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Spring is here and so is the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Regulation 2020

On 1 September 2020, the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Regulation 2020 commenced (2020 Regulation) repealing the 2008 Regulation.

The 2020 Regulation will provide the legislative support and administrative detail for the operation of the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 1999 (NSW) (Act) as provided by the amendments which commenced on 21 October 2019. These amendments came about to address poor payment practices and the high incidence of insolvencies in the building and construction industry and also, to facilitate prompt payment, preserve cash flow and resolve disputes quickly and efficiently.

The 2020 Regulation is not retrospective and will not apply to contracts entered into prior to its commencement date.

Key reforms of the 2020 Regulation include:

  • removing the annual reporting requirements for trust accounts to NSW Fair Trading,
  • introducing a requirement for head contractors to keep a ledger for retention money held in relation to each subcontractor and provide the subcontractor with a copy of a ledger at least once every 3 months or longer period of 6 months if agreed in writing, and also to provide trust account records to subcontractors if their money is held in trust,
  • supporting statements are only required for subcontractors or suppliers directly engaged by the head contractor,
  • removing owner occupier construction contracts as a prescribed class of construction contract to which the Act does not apply, and
  • introducing qualifications and eligibility requirements for adjudicators to improve the quality of adjudication determinations under the Act.  The eligibility requirements include either a degree or diploma in a relevant specified field with at least 5 years’ experience, or at least 10 years’ experience in a relevant specified field.  The continuing professional development requirements for adjudicators will commence on 1 September 2021.

Of particular note, the project value threshold (value of the head contractor’s contract with the principal) for retention money trust account requirements will not be reduced from $20 million to $10 million as previously foreshadowed. The existing threshold will remain. Perhaps, given the current climate, it was considered too much of an administrative burden on head contractors who are already dealing with the pressures of delivering projects during Covid. A copy of the 2020 Regulation is  here.

If you would like to discuss or would like any more information, please contact us at info@bradburylegal.com.au or (02) 9248 3450.

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Case article – Brolton Group Pty Ltd v Hanson Construction Materials Pty Ltd

In Brolton Group Pty Ltd v Hanson Construction Materials Pty Ltd [2020] NSWCA 63 (Brolton), the NSW Court of Appeal considered the jurisdictional and procedural fairness grounds of an adjudicator’s determination.

Background

Brolton was contracted by Hanson to build a quarry processing plant at Bass Point. The parties agreed on a guaranteed maximum price of $85 million (excluding GST) in which Brolton was entitled to claim monthly progress payments on the last Tuesday of each month. Hanson claimed liquidated damages and the contract was eventually terminated on 3 October 2018. In August 2019, Brolton served a payment claim on Hanson. The payment claim claimed work up to September 2018 as well as interest on unpaid amounts to August 2019. The adjudicator determined in favour of Brolton, issuing an adjudication amount of $2,877,052.75. Hanson challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, with the Supreme Court finding in favour of Hanson. This resulted in the appeal by Brolton to the NSW Court of Appeal.

The Court’s decision

Brolton raised two main grounds of appeal. The first and most pertinent issue, concerning jurisdiction, centred predominantly on the availability of a reference date on which Brolton could make its payment claim.
Importance of jurisdiction and the trouble of jurisdictional error
Under the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 1999 (NSW) (SOP Act) section 22, an adjudicator is given the statutory authority to determine the amount of a progress payment, the date on which such amount became payable and the rate of interest payable on any such amount. The importance of section 22 is that it sets out the jurisdiction of an adjudicator. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. While the adjudicator is given the power to make these determinations, section 22 sets out the limited factors that the adjudicator can consider. These are the responsibility components of the adjudicator’s determination. Two of the relevant factors to consider in Brolton was the provisions of the SOP Act and the payment claim.
While adjudicators are given the power to make determinations, they can only do so in certain circumstances or if there are specified preconditions. In the legal world, this is called a ‘jurisdictional fact’. As Gleeson JA described in Brolton (at paragraph 28), the term jurisdictional fact is used to describe ‘any precondition which a statute requires to exist in order for the decision-maker to embark on the decision-making process’. Jurisdictional facts fall into two types:

1. The existence of an identified state of affairs; or
2. A state of satisfaction of the decision-maker as to an identified state of affairs.

