Tag: Suspension

The Scheme for Construction Contracts

In recent posts we have seen two pieces of Primary Legislation being referred to, these being The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 and the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. Intrinsic to this legislation is The Scheme for Construction Contracts, a Statutory Instrument that has come into force following these acts to regulate key elements of the construction process. In this post we will examine The Scheme and its major points.

We must first remember that this legislation refers to “construction activities” as defined in the legislation. While it is not prescriptive and allows some legal interpretation, broadly a construction contract is defined as “all design and construction contracts, including professional appointments, are likely to be construction contracts as long as they relate to construction operations”.

Which leads to the further question of, “What are “construction operations?””

Again this has been left to some interpretation but includes a wide range of construction operations and most common forms of engineering operation, such as civil engineering projects.

Some engineering projects such as mining, nuclear and power generation as well as contracts with residential occupiers are expressly excluded.

Let’s now consider The Scheme for Construction Contracts. Firstly we must remember that there are a different set of regulations in place in England & Wales to those in place in Scotland. In this post we will consider the regulations as they apply in England & Wales.

The Scheme for Construction Contracts

The Scheme for Construction Contracts (England and Wales) Regulations to give them their full title apply when construction contracts do not comply with the primary legislation and either supplements the provisions of the contract where it has deficiencies relative to the requirements of the Act or replaces the contract where it is non-compliant. The purpose is to allow the contract capable of being performed (reducing the likelihood of frustration) whilst allowing regulatory control over its provisions.

The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act applies  to all contracts for “construction operations” and sets out the requirements relating to Adjudication and payment, including:

  • The right to commence Adjudication
  • To be paid in interim, periodic or stage payments.
  • To be informed of the amount due, or any amounts to be withheld.
  • To suspend performance for non-payment.
  • Disallowing pay when paid clauses.

Part 1 of the Scheme makes provision for Adjudication where the contract does not comply with the requirement and Part 2 replaces those provisions in relation to payment that do not comply.

The 2011 amendments to The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act

The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 was amended in October 2011 by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 to close loop holes within the original legislation and as a result The Scheme for Construction Contracts was also amended to reflect the amendments. These amendments and their implication have been outlined in previous posts but can be broadly summarised as follows:

  • The act now applies to all construction contracts, even those not evidenced in writing
  • Adjudication clauses must still be in writing
  • Who will bear the cost of Adjudication can no longer be defined in the contract
  • The Adjudicator has the right to correct errors in contracts within 5 days of delivering a Determination
  • Payment dates must be set out in the contract.
  • A Payment Notice must be issued five days of the date for payment, even if no amount is due, although alternatively, if the contract allows, the Contractor may make an application for payment, which is treated as if it is the Payment Notice
  • A Pay Less Notice (previously a Withholding Notice) must be issued where it is intended to pay less than the amount set out in the Payment Notice, including the basis of calculation of the amount being paid less
  • The notified sum is payable by the final date for payment
  • Where a Payment Notice is not issued, the Contractor (or Sub-Contractor) may issue a Default Payment Notice
  • Pay when certified clauses are no longer allowed and retention release cannot be prevented by conditions within another contract.
  • The provisions around the right to suspend for non-payment have been expanded to allow costs to be claimed as well as the right to an Extension of time as consequences of any statutory suspension

These amendments apply to construction contracts entered into on or after 1 October 2011 in England and Wales, and 1 November 2011 in Scotland.

In the next post we will look at Part 1 (Adjudication) of The Scheme for Construction Contracts and the legal requirements and in the post after that Part 2 (Payment).

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Termination & Suspension clauses in construction contracts

Legally speaking in a contract there is very small differences between Termination clauses and Suspension clauses. Although there is now a Statutory Right to suspend works in construction contracts for non-payment.

It is therefore imperative when agreeing a contract, particularly for the supply of goods and services a termination and suspension clause should be included, if for nothing else to ensure the reasons for suspension cannot be regarded as termination. As this would usually come about when there is some dispute and / or claim between the parties, this only seeks to reinforce the requirement for clearly defined suspension clauses, that may lead to termination, but not when first triggered.

Termination clauses in construction contracts

Standard form of contract will contain express provisions on the rights of either party to terminate the contract in defined circumstances. By way of an example, if the contract is in effect a Sub Contract and therefore a further party is the employer, an insolvency event of the employer would allow the contractor to terminate the contract with the sub contract.

Non-contractual rights to terminate

The contract is entered into and usually implies that the parties will diligently carry out the works being contracted for within prescribed timeframes and then the obligation on the other party would be to make regular payment on a fair and reasonable basis. Usually under the services being contracted for the party providing the services would be required to “carry out and complete” the services, The definition of complete will usually even be defined in its own right, so there is no ambiguity in this that can lead to dispute.

