The recent Supreme Court decision of Broadview Windows Pty Ltd v Architectural Project Specialists Pty Ltd [2015] NSWSC 955 again demonstrates the contrast between the security of payment statutory regime for the accrual of reference dates and the corresponding rights under a typical contract, and the consequences for builders and developers alike.

Broadview Windows concerned whether the claimant had made more than one payment claim in respect of the same reference date, which is prohibited under section 13(5) of the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 1999 (NSW) (Act).

Reference dates

Section 8 of the Act states that a person who has carried out construction work or supplied related goods and services is entitled to a progress payment “on and from each reference date”.

A reference date is to be determined in accordance with the contract as the date on which a progress claim can be made for work carried out or undertaken to be carried out.  If the contract does not “make express provision” for a reference date, section 8 of the Act provides that the reference date is the last day of the named month in which construction work was first carried out and the last day of each subsequent month.

Typical contractual regime v statutory regime

In Broadview Windows, the contract was formed by an acceptance of a quote and, unsurprisingly, the contract did not make express provision for a reference date.  The reference date was therefore, in accordance with the Act, the last day of each month.

The work under the contract was completed by the end of August 2014.  The claimant made two subsequent payment claims on 24 November 2014 and 23 February 2015 and proceeded to adjudication on the second payment claim. The respondent applied to the Court for an order quashing the adjudication determination because it claimed that the second payment claim was in respect of the same reference date (as the first payment claim).

The Court dismissed the respondent’s claim and affirmed the position that, under the statutory regime, reference dates continue to accrue on a monthly basis until 12 months after the construction work to which the claim relates was last carried out (as per section 13(4) of the Act).

Unintended benefits for builders

As we have noted in recent updates, the absence of express reference dates in a construction contract can (and often unintentionally does) have benefits for builders.

  1. If a contract is terminated, reference dates continue to accrue under the statutory regime, thereby entitling a builder to make a payment claim after termination and enabling a builder to apply for adjudication if unsatisfied by the principal’s payment schedule.

In contrast, contracts rarely expressly state that the accrual of reference dates survives termination and therefore the builder’s right to make further payment claims in accordance with the Act is terminated with the contract.

  1. As can be seen in Broadview Windows, the statutory regime entitles the making of a payment claim each month, even where no work has been carried out. The only limitation on this period is the 12 month period after completion of the construction work.

Accordingly, a builder can continue to make payment claims (including for the same work) each month, up to a year after work has been completed.

Conversely, typically a contract will limit an entitlement to make a payment claim to the months in which work under the contract is being undertaken and a final payment claim (usually at the expiration of any defects liability period).

The recent decisions of the Supreme Court exemplify the need for principals and head contractors to make express provision for reference dates in contracts. Although this usually occurs, Broadview Windows, where the contract was formed by the acceptance of a quote, demonstrates the potential adverse consequences for a principal or head contractor of lax contract documentation.