These new provisions are reflective of parliament's sensitivity to the market needs of Singapore-based businesses and the realities of the local construction industry where materials are sourced internationally, and are a welcome development. The extension in scope also presents more businesses the avenue of resolving their payment disputes quickly and at low cost through the adjudication process.
A 30-month limitation period has been introduced for issuing payment claims commencing from:
In relation to supply contracts: the date on which the goods and services to which the payment claim relates were last supplied.
In relation to construction contracts: the latest of the following dates:
- the date on which the construction work indicated in the payment claim was carried out;
- the issuance date of the last document certifying completion of the construction work under a contract; or
- the issuance date of the last temporary occupation permit.
This amendment is a welcome change. The 30-month limitation period encourages the timely submission of payment claims, and affords upstream parties the comfort that they will not be subject to adjudication for payment claims long after the conclusion of the project. However, it remains to be seen how the courts and adjudicators alike will deal with the situation where claimants are prevented by the respondents from bringing their claim within this strict limitation period.
The current SOP Act provides, in Section 10(2), that a payment claim shall be served "at such time as specified in or determined in accordance with the terms of the contract". However, disputes over validity of the payment claim have arisen where a payment claim was served before the contract stipulated deadline or where the deadline falls on a non-working day.
The new version seeks to address the issue by providing that payment claims served before a stipulated date for service are deemed to have been served on that stipulated date. In other words, early service of payment claims is permitted and timelines begin to run only from the stipulated date for service. What this also means is that payment claims served after the stipulated date for service may no longer be challenged on the basis that they were served out of time, as they can arguably be deemed to be served in the next payment claim interval.
In practical terms, this amendment may well result in the end of procedural challenges to the time of service of payment claims. However, this must be viewed as a welcome change, as it removes such technical challenges from the respondents' arsenal, and returns the focus to the substantive merits of payment claims served.
Thus far, the experience of many has been that respondents would frequently raise procedural and jurisdictional objections for the first time in adjudication responses or at the adjudication hearing in attempts to resist claims.
The new version codifies and clarifies an early notice requirement by expressly providing that adjudicators can only consider a respondent's objections set out in its payment response. The only exception to this rule is where the circumstances of the objection (a) had not arisen or (b) could not have been reasonably known when the payment response was submitted.
The new Section 15(3) seeks to curtail the scope for ambush by respondents to payment claims, and return the focus of adjudication proceedings to the substantive merits of payment claims served. What this means for respondents, however, is that they must now consider all objections early and comprehensively, and convey them in their payment responses. To this end, it would be essential for employers and contractors alike to equip their teams with the necessary knowledge, awareness and support to prepare payment responses appropriately and robustly.
Codifying limits on claims for damages and loss and expense
The new Section 17(2A) of the SOP Act provides that claims for damages and loss and expense may be included in adjudication proceedings, but are subject to the express limitation that an adjudicator must disregard any claim for damages and loss and expense that is not supported by any document showing agreement between parties on quantum of the claim; or any certificate or other document that is required to be issued under the contract.