Handing over finished works is part and parcel of any project. Whether it is a sectional handover; per area, per floor, per block, per development or a handover for the entirety of a contract – it happens all over the world every day throughout the construction industry. Regardless of the size or nature of the project in question, it forms an integral part of the contractual obligations for all parties involved and helps to ensure that quality checks and snagging lists are rigorously followed. It can even contribute to the continuation of businesses relationships through management of finances and assets, as many insurance companies or refinancing agents will require this information for housing developments and hotel chains etc.
In many cases, it can be much more than a mere contractual requirement, but a legal one that will need to be fulfilled in order to avoid any negative connotations for the project after completion. It will most likely form part of the guarantee structure and liabilities clause of the contract in question – commonly referred to as the ‘Defect Liabilities Period’ or ‘Rectification Period’ – this typically lasts six to twelve months. There will be specific documentation and certification that must be issued to the client and stakeholders at the end of a project from the majority of trades and subcontractors in order to verify not only the quality of the workmanship, but the safety of the end user and the general public.
A contractor or a subcontractor will generally be the one to provide this documentation to a client or stakeholder. However, in a lot of cases, they will need to first acquire this from a 3rd party accrediting body, such as NICEIC, FIRAS, OFTEC etc. this will usually involve an audit and inspection from approved personnel representing one of these certification or regulatory bodies.
Why does a subcontractor officially need to handover finished works?
A subcontractor is required to officially handover works for a number of reasons, some examples of which are outlined below:
1. Contractual Obligations
There is likely to be a clause in any contract or works order issued to a subcontractor which requires them to furnish the client or stakeholder with particular documentation or certification at the handover stage of a project. This would frequently be issued alongside the Subcontractors Final Account or with the O&Ms (Operation & Maintenance Manuals) for the works completed. However, this is not always the case and could be required sooner. For example, before a Final Account is issued, if there are multiple trades in place, or one contractor is responsible for separate phases of work under one contract, they may issue the O&Ms for one element, before they issue the Final Account for the project. The stipulations and particulars surrounding this will be outlined in the contract and all parties should be privy to this information and aware of the ramifications if the conditions are not satisfied.
2. Legal Requirements
Legally, Subcontractors are beholden to certain regulations and standards of Health and Safety (HASAWA – Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 etc.), workmanship (Trade Bodies, ISO9001 etc.) and commissioning (Accreditation Bodies) – before, during, and after installations and maintenance works. These do vary on a trade by trade basis and as a whole and the construction industry has many different requirements in line with government standards which must be adhered to. These are typically satisfied with certification or declarations of conformity and will be reviewed or audited by a body such as Building Control through an Approved Inspector, or the Health & Safety Executive.
3. Part of Accreditation Criteria
Almost every trade has a specific accreditation body that regulates the quality of companies’ processes, procedures, and production in that particular area of construction. These organisations are in place to regulate a large number of firms and to standardise levels of conformity.
There are also overarching accreditations which are recognised throughout the construction industry and the majority of modern-day contractors work towards at least a few of these, such as ConstructionLine, CHAS, SafeContractor etc. Each of these schemes has particular criteria in place for recording works and the submission of handover documentation. For example, they will ask that all works are photographed before and after and that Health & Safety records are kept on site. This documentation then formulates part of the final handover to the client.
In summary, all of these bodies require the Sub-Contactor or Contractor to provide them with a veritable host of information initially just to be recognised and endorsed by the scheme. The contractor will then be required to update their information on a regular basis with regular audits carried out by the accrediting schemes approved inspectors and this will frequently include the handover documentation that is issued at the end of their projects and in some cases references from their clients.
What procedures and documents should be delivered in a handover of works?
A specific handover procedure that is relevant to the project and particular parties involved should be outlined and in place prior to the commencement of works. This can be formalised in the minutes of a pre-start meeting and then inserted into the contract/works order, depending on the size of the undertaking.
This should include the basics such as:
- The return of any keys, fobs, access passes and permits.
- The issuing of any Operation & Maintenance Manuals – both hard and electronic copies – so that site maintenance teams have access to critical information for the future management of a property and in maintaining the integrity of works which have been carried out, this is particularly important for trades whereby annual (or more regular) maintenance is required, such as Fire Alarms, Sprinkler Systems, Distribution Boards etc.
- The strategy for any defects reporting during the liability period should be agreed and issued as part of the package along with the relevant contact details and access arrangements so that any remedial works can be actioned by the contractor in the allotted timeframe.
- The PMS (Project Management System), or alternative, which has been used for the life of the project should be formalised and issued to the client, including the Health & Safety File, Technical Guide, Logbooks, Building Owner’s Manual and Plain Language Users Guide.