Even with these terms there can still be reasons why the contract would end up being terminated, such as the following:

Frustration

Frustration can occur when neither party has defaulted on the contract but circumstances have intervened to prevent the contract from being performed as originally intended making further performance of the contract is impossible, illegal or significantly different to the circumstances and understanding when the parties entered into the contract.

Where frustration occurs the contract automatically terminates and the parties are excused from their future obligations, although any accrued liabilities remain.

It is therefore vitally important to ensure (and in effect for both parties to agree) that frustration has occurred, justifying the termination. This would be to avoid by consequence of terminating for frustration to being in breach of contract, where frustration has not actually occurred.

By way of examples, where a contract becomes more expensive to perform through any number of issues which should have been considered as part of the negotiation of the value of the contract, this will not be a frustration event or where an event is set out as being possible and how it is dealt with is set out as an effective potential variation (change) to the contract this will not be a frustration event.   Case law gives some examples of events that are not frustrating events. The parties need to be wary of Force Majeure clauses and their potential overlap. This will be investigated further in a later post.

An event that could be regarded as frustration would be where an employer instructs an architect to design a house to be built by a Contractor on a piece of land that the employer is in the process of purchasing. If the sale of the land falls through, the contract would be frustrated as the design for will no longer be required.

Repudiation

Repudiation occurs when a party commits a breach of contract sufficiently serious that it entitles the injured party to treat the contract as terminated with immediate effect and to sue for damages for breach of contract. If this is a material or anticipatory breach will depend upon the severity and effect of the breach, and whether it goes to the root of the contract.

Certain extreme types of breach will amount to a clear repudiation of a construction contract, such as:

  • Refusal to carry out work;
  • Abandonment of the site
  • Removal of plant by the contractor;
  • Employing other contractors to carry out the same work;
  • Failure by an employer to give access to the site.

These examples above are clear and unambiguous and grounds for repudiation. However other breaches may not be clear-cut and like frustration need to be clearly grounds to ensure that where the injured party treats the contract as repudiated as a consequence of the breach, which is not repudiatory; this will be wrongful termination and be a breach in its own right.

Whilst damages for repudiation may be higher than for other for other breaches, the parties should ensure they have that all important right to terminate for repudiation before doing so and where possible should try to utilise a more clear cut contractual right to terminate if available.

Further repudiation by one party will not by itself bring an end to further contractual obligations, the repudiation has to be accepted by the injured party. While there is no prescribed form of acceptance, it must be unequivocal acceptance by both parties. Where both parties accept the contract is repudiated, each side is released from performance of their respective unperformed obligations and damages are assessed under the normal rules and payable by the party at fault. The principle of these damages is to put the injured party in the same position they would have been in had the contract been properly completed.

However if the injured party does not accept the repudiation it “affirms” the contract is to continue, it is still entitled to claim damages for the breach but the contract will continue.

A further difficulty can be where the injured party instead of accepting repudiation, inadvertently “affirms” by their actions that contradicts acceptance or is equivocal in some way. This in itself could lead to the injured party being in breach of contract if it stops performing its obligations in the mistaken belief repudiatory breach has been accepted.

Just to confuse matters in this complex and complicated area of contract law, in some cases a breach may give the injured party the right to terminate for repudiation and a defined right under the contract.

In these circumstances the injured party does not necessarily have to elect to use one right or the other. However where exercising the contractual right is inconsistent with acceptance of repudiation, where the consequences of terminating under the contractual right are different or the response to the breach is less than unequivocal the injured party will be taken to have “affirmed” the contract and will have to rely on the contractual right rather than repudiation. As stated previously this could have consequences in relation to the level of damages for the breach.

Contractual rights to terminate

Termination clauses in contracts give parties right to terminate in certain circumstances and usually are in relation to breaches of specified contractual obligations as well as Force Majeure events which will be investigated separately.

Termination for convenience

Termination “at will” or “for convenience” wording can be inserted into a contract allowing one party to terminate without having to establish that some event has occurred or breach has been committed by the other party.

By way of an example, where an employer reconsiders the use to which land where they cannot secure financing for the whole of the project or cannot secure anchor tenants’ the contractor finds the project will be unprofitable or too risky, or the project has been suspended for a significant period with no prospect of it being recommenced could be grounds to terminate “at will” or “for convenience”. This could in effect reduce the possibility of dispute or claim later and the termination would be in the long term interests of the parties.

Traditionally this form of provision has been less common than those permitting termination for default in some of the un-amended standard forms. Employers in New Engineering Contract (NEC) 3 and the majority of Public / Private Partnerships (Private Finance Initiative and Private Finance Initiative 2) (PFI & PFI2) do have these rights usually. However, contractors and consultants are rarely given the right to terminate for convenience.