A jurisdictional fact gives a decision-maker the power to make the decision. If it exists, then an adjudicator can make a determination. In this way, the reference date activates the adjudicators powers to make a determination under the SOP Act.
Under the SOP Act, a claimant is only able to make a payment claim when there is a reference date under the construction contract. Therefore, the existence of a reference date is a jurisdictional fact that falls into the first category. This is because the existence or non-existence of a reference date is objective and does not depend on whether the adjudicator is satisfied that a reference date exists. Where an adjudicator exercises its power, but the jurisdictional fact does not actually exist, the adjudicator has made a jurisdictional error..
Getting back to the case, in submitting its payment claim, Brolton claimed in its adjudication submissions that the reference dates for August 2018 and September 2018 were available for the payment claim. Hanson also contended that the September 2018 reference date was available for the progress payment. However, the adjudicator ‘went rogue’ and determined that the reference date was in fact 23 October 2018. There were a few issues with this. Firstly, the 23 October 2018 was not the last Tuesday of the month (which in fact was 30 October 2018). Secondly, the contract had been terminated on 3 October 2018, meaning no further reference dates arose. As the clause entitling Brolton to a progress payment did not continue beyond the termination of the contract, the adjudicator had made a jurisdictional error. The reference date the adjudicator relied on did not exist, and therefore the determination was void and the $2.8 million decision was overturned (as if it had never been made).

Although Hanson succeeded on the first issue, the Court was still minded to consider the second issue on appeal. The second issue concerned the procedural fairness of the adjudicator’s decision. Like jurisdiction, procedural fairness is a legal term that has important consequences for adjudication determinations. Procedural fairness is an aspect of natural justice, a foundational legal principal that sets the standards of how people are to exercise their authority. The concept of procedural fairness means the process in which a decision is made should be just. Procedural fairness requires that parties have the right or opportunity to have their case heard by the decision-maker. If there is a substantial denial of natural justice, the decision-maker’s determination will be void. In this case, the issue of procedural fairness arose because the adjudicator determined that the relevant reference date was a date not submitted by either party. Brolton argued that while procedural fairness was denied to the parties, it was immaterial and should not void the adjudicator’s decision. The Court found that the findings by the adjudicator were a material breach of procedural fairness and therefore there was a breach of natural justice.

Take-away points

While this article has discussed a few technical legal concepts, the main take away points from Brolton are that:
• A progress payment must be linked to a specific reference date. If an adjudicator incorrectly attributes a payment claim to a reference date which does not exist, the determination will be void.
• It is not enough that another reference date is available for the payment claim to be linked to. If the adjudicator goes rogue and determines a reference date not submitted by the parties, the decision will be void.
• Claimants should identify and make it abundantly clear the relevant reference date to which a payment claim relates and make submissions in the adjudication application as to what the relevant reference date is.
• Reference dates are essential for an adjudicator to make a determination. A failure by the adjudicator to appropriately determine a reference date can have dire consequences to claimants.
• Note: The recent amendments to the NSW SOP Act have eliminated the post-termination payment claim issue. Section 13(1C) now states that for construction contracts that have been terminated, a payment claim may be served on and from the date of termination. This change will only apply to contracts entered into after 21 October 2019.

Regulatory Overhaul and Reform Pillars: building confidence and stronger foundations for the NSW building and construction industry

Transparency, accountability and quality of work are always issues at the forefront of the building and construction industry. In the wake of many high profile instances of defects in newly built developments, these are also the big issues that the NSW Government is tackling in 2020.

Where it began: the Shergold Weir Building Confidence Report

Back tracking to early 2018, the Shergold Weir Building Confidence Report recommended the implementation of a national best practice model. The purpose of this was to enhance public trust in the building and construction industry and strengthen the effective implementation of the National Construction Code. The best practice model comprises 24 recommendations relating to:

  • registration and training of practitioners;
  • roles and responsibilities of regulators;
  • the role of fire authorities;
  • integrity of private building surveyors;
  • collecting and sharing building information and intelligence;
  • adequacy of documentation and record keeping;
  • inspection regimes;
  • post-construction information management;
  • building product safety; and
  • how the above recommendations will be implemented.

