A blog reader got in touch asking for an explanation of the term “time at large”. This is not something that I have personally come across in practical terms, so for the advice that I am about to give, I am indebted to my former boss, Roger Knowles, who provides an explanation in his book, 150 Contractual Problems and their Solutions. Roger explains:

Time is at large when a contract is entered into with no period of time fixed for completion. Where this occurs, the contractor’s obligation is to complete within a reasonable time.

I have never experienced such a situation and I expect that when it does occur, it will be on smaller projects where the contract is between parties unfamiliar with good practice.

There may also be circumstances which arise rendering a completion period fixed by the contract as no longer operable, again rendering time at large. An example is where a delay is caused by the employer and the terms of the contract make no provision for extending the completion date due to delays by the employer.

Although I have never worked on a project where the “time at large” argument has been invoked, I have worked on many projects where the employer has modified a standard form of contract to remove employer-risk items. An example would be where the normal provision for time to be awarded for a delay caused by late access to the site had been excluded and access is not provided at the agreed time. Obviously, the contractor cannot proceed if he cannot gain possession of the site, but there would be no clause under which an extension of time could be claimed, thus rendering the contractual period inoperable.

Another very common reason which would cause time to be “at large” is where the contractor submits a valid extension of time claim, but this is either not responded to, or an extension of time is not awarded and the contractor completes later than the contractual completion date. In practice, this is usually resolved retrospectively after completion by negotiating an award based on the extension of time that the contractor would reasonably have been entitled to, or by the parties just “doing a deal” to close the matters.

In these days of COVID-19 where delays have occurred to many of the Contractor’s activates and the delay and disruption have been for extensive periods, I can foresee a messy situation where time may well become at large. So, how can we avoid it?

Contractors – do not wait to submit your claims. If the final effects of the delays cannot be ascertained, submit interim claims until such time that the effects may be finally calculated.

Engineers – do not ‘park’ the claims for response later. Respond to them within the contractual time frames and if an extension of time is justified, make sure that you award one. If you do not act, time will definitely become “at large”.

This blog was written by ICCP Executive Officer and Fellow, Andy Hewitt

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