 Precedent and Compensation with terminate “at will” clauses

In these matters the only way to fully determine if the termination was legal and lawful is by having it determined by the courts. The matter could be subject to Adjudication, however the losing party would in all likelihood not accept the finding if they were to suffer financial loss.

As Public / Private Partnerships are a concept that originated in Australia, historically the English courts have looked to the Australia system for guidance around  termination “at will” or “for convenience.” It has been established through case law that in the absence of sufficient wording, it will be a breach of contract to exercise a termination for convenience clause simply for the employer to obtain a better price to complete the works from another contractor. This would be consistent as in effect it’s a higher form of “subby bashing” if we take the view the Employer and Contractor as effective in a Sub Contract arrangement. Further it has been established that a contract may provide no express limitation on when, or in what circumstances, a termination for convenience clause can be operated.

To be effective, termination for convenience clauses need to provide for contractor compensation. Standard forms do contain these clauses and there is a precedent that where compensation is provided for in the contract in clear, unambiguous terms it will usually be enforceable.

The key phrase there is “clear wording” as this will be required before a termination for convenience clause can be fully effective. Unreasonable provisions, such as allowing the employer to pass work on to a third party, must be stated in clear, unambiguous terms otherwise they will be unenforceable.

The courts have also determined that the use of omissions clauses to tackle bad bargains cannot be used as an omissions clause to get out of what it now considers to be a bad bargain. It is further doubtful (although not tested) if this type of clause could be relied on exclusively by an employer to switch contractors in the event of dissatisfaction with the current contractor’s work.

Case law precedent warns us that even if the contract does contain an express provision dealing with termination for convenience trivial breaches may preclude termination and harsh objectives need clear wording otherwise termination will be seen as an intrusion on the contractor’s right to finish the work. It has further established that work transferred between contractors is questionable and an employer cannot use an omissions provision to get out of a bad bargain, and it is also doubtful it can be used if the employer is dissatisfied with a contractor’s performance a termination clause should provide for compensation to avoid being treated as unenforceable because it is unfair.

Suspension clauses

As stated at the outset there is a very close relationship between suspension and termination. Dependent on how the clause is drafted the end result of a suspension clause may be much the same as a termination clause in that either party will have the right to terminate the contract at the end of the agreed suspension period where the reason for suspension has not been removed

The issue is that when negotiating terms and conditions of a contract in an effect to ensure the termination clauses are consistent and adequately protect both parties, defined suspension terms tend to be overlooked.

Just as with termination clauses, suspension can take many forms and the onus is on what is agreed between the parties. It should be stated that the terms and mechanism for suspension should be well defined to ensure that this in itself does not result in a dispute.

One of the key reasons to suspend previously was for non-payment; this is now a statutory right with the changes in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act [2009].

Broadly speaking the justification for suspension clauses will be similar to termination. Suspension could be a sensible mechanism for example to be used by one party where the scope and proposed outcome of a project has changed significantly but without the constraint to allow it to be developed. A suspension here for a mutually agreed timeframe would benefit both parties, if kept within certain boundaries. There could for example be agreement on a demobilisation and remobilisation cost during the suspension. This would be on the basis all parties have the desire to complete what was started, but just to a different scope. An example would be where historical artefacts are discovered that mean a proposed development has to have a significant re-design to allow for this. It would be far more sensible to suspend the works while the optioneering takes place that to let design to continue where it may only be subject to further re-design.

However it must be considered that conventional wisdom is that in the absence of an express contractual term it is difficult to argue that a general right to suspend exists in law as the courts have consistently refused to recognise such a right, save for the statutory provisions. This makes a defined suspension clause a sensible inclusion to benefit both parties.

When this clause is drafted however care needs to be taken to ensure that lifting the suspension is dealt with as well as the practical consequences of suspension and how long a contract can be suspended for before termination may occur

 

In conclusion as this is a complex and subjective area on contract law, where using these clauses you must proceed with caution. Where these clauses are going to be invoked you need to be absolutely clear that you strictly follow the contract’s notice and procedural requirements.

Force Majeure

Force Majeure is a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, or an event legally termed “Act of God” (Volcano eruption, Flood, Earthquake, Hurricane etc) prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.

In practice, most Force Majeure clauses do not excuse a party’s non-performance entirely, but only suspend it for the duration of the force majeure.

The objective of a Force Majeure clause is cover occurrences beyond the reasonable control of a party, and therefore would not cover such things as the following:

  • Any result of the negligence or malfeasance of a party, which has a materially adverse effect on the ability of that party to perform its obligations
  • Any result of the usual and natural consequences of external force

An outdoor event that is called off for ordinary predictable rain requiring it to be called off will probably not be Force Majeure as the rain was foreseeable based on empirical data, such as weather patterns and the fact the event is outdoors. However in the alternative if there was a flash flood that causes damage to the venue and does not allow the event to be safely run, thereby breaching the organiser’s statutory duty of care, this would be Force Majeure.