- Any relevant certification should be issued to the client, any commissioning paperwork should be included, alongside any Technical Details or Drawings, Engineering Judgements or Manufacturer Solutions/Guidance.
The above list is neither exhaustive nor is each item necessarily required.
It is prudent to remember that each type of Contract will require a different level of detail when it comes to handover documentation.
- Something relatively small like a Works Order for the replacement of 10 no. Fire Doors, may only require an asset register detailing works completed with technical data sheets, before and after photographs, a marked up drawing and a certificate from BM Trada or FIRAS.
- Whereas a Framework Agreement for 5000 no. Fire Doors across several counties for a housing association may require all of the above, along with a full AIM (Asset Information Model) detailing in depth, all data and information pertaining to the construction, installation and aftercare period as dictated in the Framework Agreement, (proposed under the Soft Landings Framework as 3 years after occupation).
The type of contract and size/nature of a project can vary the handover requirements dramatically and the workload involved with delivering the handover documentation – so it is vital to be aware of the requirements before undertaking any works.
Are there certain trades where a handover is more critical than others?
Certain Subcontractors and Contractors will have more stringent procedures in place for the handover of their works. Trades where there are elements of life safety involved if installations are incorrect or substandard will have commissioning or certification that must be issued after every job, without fail.
An everyday example of this, (from a residential to industrial level), is for electricians and gas heating engineers – when a new wiring system or gas boiler is installed, whether it is in your home, or in a newly built airport – it must have the same paperwork issued as a minimum requirement, (albeit on a different scale), commissioning and test paperwork will be provided to the end user and this will show that the works have been correctly installed, tested and that a responsible and qualified person has carried out both the installation and the testing/commissioning of said works. This will ensure warranties are not voided and guarantees are fulfilled.
This goes for O&Ms as well. Some works need to be maintained in specific ways to match the techniques or materials that were used in the original installation. – For example, with Fire Stopping works, a facilities management agent will need to know exactly which products were used and to which guidance they were installed, so that if future trades penetrate those seals with cables or pipes during Planned & Preventative Maintenance, the subsequent repair works can be completed without voiding the integrity of the initial works or the warranties in the contract.
Some trades will have a relatively less detailed or robust handover portfolio. These will usually be final finishing or shop fitting trades that are following a specific set of instructions from the client and the standards are already in place.
Safe in the knowledge that any future maintenance or repair works can be managed by the client or their maintenance team, as they have prior knowledge of the products, the subcontractor can issue the record of works completed, the H&S File, and any additional information the client requests surround quality of installation, such as quality check records and snagging/sign off sheets. However, certification, commissioning, technical details and drawings are unlikely to be a requirement.
Always check that you have supplied the documentation as required by your contract, your trade accreditations and your legal obligations. This is ultimately the responsibility of the Contractor or Subcontractor in order to achieve the required levels of compliance.
What is the difference between handover and practical completion?
Practical Completion is defined as when enough works have been completed for a building to be used or occupied. This does not mean that all works have in fact been finished and there will be no need for a contractor to return. Final Accounts can be issued at the stage of Practical Completion, but any outstanding works must be noted and certified for later completion (again refer to your contract as there can be exceptions).
Handover can take place at this stage, but you will be handing over the works which have been completed and you would not be able to certify, commission or transfer liability for works which remain incomplete. These would be detailed as exceptions and the requirement to fulfil this work would be agreed between the contractor and the client/stakeholder.
Always be aware that no absolute definition of PC exists, and the law can be very complex surrounding this. Hence the usual release of half the retention fee at this stage and the remaining is held for the liability period which follows (twelve months), upon completion of any outstanding works and satisfaction of the liability period – the remaining retention monies are released.
In relation to contracts administrators and legal entities, this can cause real issues in terms of liability and responsibility – from a contractor’s point of view it is slightly simpler, and the contract terms should be followed and adhered to. Maintaining the programme of works and completing on or as close to the initial date for Practical/Substantial Completion as possible, is the easiest way to avoid muddying the waters!
What are the contractual obligations for handover?
The contractual obligations for handover will vary by trade and by project. There are some basic elements which are commonplace in all handovers, and there are niche documents which certain trades must adhere to.
No simple checklist can be provided and Contractors should make sure they are aware of what will be required before works start, trying to go back and record works or commission items ad-hoc can be a long and resource heavy process. It’s always worth completing a small section of works first and then agreeing the format of the O&Ms/Handover Documentation with the client, before resourcing the project up fully.
About Callum Brown
Callum is a Contracts Manager in the Passive Fire Protection Industry, with previous experience as a Quantity Surveyor and Operations Manager in Fire Protection, Construction, and Plumbing & Heating.