What are preliminaries in a construction contract?

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Published on LexisPSL on 20/11/2017

The following Construction Q&A provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • What are preliminaries in a construction contract?
  • What are prelims?
  • Contractual hierarchy
  • Preliminaries in contractors’ claims

What are preliminaries in a construction contract?

What are prelims?

‘Preliminaries’ in a construction contract, or ‘prelims’, is typically taken to mean the section in the bills of quantities which groups together items which are necessary for the contractor to complete the works, but will not actually become part of the works, such as scaffolding, plant, water, the cost of power to the site and other site overheads. The preliminaries section also often summarises the contractual terms and services to be provided by the contractor.

The preliminaries are usually found within the first part of the bills of quantities which form part of the contract documents in a traditional form of contract, eg the JCT Standard Building Contract. They may also be referred to as ‘general’ items in the bills of quantities, or ‘site overheads’ or ‘field office costs’ (US contracts tend to use these terms).

In JD Wetherspoon v HMRC [2007] UKSPC SPC00657 (a tax case relating to expenditure on fit out works—not reported by LexisNexis®), preliminaries were described as:

‘...necessary costs which are not usually tangibly reflected in the finished works as opposed to costs directly related to the quantity of items of work, i.e. materials, tradesmen and site labour, tools and small plant. Costs concerned with the works as a whole are preliminaries being commonly referred to as [the contractor’s] site-related overheads.’

The RICS New Rules

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