Purpose of a Force Majeure clause

Where a contract is time-critical and / or has other sensitive contracts included they may be drafted to limit the shield of a Force Majeure clause where a party does not take reasonable steps (or specific precautions) to prevent or limit the effects of the outside interference, either when they become likely or when they actually occur. This type of event may work to excuse all or part of the obligations of one or both parties. For example, a strike might prevent timely delivery of goods, but not timely payment for the portion delivered.

A force majeure may also be the overpowering force itself, which prevents the fulfilment of a contract.

The length in time element of the clause cannot be overstated as it relieves a party from an obligation under the contract (or suspends that obligation) during the Force Majeure event. Further what is and isn’t a Force Majeure event or circumstance can be the source of much controversy in the negotiation of a contract. A party should resist any attempt by the other party to include something that should, fundamentally, be at the risk of that other party. In effect the party that is obligated to perform should be held responsible for the event and not have risk transferred. But like most negotiations the outcome depends on the relative bargaining power of the parties and there will be cases where Force Majeure clauses can be used by a party effectively to escape liability for bad performance.

As different legal systems have different interpretations of Force Majeure it is common for contracts to include specific definitions of force majeure, particularly at the international level. Some systems limit Force Majeure to an Act of God, but exclude human or technical failures (such as terrorist activities, war, communication and / or electricity interruption, industrial disputes etc). It is therefore critical in ensuring that the distinction is made in drafting of contracts to make these distinctions.

Application of common law

English common law does not automatically apply Force Majeure principles into contracts and parties who wish to have Force Majeure clauses and relief must details the terms in the contract. Frustration of purpose is however recognized although this is a narrower concept that applies when the actual performance of the contract is radically different than what the parties intended.

English courts have however interpreted a broadly meaning than just “Act of God” as a Force majeure event and judges have agreed that strikes and breakdowns of machinery may be included in Force Majeure. However negligent lack of maintenance may negate claims of Force Majeure as maintenance or the lack of regular cyclical maintenance is within the control of the assets owner.

It has also been established that Force Majeure cannot be extended to cover bad weather, such as sports matches or funerals. In the case of Matsoukis v. Priestman & Co (1915) it was held that “these are the usual incidents interrupting work, and the defendants, in making their contract, no doubt took them into account”.

Force Majeure in construction contracts

As in often the case in construction constructs particularly in relation to delay events, there is always a duty to mitigate the delay as far as reasonably possible. In the event of a Force Majeure event taking place this would still be required, but of course to a different starting point as the event was unforeseen in the general operation of the contract. In particular the parties need to pay close attention to specific notice requirements and the duty to mitigate the impact of the Force Majeure event. This is as a failure to comply with these requirements could mean you are unable to benefit from Force Majeure provisions in some circumstances.

The various forms have slightly different requirements and terminology. If we take a Force Majeure event being a shortage of labour for whatever reason, the standard forms would expect the following:

 NEC3

The relevant clause refers to an event which “stops the Contractor completing the works by the date shown on the Accepted Programme” and which:

  • Neither party could prevent;
  • An experienced contractor would have judged to have such a small chance of occurring at the time the contract was entered into that it would have been unreasonable for him to have allowed for it.

While at face value also a clause and terms that are useful to Contractors and / or Sub-Contractors, the final words could prove troublesome in an application for an Extension of Time (EoT) in a contract signed now, particularly when pandemics etc occur with some regularity that it would be difficult to discount them as having “such a small chance” of occurring.

As the Accepted Programme is crucial under the NEC form how do you “allow for” the possibility of a pandemic predicted for a date in the future that has a material bearing on the contract? If for example you allow a month into your programme, what happens if there is no pandemic?

ICE Design and Construct Contract

 The relevant clause refers to “other special circumstances of any kind whatsoever which may occur”. At face value this is a helpful cause to Contractors and / or Sub Contractor’s although what “special circumstances” could entail would be the test to be passed. Again parameters of what could be regarded as “special” would be detailed in the narrative of an amended clause.

JCT 2009 Design and Build

The JCT lists relevant events for EoT claims as well as having a Force Majeure clause. In this instance the relevant clause would be where the contract refers to “the exercise… by the UK government of any statutory power which directly affects the execution of the Works.”

FIDIC White Book

The relevant clause refers to “unforeseeable shortages in the availability of personnel… caused by epidemic”. The word “unforeseeable” could be a bit difficult here as even where, for example a virus outbreak has peaked there is a high possibility that it will return. It would be sensible to delete “unforeseeable” to avoid this potential anomaly.

As can be seen, the typical standard forms treat Force Majeure differently and in an effort to replicate the type of contracting environment that they are most appropriate to. This does make the proportionate element of the clause proportional, but of course never all encompassing.

