The definition of practical completion

Problem:  What is your definition of practical completion?  The times I have had this argument with my client’s and / or their professional team is numerous.  From my perspective, I consider that the contract administrator should certify completion providing most of the major work is completed – if there are what I call ‘snags’ and small amounts of work still to be carried out, then practical completion should still be issued.


Response:  I could not point to one all-encompassing definition of practical completion.  Under the JCT’s (for example, the JCT Minor Works Contract 2016), it is in the opinion of the contract administrator.


There have been recent judgements on what constitutes practical completion, namely Mears Ltd v Costplan Services (South East) Ltd [2019] and University of Warwick v Balfour Beatty Group Ltd [2018].  In my opinion, the Mears case came out with a good definition (although practical completion was not defined in the building contract):


  • Works can be practically complete notwithstanding there are latent defects;
  • practical completion should not be certified if there are patent defects;
  • practical completion means the completion of all the construction work; and
  • the certifier is given discretion to certify practical completion when there are very minor works left incomplete on “de minimis” principles.


De minimis translates into work left that is so minimal as to be virtually irrelevant.  Also remember that there is no term under the JCT that relates to ‘snagging’ – the work is either completed or it is not, and practical completion should never be given on the condition that works still have to be completed.


I am afraid therefore, your interpretation of practical completion is far from what it actually is.


© Michael Gerard 2021


The advice provided is intended to be of a general guide only and should not be viewed as providing a definitive legal analysis.


Author background


Michael is a Solicitor, Chartered Builder & Registered Construction Adjudicator, and is a director at Michael Gerard Law Limited, a solicitors practice regulated by the SRA.