This new form goes to an end of the building business that is no stranger to trouble. It is a form to be used when Mrs Bingham decides she needs a contractor to add a granny annex to her maison.
Picture the scene. The lady of the house is a stranger to the building business. She is a tad fussy about dust and dirt. She has no enthusiasm for noisy concrete mixers, or the bricklayer’s labourer whose bum is creeping out of the top of his dungarees. She worries about her Persian cat being walled up in the new cavity wall. Her mother is an old bag who doesn’t want to move anyway. And to cap it all, there is no architect on board, the job changes in size, shape, roof and floor finish every day. Sounds like trouble, doesn’t it? And given that differences of opinion crop up on ordinary commercial works, you can bet your life that disputes crop up in domestic works. Oodles of them.
Until now, there wasn’t really a good contract form for homeowner/occupier building works. True, the JCT Minor Works is an old friend (tut, tut – nearly said old fiend), but the truth is, it was best suited to small commercial stuff, such as the office refurbishment or high-street shop refit. So, enter JCT Building Contract for Home Owner/ Occupier 1999. Let’s call it the HOB99 (short for homeowner and builder). HOB99 is the contract for domestic building work. It comes with a nice letter from JCT chairman Roy Swanston. He explains that the contract is for situations that include extensions, alterations and repairs to a personal home. He recognises that the natural upheaval caused by building work can cause anxiety and it will be made all the worse if the homeowner and builder don’t make detailed arrangements. He says the form is to help make things run smoother by helping to get things sorted out before the work begins.
So, what’s in the eight pages of HOB99? Tick boxes, that’s what. At last, some bright spark at the JCT has recognised that tick boxes are the best way to make things clear. For example, it actually asks if there is a quotation, if there is a specification, if there are drawings, if there are other documents, then asks the form filler to say what quotation, what drawings … The whole thing is a questionnaire – an aide-memoir. It uses tick boxes to ask whether the builder will deal with planning applications, Building Regulations approval, party wall consents. Brilliant. Bloomin’ brilliant.
It even has tick boxes for whether the builder can plug his mixer into the electricity supply free of charge, and use the indoor loo, the phone or the water. The form deals with price (watch out, because the price is inclusive of VAT). Payment is clear as a bell – the form asks if it is one payment or a series of instalments and if so, how much and when.
There is another JCT form on the market. It isn’t a 108 page whopper, it’s eight pages long and you builders will love it
The programme is simple and so is what happens if the builder needs an extension of time. It applies when the builder has to spend extra time on the works because of changes, or cannot finish on time for reasons beyond its control, including delay caused by the customer. It says the builder can have reasonable extra costs if the delay is caused by the customer – or her mother. Changes of mind are, of course, allowed, but they are reasonably payable. Hours of work are in the check boxes. Responsibility for security of the house and insurance details are also covered by tick boxes.
The contract’s disputes machinery is innovative, indeed brilliant. If the worst comes to the worst, either party can roll off to court. But either can also use the adjudication scheme in the contract. It has to be optional because no one can force the builder or homeowner into adjudication under the Construction Act – domestic contracts are outside the scope of the act. I will tell you much more about this next week.
This little form is a beauty. It is not couched in lawyers’ lingo, it is in plain English and has been vetted and “crystal marked” by the Plain English Campaign. So, a pat on the back for the JCT.
If only they had time to reduce the monster JCT98 standard form from 108 pages to eight.
It takes a lot longer to write one page than it does to write 10.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator specialising in construction. You can write to him at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple, London EC4 7EU, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.