Force Majeure clauses in bespoke contracts

A Force Majeure clause that lists examples is better than an undefined clause, but at the same time it would be impossible to detail a list that covered every potential eventuality.

Therefore a sensible solution would be to define Force Majeure acts along the lines of acts and events beyond the control of the parties rather than listing specific examples. The parties then will debate if an event that is unforeseen takes place is a Force Majeure event when the event takes place. The difficulty could be where Force Majeure is not a legal term and is open to interpretation. The party who wishes to rely on the clause will have to convince the adjudicator or court that their circumstances fall within force majeure.

Despite the observation made in relation to wording a definition in a bespoke form above, it was always be remembered that Force Majeure will always be seen as beyond the control of the affected party. It is important to remember that this is not the same as unforeseeable as under some of the standard forms also considered above. The test to satisfy will be that even if you had done all that was to be reasonably expected you would still have been affected.

In an individual case the parties, court or arbitrator will look at whether something is or is not force majeure based on the facts as presented to them and where this is being used to enforce a right under the contract such as termination, it will always be worth evaluating other clause in the contract to affect the same remedy.

Anti-Force Majeure clauses

It would generally be expected that most Employers accept that the Contractor will be unable to perform its obligations in a “genuine” Force Majeure situation, such as an earthquake. Their concern is more around Force Majeure clauses being used in a situation that are commercial in nature or that could have been avoided by taking reasonable precautions.

While this is outside of the type of examples that we have considered as part of this post, there are situations where “genuine” Force Majeure will not be regarded as sufficient cause for failure to perform.

This is in relation to essential services such as emergency services, their facilities and suppliers (healthcare and caring professions) and essential industries such as water and sewage treatment, power supply, waste collection, telecommunications, parts of Government and the military. Where services fall into this category, the Force Majeure clauses tend to look very different and rather than looking to end a matter is based around the parties meeting promptly to rectify the issues where possible, as opposed to arguing about what can’ be done. This would also give opportunity to suspend certain procedures while they are rectified, such as when electricity lines are blown down or where the internet and telephone lines go down.

Is there a lesson here?

Can this significantly different approach to Force Majeure that has to be implemented by effective necessity by the emergency services be a good approach across the board?

In reality it’s a good place to start where a project is affected by a crisis that has been unforeseen. Rather than heading into a potential dispute situation it would be better for the parties to come together and see what can be done to resolve the issues, the timescales and even costs (even if Order of Magnitude)  rather than what cannot be done.

A typical Force Majeure clause

How would a Force Majeure clause be worded? In reality it would be to suit the type of contract being entered into. This is an example is of how force majeure might be described:.

  1. FORCE MAJEURE

A party is not liable for failure to perform its obligations if such failure is as a result of Acts of God (including fire, flood, earthquake, storm, hurricane or other natural disaster), war, invasion, act of foreign enemies, hostilities (regardless of whether war is declared), civil war, rebellion, revolution, insurrection, military or usurped power or confiscation, terrorist activities, nationalisation, government sanction, blockage, embargo, labour dispute, strike, lockout or interruption or failure of electricity or telephone service. No party is entitled to terminate this Agreement under Clause 38 (Termination) in such circumstances.

If a party asserts Force Majeure for the failure to perform the party’s obligation, then the non-performing party must prove that the party took reasonable steps to minimize delay or damages caused by the foreseeable events, that the party substantially fulfilled all non-excused obligations, and that the other party was timely notified of the likelihood or actual occurrence of an event described in Clause 40 (Force Majeure).

The Construction Act (The amendments) Part II

In the previous post we reviewed the changes in the Construction Act as many companies still do not abide by them in their entirety. In this post we will consider these key changes in more detail.

 Contracts in writing

The most significant and far reaching effect of the 2009 Act is the removal of the requirement for construction contracts to be in writing and the Act applies to all contracts, be they wholly in writing, partly in writing and partly oral or wholly oral. This  will particularly affect Adjudication, although for Adjudicators Costs and the “slip rule” will need to be in writing to be relied on, if they are not then the Scheme will apply.

This makes it even more important that agreements (even where part standard conditions and part negotiated (oral) amendments are fully recorded in writing, even as a contract appendix. For the protection of both parties an “Entire Agreement Clause” where it is clear that the written document constitutes the whole agreement, should be included. This clause will not prevent disagreements,  but will significantly improve the position of a party arguing against an oral agreement.

