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What are the early warning signs that a contractor may be in financial difficulty?

As the project progresses, it is important to continually monitor the contractor’s performance.  Any one or more of the items below can be early warning signs that the contractor is in financial difficulty, and that further actions may be necessary:

  • Decrease in labour or contractor’s personnel on site, and/or rapid turnover of contractor’s personnel
  • Slowdown in progress on site
  • Plant, equipment or materials suddenly disappearing from site for no apparent reason – unpaid subcontractors may unilaterally decide to remove items from site regardless of their contractual rights to do so
  • An increasing number of defects and reduction in the quality of the contractor’s work
  • The contractor seeking changes in the payment arrangements, and in particular early payments
  • The contractor making spurious claims or contra charges
  • The contractor seeking assignment of its benefit of the building contract
  • Late filing of accounts by the contractor at Companies House
  • Unsatisfied court judgements against the contractor
  • Subcontractors and suppliers not being paid or being paid late
  • Rumours in the press, in the industry, on site or elsewhere regarding the solvency of the contractor
  • Unusual visits to site, for example from the contractor’s senior management or other personnel who had not previously been present or are not expected to be present
  • Increasingly aggressive behaviour by the contractor
  • The contractor’s parent company or another company within the contractor’s group displaying any of the above signs

Related FAQs

What should I do if the contractor is in suspected financial difficulty?

In the event that the contractor is displaying one or more of the above signs, then it is worth considering the following actions to protect the employer’s position as far as possible:

  • Closely monitor the financial and on-site performance of the contractor in order to assess the likelihood and timing of potential insolvency
  • Ensure all bonds, guarantees and collateral warranties have been obtained under the building contract, and if not take steps to obtain them immediately
  • Consider the terms of any guarantees to ensure that the guarantor’s obligations are not inadvertently discharged
  • Bonds may require adjudication to have been commenced (or even completed) prior to insolvency so as not to be stayed pursuant to insolvency laws
  • Carry out an audit of the on-site plant, equipment and materials, and evidence this (for example with photographs and written records)
  • Ensure that copies of all relevant documentation have been obtained, for example drawings, specifications and anything required to comply with CDM requirements. If not, take steps to obtain these
  • Review the payment position under the building contract, including whether any over payments have been made to the contractor which should be reclaimed, what retention is held or has been released, whether any payment notices may be necessary, and whether there are rights of set-off which should be exercised
  • Check whether the involvement of any third party is required, for example funders, landlords, tenants or purchasers who may have rights in relation to the building contract and how it is administered
  • Review the terms of the building contract relating to contractor insolvency – hopefully the parties will be fully aware of the building contract terms and have been administering it correctly to date, but if it has been hiding in a draw then now would be a good time to dust it off and ensure familiarity with the relevant provisions!

In general. there is often a stick or twist decision.  If the employer chooses to financially support the contractor (for example by agreeing different payment arrangements), this may help to keep the contractor solvent and more likely to complete the project, but it also exposes the employer to greater risk if the approach is not successful.  Conversely, withholding payments  from the contractor may make insolvency a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The precise advantages and disadvantages of the approach will be dependent on the specific circumstances of each case.

What sort of issues are likely to have arisen?

The Coronavirus pandemic will have impacted businesses in many different ways, but some of the most likely impacts that could have a legal implication are as follows:

  • Services were not performed in accordance with contract during the period of disruption. This could be a reduction in volume of services performed, a suspension of services, or performance in a way that does not comply with contractual KPIs
  • Late delivery or non-delivery of goods because of factory closures, or disruption in the supply chain
  • Changes being agreed between parties to contracts to deal with the consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak
What rules has the European Commission introduced?

The Commission has provided guidance as to measures which Member States can introduce without notification. These include:

  • Measures which apply to all businesses within a Member State (for example the furloughing measures introduced by the UK Government)
  • Measures providing support direct to consumers
  • Measures which are already exempt from the notification requirement (discussed further below).

To respond to the crisis the European Commission has also issued a temporary framework to provide a basis for emergency aid to be notified for approval. The framework is initially in place until 31 December 2020. The Commission continues to keep this under review and has twice widened its scope to allow more types of aid to be notified. The type of measures covered include:

  • The provision of guarantees (including guarantees for 100% of loans)
  • The provision of loans at low interest rates, at zero interest rates or subordinated to senior debt
  • Measures to support liquidity needs or to alleviate difficulties caused by the current crisis
  • Measures to recapitalise businesses
  • Measures to assist sectors hit particularly hard by the current crisis (eg transport)
  • Measures targeted at COVID-19 such as research and development or production of products related to tackling the virus

The Commission has approved a UK Government “umbrella” notification to allow UK public authorities to adopt the measures permitted by the Commission framework. Therefore public authorities in the UK can use the Framework without notifying individual measures or schemes to the Commission.

Do I have to quarantine for 14 days when arriving in the UK?

From 8 June 2020, people entering the UK from overseas (excluding those entering from Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man) must comply with a mandatory 14 day quarantine period. However, for those travelling to England, a number of country specific exemptions have been introduced.

A full list of the countries excluded from the quarantine provisions can be found on the gov.uk website which change on a regular basis, often on short notice.

Where a quarantine period does apply, a person will not be able to leave the place they are staying in for 14 days, except in some very limited circumstances.

These rules will apply to both British and foreign nationals, however there are some further exemptions to this rule where a person is coming to the UK to undertake a certain role (such as a healthcare professional coming to the UK to provide essential healthcare). A full list of the narrow exemptions can be found on the gov.uk website.

Before travelling, individuals will be asked to provide their contact details and information about their journey and the accommodation that they will be self-isolating in. To do this, individuals will need to fill in an online form on the gov.uk website. Individuals who refuse to fill in this form may be fined £100 and/or denied entry at the UK border should they not be a British citizen or UK resident.

The information provided in the form will ensure that the Government can check that an individual is self-isolating at the address given. Where an individual refuses to self-isolate they can be fined £1,000 if they are staying in England or Wales.

Once visa application centres re-open overseas and UK visa applications are processed, this 14 day period will need to be taken into consideration and may require employment start dates in the UK to be delayed.

Which charities will benefit from this funding and when – Key Services?

The Government will allocate £360 million to charities providing key services and supporting vulnerable people during the crisis.  £200 million of this amount will be paid to Hospices UK to be distributed to hospices to help increase capacity and give stability to the sector.  The remaining amount is to be allocated to:

  • St Johns Ambulance to support the NHS
  • victims charities, including domestic abuse, to help with potential increase in demand for charities providing these services
  • charities supporting vulnerable children, so they can continue delivering services on behalf of local authorities;
  • disabled people
  • Citizens Advice Bureau to increase the number of staff providing advice during this difficult time

The Government Departments will identify priority recipients, with the aim that these charities will receive money in the form of a cash grant over the next few weeks and by the end of April to assist in paying amongst other costs April’s wage bill.