We’ve all been there. We’ve all found ourselves in a situation at some time or other where we think: “If only I had done X. If only I hadn’t agreed to Y. If only I’d got Z confirmed in writing”.

As an expert in dispute management within the construction sector, my main passion is for ensuring subcontractors avoid getting into these situations with main contractors as much as possible.

Not all main contractors are bad, but there are some out there who sneak into their contracts seemingly innocuous clauses that can leave the subcontractor in a really bad position if a dispute arises. In some cases, they can leave them so out of profit that they lose money on the job. In others, they can even force a subcontractor to go bust.

So how can you reduce the risk of disputes? To give you some useful tips, I have outlined below four important ways you can minimise the risk of disputes on a job:

1.    Understand what you are signing up to
It may sound obvious but in a busy world where we are just glad to get the job, it is all too easy to sign up to subcontractor agreements without reading them in any great detail. This might not sound so bad if you believe most contracts aren’t that risky, but in fact almost all of the terms and conditions we review for our clients contain clauses that pose a medium or high risk to the subcontractor.

I realise that part of the reason many subcontractors avoid looking carefully at their contracts before signing is that they don’t understand what they are looking at. The key is to realise you are not alone. PJE International can help subcontractors like you with training, advice and contract reviews to help minimise risks.

2.    Get your contract in writing
Although you no longer need to have an agreement for a construction project in writing, it does help clarify what was agreed and avoid the risk of the parties to the contract getting crossed-wires about what is expected of them. PJE International can help subcontractors review contracts they have been given by a main contractor and can write contracts for subcontractors to ensure their risks are minimised.

3.    Ensure you and your workers are properly trained
It is obviously no good having a written agreement that minimises the risks to you and protects your interests, if you fail to deliver a professional standard of workmanship that leaves the main contractor with costly delays or repairs.

By joining a trade organisation you can do the sort of training that will ensure you meet the correct standards. You will also sign up to their Code of Practice which charges you “to carry out work in accordance with good practice and recognised standards” and ensure that all work is “executed by competent workmen and apprentices under proper supervision.”

Such codes of practice are typical of member organisations and, in addition to giving your clients reassurance, will also ensure you deliver the standards of work that will minimise the risk of a dispute.

4.    If a dispute arises, find out where you stand
Even if you feel you have delivered a project to perfection, you can still find yourself in a dispute with a main contractor or client. You might feel because they are bigger than you, you cannot win in a dispute. But as a subcontractor you have a huge amount of protection under the new Construction Act to ensure you are treated more fairly by main contractors.

In the end, you should not be paying for the client’s or main contractor’s variations, or footing the bill for delays and problems that are not your responsibility. If you are being treated unfairly, there are several courses of legal action you can take to show the main contractor that you won’t be walked over and PJE International can advise you on your best options.

Do you need more help with dispute avoidance?
If you feel you need further help with training or advice to help you gain awareness of risks and how to avoid them, call our dispute management specialists on 0116 241 5599.