Payment Issues

The amendment at Part 8 of the 2009 Act affect all Construction Contracts in England, Wales & Scotland when they came into force on 1 October 2011 in England & Wales and 1 November 2011 in Scotland. The primary aims of the amendments were to:

  • To make Adjudication more accessible to resolve disputes
  • To introduce clarity and certainty in relation to payment
  • To introduce a fair payment mechanism
  • To improve the right of Contractors to suspend their works for non-payment

The fundamental changes to the payment mechanism are:

  • Conditional Payment clauses are abolished
  • Changes to the Payment Notice regime, including a requirement for the Payee to pay the notified sum
  • Introducing new rules on Payless Notices
  • New rights for Contractors who suspend their services for non-payment
  • Allowing clauses to be included in Construction Contracts allowing the Employer to Withhold Payment without notice in the event of a contractors insolvency

We will now examine these fundamental changes and look at what the 1996 Act required and how this has been amended.

The Payment Notice

Previous position

In the 1996 Act an “adequate mechanism” for determining the sum due for payment and its payment date (known as the “Due Date”) was required. Further the payee had to give notice, not later than 5 days after the due date, detailing:

  • The amount of the payment made or proposed to be made
  • The basis on calculation of the amount

There was no effective sanction for failure to comply with the notice requirement and the Act was ambiguous if no payment notice was issued as there was no certainty to what sum was due under the contract.

2009 Act

 Construction contracts require a payment notice to be given for every payment provided for by the contract, not later than five days after the payment due date. The 2009 Act further defines the due date as “the date provided for by the contract as the date on which the payment is due”.

The contract must provide for the payment notice to be given by the payer, a “specified person” specified in or determined in accordance with the contract or by the payee itself. The notice must specify:

  • The sum considered to be due or to have been due at the payment due date in respect of the payment; and
  • The basis on which that sum is calculated.

Even if the sum considered due is zero, a payment notice must still be given in the required form.

Whilst not a sea change from the previous position they key changes that need to be considered are:

  • The payment notice no longer need to be issued by the Employer and  can be issued by specified persons such as the architect or engineer, or the payee may be required to issue the notice
  • The notice must simply state the sum which is “considered” due and the basis of calculation. This prevents duplication and takes into account any set off, abatement or any other deductions which may be withheld; and
  • A sanction has been introduced where there is a failure to issue a payment notice and a significant greater risk faced by parties that fail to issue payment notices. This risk is that the payee may now issue a notice in default stating the amount considered to be due and the basis for calculation.

If the deadline has passed and a payment notice has not been given, the payee may give the payer a payment notice – known as a ‘payee’s notice in default’ – at any time, stating the amount it considers due and the basis for calculation. If the contract provides for an application for payment and the application is made, that will automatically be regarded as a payee’s notice in default.

If a payee’s notice in default is issued, the final date for payment will be postponed by the length of time between when the payer or specified person should have given the payment notice and the date the payee gave its notice in default.

These changes are important because there is a positive obligation to pay the notified sum, which may be the value of an application under the contract

 Requirement to pay notified sum or less

 Previous position

A party to a construction contract could not withhold payment after the final date for payment of a sum due unless it has given an effective notice of intention to withhold payment (the “’withholding notice”).

To be effective the withholding notice needed to specify:

  • the amount to be withheld and the ground for withholding payment; or
  • Where there is more than one ground, each ground and the amount attributable to it.

The withholding notice had to given not later than the ‘prescribed period’ before the final date for payment, as agreed by the parties. Where a date had need been agreed then the default would be the requirement of The Scheme for Construction Contracts, making the period seven days.

Crucially a payment notice could act as a withholding notice, as long as it meets the requirements detailed above.

2009 Act

 The amendment in the 2009 Act creates a positive obligation on the payer to pay the ‘notified sum’, to the extent not already paid, on or before the final date for payment.

The previous regime of withholding notices has been abolished and the “notified sum” is now a key concept. This sum is the sum stated in the payment notice, which can be issued by the paying party, the specified third party or the payee. This notice can also be the notice in default and in almost all cases this will be the application for payment. If no payment notice is issued, there is a positive requirement to pay the sums set out in the application if the contract allows or requires the making of an application.

This change allows the paying party (or a specified person) to issue a notice of intention to pay less, known as the “Payless Notice” before the final date for payment or where specified in the contract the final date to issue a “Payless Notice. The “Payless Notice” must specify:

  • The sum that the person giving the notice considers to be due on the date the notice is served; and
  • The basis on how the sum is calculated.

However as with the “withholding notice” it must be given not later than the prescribed period before the final date for payment.

Another further change is in insolvency situations where the notified sum need not be made if:

  • The contract allows withholding of sums due in cases of insolvency: and
  • The insolvency occurs after the expiry of the time for giving the counter notice.

However this is not a statutory right and the contract must contain an appropriate clause to benefit from this provision.

 Suspension for non-payment

 Previous position

 Previously a party who is entitled to payment the right to suspend performance of its obligations under the contract if:

  • The sum due is not paid in full by the final date for payment; and
  • No effective notice to withhold payment has been given.