The NSW Government’s Response: Building Stronger Foundations Discussion Paper

The NSW Government welcomed the Shergold Weir Report and announced that it is committed to improving the building and construction industry through a number of new reforms. In June 2019, the NSW Government presented its Building Stronger Foundations Discussion Paper seeking input from stakeholders on its four key reforms. These reforms are:

  1. requiring practitioners defined as ‘building designers’ (e.g. architects, engineers) to declare that their building plans/specifications/solutions are compliant with building regulations, including the Building Code of Australia;
  2. introducing a registration scheme for ‘building designers’ who will be making declarations;
  3. ensuring that building practitioners owe a duty of care to owners’ corporations and subsequent residential homeowners; and
  4. appointing a Building Commissioner who is a consolidated regulator for the whole of the NSW building and construction industry.

What to expect in 2020 and beyond

It has been just over a year since the NSW Government committed to implementing regulatory reform and six months since it consulted with stakeholders to shape the direction of these reforms. So what progress has been made in that time?

In October 2019, the first tranche of reforms was introduced with the Design and Building Practitioners Bill 2019 (the “Bill”). The Bill seeks to deliver the NSW Government’s first, second and third key reforms by imposing new obligations on design and building practitioners. The Bill is currently before the NSW Upper House. Make sure to read our next newsletter as we will be providing a detailed explanation of the substance of the Bill.

In relation to fourth key reform, the NSW Government has appointed David Chandler OAM as the NSW Building Commissioner. In January 2020, Mr Chandler announced the Six Reform Pillars, which is the public’s first insight into his plans and implementation strategies for the reforms. The Six Reform Pillars are:

Pillar Actions Outcomes
Building a better regulatory framework

 

Implementing legislation and regulation and transforming the focus of the regulator

 

Ensure that NSW has a strong customer focused regulatory framework
Building rating systems

 

Work with ratings agencies, insurers and financiers to assist in better selection of industry participants

 

Move away from one-size-fits-all participant recognition and better identify risky players

 

Building skills and capabilities

 

Improve accreditation of construction related programs through improved standard modules

 

Shared minimum learning content and open source resources for all institutions

 

Building better procurement methods

 

Establish clear standards for engagement and outputs

 

Viable risk allocation and performance accountability

 

Building a digital future

 

Digitise the NSW Building Industry and move away from analogue record keeping

 

Shared industry wide platforms that build confidence

 

Building the reputation for quality research

 

Evidence based approach to accessing and closing the gap via case studies and other research

 

Baseline and measurement against our ability to improve confidence in the industry

 

 

This article provides a snapshot of the NSW Government’s plans to implement effective and wide ranging regulatory reforms of building and construction industry. This summary demonstrates that there is a significant task ahead in implementing these reforms, so watch this space for future updates.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice in relation to this article, please contact us on (02) 9248 3450 or email info@bradburylegal.com.au.

Builders licensing requirements – who is a “fit and proper person”?

Entry into various professions usually requires that a person be ‘fit and proper’, and that they be granted and continue to hold a licence or registration relevant to that profession.

An authority charged with the administration of a registration scheme or licensing scheme must be satisfied that an applicant is ‘fit and proper’ before granting the licence or registration.

Entering the building profession

The relevant certification authority will depend on the location of the builder’s work. Some examples are:

  • NSW Fair Trading, for licensing of builders and tradespersons in New South Wales;
  • Victorian Building Authority, for registration and licensing requirements for building and plumbing practitioners in Victoria; and
  • Queensland Building and Construction Commission, for  licensing in Queensland.

Although each jurisdiction has its own specific requirements, usually applicants must demonstrate that they firstly have the necessary qualifications, skills, knowledge and experience applicable for the registration or licence sought, and secondly that they satisfy certain probity conditions.

The requirement to be a fit and proper person not only applies to new applicants. It also extends to those wishing to maintain and renew their registration or licence.

How does an authority determine if an applicant is ‘fit and proper’?

The term ‘fit and proper’ is rarely defined in legislation. Rather, there are criteria and certain matters that an authority will consider, many of which relate to a person’s honesty, good character and integrity in commercial and other dealings. It is related to, but not the same as, being a person of good character.

In addition to providing evidence of relevant insurances, qualifications and experience, applicants are requested to disclose details of certain adverse or relevant matters. These are matters that may indicate that he or she is not a fit and proper to practise as a building practitioner. The disclosure of an adverse or relevant matter may trigger a request for further information or investigation.

