How to Describe Construction Works in Payment Claims and Schedules: Ensuring Security of Payment in Construction Contracts

5 min read

In the construction industry, the adherence to the Security of Payment Act (SOPA) is not just a regulatory requirement but a fundamental component of managing financial transactions and maintaining trust between parties. Ensuring that Payment Claims and Payment Schedules are properly crafted is essential for effectively using or defending against the provisions of the SOPA. This is crucial for any entity involved in the building and construction sector, as these documents can significantly impact the ability to secure payment or resist undue payment obligations. This article explores how courts evaluate the adequacy of descriptions of works or the reasons for withholding payment provided in these documents. The focus is on understanding the legal standards courts apply to determine whether Payment Claims and Payment Schedules are sufficiently detailed and reliable to uphold under SOPA. By examining these criteria, businesses can better prepare their documents to meet legal expectations and strengthen their position in potential disputes.

Table of Contents

Importance of Describing Building and Construction Works in Your Payment Claims and Payment Schedules

Understanding the importance of accurately describing building and construction works in payment claims and schedules under the SOPA is crucial for both claimants and respondents. Here’s why:

Payment Claims

The SOPA mandates claimants to clearly identify the construction work or related goods and services in a payment claim. This identification is essential to access the adjudication process. The legislation specifically states in Section 13(2) of the SOPA that a payment claim “must identify the construction work (or related goods and services) to which the progress payment relates.” The requirement to “identify” may not frequently appear in legislation, but it is pivotal when it does. Precise identification helps in clarifying what the payment is for, thus ensuring that the adjudication process, if pursued, is based on clear, unambiguous claims.

Payment Schedules

A party receiving a payment claim who wishes to dispute the amount must provide a payment schedule within the prescribed time. This schedule must:

  • Identify the payment claim to which it relates.
  • Indicate the amount of payment (the “Scheduled Amount”) that the recipient proposes to make.
  • If the Scheduled Amount is less than the Claimed Amount, the schedule must explain why and must provide the respondent’s reasons for withholding payment.

The SOPA requires that respondents provide clear reasons for any withheld payment. The courts emphasise that these reasons must be sufficient to make the disputed issues apparent, allowing the claimant to understand the basis of the dispute and to decide whether to accept the Scheduled Amount or to proceed to adjudication.

Providing adequate reasons for withholding payment in a payment schedule is not merely procedural; it is critical. Section 20(2)(2B) of the SOPA restricts respondents in an adjudication response from raising any reasons for withholding payment that were not already included in the payment schedule given to the claimant. This underscores the necessity for respondents to fully and clearly articulate their reasons in the initial payment schedule.

In the case of Coordinated Construction Co Pty Ltd v Climatech (Canberra) Pty Ltd & Ors [2005] NSWCA 229, Hodgson JA emphasised that the construction work or related goods and services must be “identified sufficiently” to enable the respondent to understand the claim’s basis.

According to Walter Construction Group Ltd v CPL (Surry Hills) Pty Ltd [2003] NSWSC 266, Nicholas J noted the purpose of such identification is to provide the respondent with enough information to enable them to issue a payment schedule under section 14 of the SOPA.

Standard of Information Needed as per the Security of Payment Act

The level of detail required to “identify” construction work or related goods and services in a payment claim under the SOPA needs to meet a standard that allows the respondent to clearly understand the basis of the claim. Here’s a breakdown of what this involves:

  • Objective Standard for Reasonable Clarity: The identification should be clear enough that a reasonable person in the position of the recipient would have no doubt as to the claim’s meaning. This objective test ensures that the information provided is unambiguous and comprehensible.
  • Contract and Location: It is sufficient if the payment claim details the work in terms of the contract under which it was undertaken and the location where the work occurred. This helps in contextualising the claim within the framework of the agreed terms and specific work sites.
  • Precision Required: While the identification in a payment claim does not need to be as detailed as a court pleading, it should still possess “precision and particularity to a degree reasonably sufficient to apprise the parties of the real issues in the dispute.”
  • Balance Between Detail and Clarity: The NSW courts have indicated that the requirement to identify the goods and services should not be overly stringent. The key is that the description in the payment claim should be reasonably understandable by the recipient for the purpose of issuing a payment schedule.

In summary, the standard of information required in a payment claim should be detailed enough to give the respondent a clear understanding of the claim without needing the precision of legal pleadings. This ensures that both parties are aware of the specifics of the claim, facilitating a smoother resolution process.

Practical Tips for Well Drafted Payment Claims and Schedules

Below are practical tips for ensuring that your payment claims under the SOPA are well-documented and clear, which can help facilitate the adjudication process and improve the likelihood of successful payment:

  • Distinguish Costs: Clearly separate labor and materials costs. This helps the respondent understand how different parts of the claim are calculated and substantiated.
  • Timing of Work: Specify the dates or duration when the work was performed. This temporal context is crucial for verifying claims against contractual timelines.
  • Basis of Claims: Describe the method used to calculate the amounts claimed. Whether it’s a percentage of the contract completed, based on a schedule of rates, or a lump sum, this clarity prevents disputes over payment expectations.
  • Location of Work: Provide detailed descriptions of where the work was carried out, such as the site name, project description, specific units, floor levels, or apartment numbers. This geographical specificity aids in linking the claim to specific segments of the project.
  • Clarity and Precision: Reference the case of Multiplex Constructions v Luikens & Ors [2003] NSWSC 1140, which emphasises the need for precision and particularity to sufficiently inform the parties of the real issues in the dispute. The description should be straightforward enough for all parties to understand without further clarification.
  • Reference Previous Descriptions: When making multiple claims over the course of a project, ensure that each claim is consistent with previous submissions in terms of detail and format. This consistency helps in establishing a clear and traceable claim history. If there were previous complaints about the lack of detail or inadequate descriptions in earlier payment schedules, address these issues in current and future claims to avoid repeat objections.
  • Supporting Evidence: Always include relevant supporting documentation such as invoices, receipts, timesheets, and contractual agreements that corroborate the claims made. This evidence should directly support the specifics of what is being claimed in terms of labor, materials, and other costs.

By adhering to these tips, you can create payment claims that are robust, clear, and more likely to be processed efficiently and without dispute. This approach not only supports a smoother payment process but also upholds the integrity of the contractual and legal framework governing construction projects.

By understanding and implementing these standards, companies can improve their financial management, reduce the risk of disputes, and maintain robust professional relationships. Ensuring that all payment claims and schedules are crafted with precision and comprehensibility ultimately serves to streamline project management and uphold industry standards. For any further assistance or detailed guidance on navigating SOPA requirements, PBL Law Group is ready to help. Contact us today!

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Picture of Authored By<br>Raea Khan

Authored By
Raea Khan

Director Lawyer, PBL Law Group

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