The party wishing to use this right has to give the other party at least seven days’ notice of its intention to suspend stating the ground or grounds for suspension. The right to suspend comes to an end when the other party pays the amount due in full. However there was no entitlement in the Act itself to recover your loss and expense where you suspended for non-payment. To have this right the contract needed to be amended to give effect to this entitlement.

Crucially any period of suspension under this right was disregarded when calculating the amount of time taken to complete the contract for the purposes of delay damages, so in effect could have the double whammy effect of putting you in breach of your obligation to complete by a particular dat or suffer Liquidated and Ascertained Damages.

2009 Act

 The right of suspension now arises where there is a requirement to pay the notified sum and that requirement has not been complied with.

The party wishing to suspend will now be able to suspend performance of any or all of its contractual obligations. This new entitlement to partial suspension of contractual obligations means that suspension is not limited to the actual construction obligations, but could go beyond and suspend the right to insure the works or suspension of works on only crucial areas or with certain sub-contractors, thereby negating programme delays if possible.

Where the right to suspend is exercised, the other party will be liable to pay a reasonable amount in respect of the costs and expenses reasonably incurred by the suspending party as a result of exercising this right and this is a Statutory Right enshrined in the Act.

Further, crucially the time period during which performance is suspended in pursuance of or in consequence of exercising the right of statutory suspension is disregarded when computing the time to complete work is any period.

 Conditional payment clauses

Previous position

 Under the 1996 Act provisions which make payment conditional upon receipt of payment from a third party (‘pay when paid’ clauses) are not prohibited and allowed payment to be conditional on other events, such as ‘pay when certified’ clauses, where payment is conditional on a certificate being issued under another contract.

This had the implication of effectively causing a Sub Contractor to become exposed where a dispute (that he was not party to) existed between the Employer and Contractor.

2009 Act

 Conditional Payment clauses are now invalid where they are conditional upon:

  • Performance of obligations under another contract; or
  • A decision by any person as to whether obligations under another contract have been performed.

This is to prevent a party up the line from relying on circumstances relating to its own contract to delay payment under a separate contract. By way of an example; if the Employer has not complied with its certification obligations to the Contractor, this cannot be used by the Contractor to deny payment to a Sub Contractor.

 There is however an exceptions in relation to management contracting or equivalent project relief arrangements, where the Contractor simply acts as a conduit. An example would be Public / Private Partnerships where a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) company is created with the sole purpose of procuring the project. This SPV has no assets and is not intended to have any liability unless it is first paid.

Due to concerns that the 2009 amendments would outlaw equivalent project relief provisions in subcontracts in Public / Private Partnerships, orders have been made which protect certain of these arrangements in respect of contracts entered into after the act came into force.

The Orders means that provisions in Tier 1 first tier PFI Public / Private Partnerships Sub Contracts which make payments in such contracts conditional upon obligations being performed in other contracts (such as providing certificates and ‘pay when paid’ clauses) will be effective.

Although in reality this is a loophole that will have to re-visited in the future. We will also examine Public / Private Partnerships in greater detail at a later stage.

 

At a practical level in day to day operation of contracts the fundamental changes are:

  • Notices are crucial, bearing in mind that if there is no payment notice the other party can serve a notice of default or rely on its own application for payment;
  • The paying party will then have to pay whatever has been notified unless a valid notice of the intention to pay less has been served; and
  • Payment clauses have had to be redrafted to reflect the changes

Sadly in far too many cases the changes that have been effected have not been communicated effectively in large organisations and while the necessary clauses have been changed to make compliant contracts, for fear of strike down clauses, on a day to day basis many do not provide the necessary documentation.

Yet even more concerning is despite this, many still do not enforce their rights.

The Construction Act (The amendments)

Previous postings of Heina v Beck & Enforcement of Adjudication Decisions as a result of Brown v Complete Building Solutions have primarily revolved around two pieces of Primary Legislation, these being The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 and the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. In effect the 2009 act has been primarily an updating of the previous legislation to clarify where over time the law has been seen to be deficient. We should therefore look at the material changes that took place.

 As these two pieces of legislation, where they apply to construction activities first define what would be a Construction Contract in accordance with the legislation. While it is not prescriptive and allows some legal interpretation, broadly a construction contract is defined as “all design and construction contracts, including professional appointments, are likely to be construction contracts as long as they relate to construction operations.

This leads to the further question of, “What are “construction operations?””

Again this has been left to some interpretation but includes a wide range of construction operations and most common forms of engineering operation, such as civil engineering projects.

Some engineering projects such as mining, nuclear and power generation as well as contracts with residential occupiers are expressly excluded.

Let’s now consider the major changes of the 2009 Act

The major changes took effect with after amendments were made to The Scheme for Construction Contracts in 2011 and apply to contracts entered into after this.

The table below explains the key changes that were made to the 1996 Act:

CHANGE POINTS TO NOTE

 

 

Contracts in writing no longer required

Section 107 of the 1996 Act will be repealed.