Details of prescribed offences, convictions, licence or registration suspensions or disqualifications, and court or tribunal orders are amongst those matters investigated by an authority, as is the solvency of an individual or corporate entity.

Also relevant will be any examples of dishonesty or carelessness by the builder when dealing with the regulatory body itself. Even where there is no actual intention to deceive the authorities, failure to declare relevant information can lead to the regulatory body refusing the application. The authorities take a very dim view of builders who do not understand the regulatory regime and the importance of accuracy when dealing with it.

A failure to deal promptly with, or take seriously, customer complaints can also be relevant.

The fit and proper person requirement applies to individuals as well as directors of company entities seeking registration or licensing.

What is a relevant or adverse matter?

The following are common matters that must be disclosed, and will be considered, by an authority when determining if a person is fit and proper to enter (and remain in) the building profession:

  • the applicant’s criminal history and whether he or she has been convicted of an offence that involves fraud or dishonesty;
  • whether the applicant has had a licence or registration cancelled or suspended;
  • whether the applicant has been disqualified from managing a corporation;
  • whether the applicant is or has previously been bankrupt;
  • whether the applicant is or has previously been involved in the control of a corporate entity under administration or liquidation;
  • any previous breaches of the consumer law or contraventions of relevant building legislation and regulations;
  • the failure to disclose an adverse matter or the making of false or misleading representations in an application, which subsequently becomes known to the authority;
  • whether any court or tribunal orders have been made against the applicant;
  • whether the applicant has had an unreasonable number of complaints, penalty notices or cautions issued against him or her;
  • any disciplinary or legal action previously taken against the applicant by a regulatory body, authority or person; and
  • whether the applicant has previously been refused relevant insurance as a building practitioner.

Disclosure of an adverse or relevant matter does not necessarily mean that registration or licensing will not be granted. The authority will consider all matters, in all circumstances, and whether they establish a pattern of conduct that might deem the applicant does not have the appropriate standards to be considered a fit and proper person. The authority may also consider how recently the conduct took place as well as any relevant or mitigating circumstances. Further, it will assess whether the matters show that improper conduct in the future is likely.

The importance of disclosure – case study

It is important to disclose all information concerning a relevant or adverse matter when seeking registration with a building authority. Failing to do so can seriously jeopardise the application. Such was the case in Taouk v Director General, NSW Fair Trading [2016] NSWCATOD 41.

In this case the applicant was refused a contractor’s licence by NSW Fair Trading on the grounds that he did not meet the relevant industry experience required for the licence sought, and that he was not a ‘fit and proper person’ as required by the relevant legislation.

The applicant sought review by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

There were various irregularities and omissions of relevant matters in the application, including a failure to disclose the applicant’s previous directorship of a liquidated company.

While satisfied that the applicant had ‘probably’ met the requirement of relevant experience for the licence sought, and that there was insufficient evidence showing that he was deceptive, the Tribunal nevertheless considered he was:

…careless in his response to the application form questions that related to previous business difficulties and in regard to the accuracy of the information that he provided…

[The] discrepancies and irregularities and the applicant’s failure to declare his directorship of [the liquidated company] are consistent with the approach that he took in regard to his application. It is apparent from his evidence that he held the view that in order to obtain the licence he just needed to establish that he had two years’ building experience and that any other considerations were secondary … They show a cavalier attitude to the regulatory regime.

The Tribunal pointed out the consumer protection purpose of the legislation, stating that being fit and proper “involves more than honesty and integrity, it involves knowledge and ability.”

The issues raised regarding the applicant’s honesty and his attitude to the regulatory requirements of the scheme led the Tribunal to believe that he did not demonstrate such knowledge and ability. The Tribunal confirmed that the licence should not be granted until such time as the applicant could satisfy the authority otherwise.

Conclusion

In addition to holding the relevant qualifications and experience, an applicant must be a fit and proper person to be granted registration or a licence in the building industry.

When seeking or renewing registration, applicants must ensure they provide full disclosure of any relevant or adverse matters, have a sound understanding of the regulations, and demonstrate the ability to properly deal with a regulator. Honesty and accuracy when dealing with the regulator are essential.

Applicants who are refused registration and licensing, or have their registration or a licence suspended or cancelled, for failure to meet the fit and proper person test may have a right to an internal review or appeal through the Tribunal of their state.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on +61 (2) 9248 3450 or email info@bradburylegal.com.au.