Changes to Construction Contracts Act in New Zealand

The construction industry in New Zealand has recently undergone significant changes with the passing of the Construction Contracts (Retention Money) Amendment Act 2023. These changes aim to protect subcontractors and ensure that they receive the retention money they are owed, even in the event of the head contractor's business failure. In this article, we will explore the key provisions of the amended act and the implications it has for the construction industry in New Zealand.

Retention Money and the Importance of Protecting Subcontractors

Retention money is a common practice in the construction industry, where head contractors withhold a portion of payment to subcontractors for a specified period, usually up to 12 months. This serves as a form of security to ensure that the subcontractor will rectify any defects in their work and guarantees their return to the site. However, subcontractors often face difficulties in receiving their retention money if the head contractor becomes insolvent.

The amended Construction Contracts Act aims to address this issue by introducing new requirements for head contractors holding retention money. These changes provide subcontractors with the confidence that their payment will be kept safe, separate from other company funds, and paid out in the event of the head contractor's business failure.

Key Provisions of the Construction Contracts (Retention Money) Amendment Act 2023

The amended act introduces several key provisions to protect subcontractors and regulate the handling of retention money. These provisions include:

1. Holding Retention Money on Trust

Head contractors who choose to hold retention money are now required to hold it on trust in a separate bank account. This ensures that the retention money cannot be mixed with other company funds or assets. By holding the money on trust, subcontractors can have confidence that their payment is being safeguarded.

2. Reporting Requirements

To enhance transparency, head contractors must provide regular reports to subcontractors regarding the retention money held. These reports must be provided at least once every three months, allowing subcontractors to stay informed about the status of their payment.

3. Strict Liability Offences

The amended act introduces strict liability offences for head contractors who fail to hold retention money properly. Directors of companies that breach the retentions regime can face fines of up to $50,000, while companies may face fines of up to $200,000. This strict liability approach underscores the importance of complying with the law and fulfilling obligations to subcontractors.

4. False Information Offences

Intentionally providing false information about retentions money held for subcontractors is also an offence under the amended act. Each breach of this provision can result in fines of up to $50,000. This provision aims to discourage any fraudulent practices related to the handling of retention money.

5. Enforcement and Penalties

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has been empowered to investigate and enforce retentions money offences. Head contractors who fail to provide the necessary information to support investigations may face additional penalties. These enforcement measures ensure that non-compliant contractors are held accountable for their actions.

Implications for the Construction Industry

The changes to the Construction Contracts Act have significant implications for both head contractors and subcontractors in the construction industry. These changes promote greater fairness, transparency, and trust in the payment process, benefiting all parties involved in construction projects.

For subcontractors, the amended act provides much-needed protection and assurance that their retention money will be paid out, even if the head contractor's business fails. This safeguard can help mitigate financial risks and ensure a more stable working environment for subcontractors.

Head contractors, on the other hand, must adapt to the new requirements and establish processes for holding retention money on trust. They need to ensure that their contracts are amended to align with the amended act's provisions. Failure to comply with the new obligations can result in significant fines and damage to their reputation.


The amendments to the Construction Contracts Act in New Zealand represent a crucial step towards protecting subcontractors and improving the overall integrity of the construction industry. By introducing stricter regulations and enforcement measures, the amended act ensures that subcontractors receive the retention money they are owed, even in challenging circumstances.

These changes create a more transparent and fair payment process, fostering trust and collaboration between head contractors and subcontractors. As the construction industry continues to evolve, the amended act sets a precedent for other jurisdictions to enhance subcontractor protection and promote a more sustainable construction ecosystem.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. For specific legal guidance, please consult with a qualified professional.