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What should I do if contractor insolvency occurs?

In the event that the worst happens and contractor insolvency occurs, there are a number of steps which the employer should take immediately:

  • Confirm that insolvency has actually occurred and the type of insolvency (for example liquidation or adjudication) – actions taken based on rumours can have adverse consequences
  • Secure the site and carry out an audit of the plant, equipment and materials present – this may extend to changing the locks on site in order to prevent overzealous contractors and sub-contractors seeking to return and take what they see as their possessions. The building contract may contain a provision that these are the employer’s property, but they can be difficult to recover if they are not within the employer’s possession – possession is 9/10ths of the law!
  • Ensure that there are adequate insurance and health and safety arrangements in place for the site – these would usually be dealt with by the contractor and therefore may no longer be in place, so alternative arrangements may be required
  • Ensure that any further payments to the contractor are stopped pending a more detailed review
  • Consider whether any off-site materials have already been paid for and can be secured. This can however be difficult in practice where the materials are not physically within the employer’s possession

In addition, there are also a number of further actions which the employer should consider in the slightly longer term:

  • Investigate the options available and ascertain the cost of completing the works to assist in deciding how best to proceed
  • Consider whether termination of the contractor’s employment under the building contract is required, and if so take the necessary steps in accordance with the building contract
  • Consider whether there are any bonds or guarantees in place upon which the employer can rely, and if so assess their terms as to whether and how to make a claim
  • Make arrangements to complete the works – as a general rule of thumb the cost of completing the works may increase by around 30% if it is necessary to get a replacement contractor
  • Consider whether direct payment to subcontractors is possible or desirable
  • Although we would say this(!) we would strongly recommend taking legal advice, as insolvency and its implications are complex and it is easy to inadvertently fall foul of the various different requirements