The payment and adjudication provisions of the 1996 Act will now apply to all construction contracts, whether written, oral or a mixture of both.

The parties will still have to have a written adjudication clause in their contract that complies with section 108 of the 1996 Act. If they do not, the Scheme will apply.

Adjudication may be used more widely but it is likely that more time will be taken up in future adjudications arguing about what the terms of the contract are.

Ability to award costs restricted

Parties will not be able to agree in advance who will pay the costs of Adjudication.

The adjudicator also cannot be given the power to award legal costs.

 

 

 

Under the new section 108A, only two types of costs agreement will be effective:

1) An agreement in writing in the construction contract which gives the adjudicator power to split liability for the adjudicator’s own fees and expenses between the parties; and

2) An agreement on costs made in writing between the parties after the notice of adjudication is served.

 

New slip rule

Under new section 108(3A), construction contracts will have to contain a provision in writing allowing the adjudicator to correct clerical or typographical errors in his decision, arising by accident or omission.

 

The Act is silent on how long an adjudicator will have to make corrections. Parties would be wise to agree a timescale in their contract.

Notably, the Adjudicator will be permitted but not compelled to make corrections and his ability to do so will be limited. He is unlikely to be able to correct factual or reasoning errors or errors of judgement.

Pay when certified clauses banned

‘Pay when certified’ clauses will be banned under new section 110(1A), except where the construction contract is an agreement for someone else to carry out construction operations and payment is conditional on that other person performing their obligations.

 

 

 

 

The exception to section 110(1A) will mean that management contracts will not be outlawed.

Equivalent project relief clauses in Public / Private Partnership contracts, which normally contain conditional payment arrangements, may have to be redrafted.

Payers may try to find other mechanisms to minimise the effect of this, such as by inserting a longer payment period into the subcontract than the period in the main contract.

‘Pay when paid’ provisions will still be ineffective under section 113, except where there is an upstream insolvency.

Due date can’t be determined by notice

Under new section 110(1D), making the due date dependent on the payer giving a payment notice will be banned.

This is not an adequate mechanism for determining when payments become due.

If there is such a clause in the contract, it will be ineffective and the Scheme will apply.

New payment notices

The payment notice provisions of the 1996 Act will be replaced.

Under new section 110A, a payment notice will have to be given not later than five days after the payment due date.

The construction contract may provide for the payer (person paying), the payee (person receiving payment) or another specified person to give this notice.

The payment notice must be issued, even where the amount due is thought to be zero.

To be valid, the notice must state the sum that the person giving the notice considers to be due (or to have been due at the payment date) and the basis on which that sum is calculated.

Where a specified person gives the notice, it may state the sum that either the specified person or the payer considers to be due.

If the payer fails to serve a valid payment notice but the payee has already submitted an application for payment, the amount set out in the application will become due. Payers should therefore be careful to serve their payment notices on time.

New payment default notices

Under section 110B, where the payer (or a specified person) is supposed to but has failed to issue a valid payment notice, the payee may serve a ‘payment default notice’.

Where a valid payment default notice is given, the final date for payment of the notified sum will be postponed by the number of days that it took the payee to issue the payment default notice after the payer failed to issue the payment notice.

The payment default notice must state the sum that the payee considers to be due and the basis on which it is calculated.

Payment default notices should be served promptly, to minimise any delay to the final date for payment and to ensure that suspension rights can be exercised if payment is not made.

A payment default notice cannot be served if the contract provides for the payee to serve the payment notice.

Withholding notices replaced by “pay less” notices

The withholding notice provisions of the 1996 Act are to be replaced.

Under new section 111, the notified sum (the amount specified in a valid payment notice or payment default notice) must be paid on or before the final date for payment, unless the payer (or a specified person) serves a valid ‘pay less notice’.

Money can still be withheld without a ‘pay less notice’, if the payee becomes insolvent after the period for issuing the notice has expired.

A “Pay Less otice” must state the payer’s intention to pay less than the notified sum. It must be served not later than the prescribed period before the final date for payment.

It must specify the sum that the payer considers to be due on the date the notice is served (even if that is zero) and the basis on which that is calculated.

A ‘pay less notice’ cannot be served before a payment notice or a payment default notice has been served.

 

Enhanced rights on suspension

Where the payee is entitled to suspend performance under section 112 of the 1996 Act, their rights will be enhanced.

The payee will:

1) be able to suspend their obligations in whole or in part;

2) be entitled to be paid the reasonable costs and expenses associated with the suspension; and

3) be entitled to an extension of time which includes time required to remobilise.

Enhanced compensation rights may encourage parties to use this remedy.

Suspension may now be seen as an even more effective way of securing payment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the next post we will have a look at these changes in more detail and what should be included to ensure compliance with and protection from changes from that seek to dilute the effectiveness of the changes.