I know a contractor who was asked to do so much additional work that the value of the variations exceeded the original contract price. When it came to payment time the client flat-out refused to pay any of the variations at all. It was then that the contractor produced every single variation request, where the work was detailed, numbered, and signed off by the client’s foreman. The client was furious, and grudgingly paid the whole amount, clearly realising that the weight of evidence was on the contractor’s side: it would be pointless to dispute it.
Another contractor had his client claim that he never gave any instructions to carry out some part of the work. The contractor produced emails showing a direction was given.
I know another who was accused of providing damaged product. But this contractor was able to produce photos of the product when it was delivered, and the signed receipt from the site representative. It was in perfect condition, clearly proving that the damage occurred after delivery. The matter went to adjudication and the contractor’s evidence was so conclusive that the client realised that payment was the only option. A cheque for the $60 000 came the next week.
It’s time to get excited about paperwork.
These are just a few of examples of how paperwork gets you paid. Some people only associate paperwork with delays, red tape, and wasted time. Chances are those same people are locked in payment disputes over what was promised, agreed, or quoted and are unable to prove their case.
The fact is that solid paperwork is probably the most effective weapon in defending a payment claim. Good paperwork means that there isn’t this great void where neither you nor your client can prove what was promised, agreed, or quoted.
Let’s look at this in more detail.
Paperwork is Contemporaneous Evidence!
The important feature about paperwork that is created or completed around a disputed is that it becomes ‘contemporaneous’ evidence; coming from the word ‘contemporary’. Good contemporaneous evidence will carry significant weight in proving what happened, what was promised, agreed, or quoted. In adjudication, the adjudicator will place weight on this kind of evidence in making a decision if he/she is satisfied as to its quality and credibility.
Far too many disputes come down to the contractor’s word against the client’s. The easy way to tip the balance in your favour is by including simple record-keeping habits into your work.
Variations/Site Instructions (Time required: 30-60 seconds) If you are given a verbal direction to carry out additional work make sure it ends up in written form. If the client refuses to document the direction, then the contractor should document it in his own ‘Site Instruction’ form and issue it to the client. I recently prepared an adjudication application where there were nearly 60 directions for additional work. Even though the client’s foreman failed to complete a variation advice as required by the contract, the contractor documented each one himself on his own paperwork: The details of the work done, who requested it, and dates and times were all recorded. The result was that he was awarded all these variations because the adjudicator was satisfied that these ‘Site Instructions’ were valid contemporaneous evidence that work was requested and done.
Photos/reports (Time required: 30-60 seconds) Stop talking on your mobile! Take pictures with it! In disputes around defective work or damage, take a pile of photos right there and then. If possible have the work inspected by an expert who can prepare a report shortly after.