions, and the minutes of general meetings.

Winding up a company

If a business is wound up, shareholders have the right to receive a proportion of the money. A shareholder's rights to receive monies vary depending upon the classes of shares they own.

No money can be distributed to shareholders until creditors have been paid.

Can shareholders have additional rights?

Although shareholders' basic rights are set out in the Companies Act 2006, these rights can be enhanced by a company's articles of association and a shareholders' agreement. Shareholders' rights can never be less than those specified in the Act.

Articles of association lay out how a business will be owned and run. A shareholders' agreement builds on this by adding detail, such as:

  • Shareholders' rights and duties
  • How the sale of shares will be regulated
  • Exactly how important decisions will be made.

A well-drafted shareholders' agreement is specific and practical, which provides clarity and peace of mind for shareholders.

How can shareholder disagreements be resolved?

If a company has articles of association and a shareholders' agreement, these provide the starting point for resolving a dispute. For example, there may be an agreed set of procedures that can be followed to manage the transfer of shares.

Disputes can be resolved through mediation. This is when an independent mediator helps the parties involved to reach an agreement themselves. If an agreement is reached, the terms can be incorporated into a legally binding settlement agreement or a waiver of claims.

A share purchase agreement can also be drawn up.

Settling disputes through mediation is faster and less costly than court action, which should always be a last resort. However, if court action is necessary, we have the experience to act in your best interests.

What are the solutions to shareholder disputes?

When shareholder disputes arise, there are different solutions, including:

  • Buying back shares - The company buys back shares from the shareholder, increasing the stakes for the remaining shareholders, which can only usually happen if the majority of shareholders agree.
  • Dividing the company - The business is split or reorganised so shareholders can go their separate ways.
  • Deferred consideration - The company may agree to buy shares back from the shareholder at a fixed price but defer payment until there are funds available.
  • Variation of rights - This enables a shareholder to keep receiving an income from the company but to relinquish management control.

Have a question or need some help?

Why choose Davisons Law?

Our solicitors have years of experience in successfully resolving all types of shareholder disagreements. We can work sensitively with you to explore solutions and to reach a practical solution that protects your business.

If your business has a shareholders' agreement, a dispute can be resolved more quickly. However, if not, we will advise you on options and work to address the issues.

  • Results

    We believe that we are the best, industry leaders and market innovators. We have your back, whether you are moving into your dream home or needing a complex family divorce.
  • Where and when you need us

    Local offices and dedicated people who are accessible, friendly and here to help.
  • Experts in what we do

    We have the best people to help you, high skilled and vastly experienced. We’ll provide you with clear advice, not just options so that you can see a clear way forward.
  • Accreditations

    We have several accreditations that ensure the legal advice we provide is of the highest standards.

Get your FREE Initial
Assessment now

Fill in the form with your details and a bit about your current situation and a member of our team will be in touch to offer you a FREE initial assessment.

Please let us know you are not a robot