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In this year’s end of year comment, our Lexis®PSL Construction team consider what their standout legal development was in construction in 2018 and preview the anticipated talking points for 2019.
First published on Lexis®PSL on 12 December 2018.
For us, the standout development was the Grove v S&T litigation, specifically as it concerned interim payments under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 (HGCRA 1996). In February, the Technology and Construction
Court (TCC) held that an employer was able to challenge, by way of further adjudication, the amount due to a contractor in respect of an interim application, by reference to the true value of the works—even if the employer had not given a valid
payment notice or pay less notice ( EWHC 123 (TCC),
177 ConLR 30). This was then upheld
by the Court of Appeal in November ( EWCA Civ 2448).
The HGCRA 1996 sets out a regime for payments in construction
contracts, largely in order to ensure the cash flow of contractors. The regime operates on a system of notices—often the contractor makes an application for payment to the employer, and the employer then gives a payment notice followed by a
pay less notice. However, as shown by the amount of case-law on this issue, it is not unheard of for an employer to fail to give either a valid payment notice or pay less notice.
Prior to Grove v S&T, if the employer failed to give either notice, it would be deemed to have agreed to the amount claimed in the contractor’s application (ISG v Seevic  EWHC 4007 (TCC),
157 ConLR 107 and Galliford Try v Estura
 EWHC 412 (TCC),
159 ConLR 10). It led to what was termed
by some as ‘smash and grab’ adjudications—ie a contractor would obtain an adjudication award for the amount of its interim application (relying simply on the employer’s failure to give the required notices), and the employer
would then be unable to bring a further adjudication to determine the true value of the works.
Grove v S&T confirmed that it was in fact open to an employer to bring a second adjudication to determine the true value of the works, and recover any overpayment made to the contractor. Significantly, this can only happen after the employer
has paid the ‘notified sum’, ie the amount in the contractor’s application (the Court of Appeal was keen to emphasise this point). Accordingly, there is still an incentive on the employer to give the required notices, but the consequences
of failing to do so are clearly less severe now than they were before Grove v S&T.
You will find comprehensive coverage of this case in:
Aside from Brexit (for more on which, see below), a key development in 2019 may be a change to the law concerning the retention of payment in construction contracts. However, it has to be said that matters are moving slowly in this regard.
There are two developments that we have been watching closely here in the Construction team:
We understand that, at the Construction News Summit on 20 November 2018, Minister Richard Harrington indicated that the government would be making an announcement on changes to retentions law ‘very soon’.
In many contracts, up to 10% (but normally 3–5%) of interim payments due to a contractor are retained by the employer. The idea is that, if any work turns out to be incomplete or defective, the employer can then use that money to rectify the defective
work. If there are no defects, then the money is released to the contractor—normally half on practical completion, and half at the end of the defects liability period.
Reform, if any, could be through the introduction of a system in which retention monies are protected in some way—in particular against insolvency on the part of the company holding the monies. This call for change appeared before the Carillion
collapse, however that sequence of events has given the change more support.
For further information, see:
Other developments on the radar include:
For the full list of what’s on the horizon, see Practice Note: Construction future developments tracker.
As the UK prepares to withdraw from the EU in March 2019, Brexit will continue to be essential reading for all legal practitioners. See: Brexit—Lexis®PSL comments on key developments in 2018 and 2019.
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