Late payment to subcontractors in the construction industry

Sam Bolton, Gayan Wedawatta, Nadeeshani Wanigarathna, Chamindi Malalgoda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Late payment is a recurring issue in the United Kingdom construction industry. While the existence of the problem is well known, there is a dearth of quantified evidence on the extent of the problem from a subcontractor point of view. This research sought to quantify the extent of late payment and late release of retention and their effects on construction subcontractors in the UK. A research design including the analysis of payment data of 30 selected projects (355 payments) from a case study and a supplementary questionnaire survey with 21 subcontractors were used to investigate the issues. Late payment was observed in most of the case study subcontract projects (77%) and nearly half of the payments (46%), suggesting it is common practice. Statistical analysis showed that while there was no statistically significant link between payment delay and contract sum, subcontractors are likely to experience longer payment delays in projects with a higher number of payments. It was found that the late release of the second half of the retention posed an even more significant problem to subcontractors, with a considerable portion of the income (upward of 2.5%); sometimes the entire profit, being held up for nearly 2 months from the due date. The findings highlight that while the regulatory and contractual measures over time have sought to address the issue of late payment, it remains a prevalent issue and that subcontractors often fail to rely on such measures. This necessitates subcontractors to factor late payment into their cash flow planning. The authors suggest that the recent and proposed initiatives such as the project bank accounts, central retention deposit scheme, and smart contracts offer potential to mitigate payment delays.

Original languageEnglish
Article number04522018
JournalJournal of Legal Affairs and Dispute Resolution in Engineering and Construction
Issue number4
Early online date5 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

© ASCE 2022


  • Payment
  • Late payment
  • Construction
  • Retention
  • Project Bank Accounts
  • Subcontractors
  • Payment practices
  • Retention bond
  • Payment delay


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