When a party wall award has been agreed it should be served on the owners without delay, or ‘forthwith’ as the authors of the Act put it, but how does that happen in practice?
Until section 15 of the Act was amended by the Electronic Communications Act in 2016, all awards were generally served either by post or in person. The typical procedure was for the surveyor acting for the building owner to prepare 3 fair copies, sign two of them and send all three to the adjoining owner’s surveyor. The adjoining owner’s surveyor would date and countersign two of the awards, post one back to the building owner’s surveyor (who would serve it on their owner), serve one on the adjoining owner and retain the unsigned copy for their files. This could take anything up to a week; often while the building owner was waiting to start work.
An award (or notice) that is posted first class is deemed to have been served 2 days later without any need to prove that it was actually received. It is however prudent to obtain proof that it was posted on a particular day and this is something that the post office are happy to provide without charge.
Thankfully most awards are now signed and served electronically. Interestingly, a legal decision in 2018 confirmed that it had always been possible to serve by email under the un-amended section 15 subject to proving receipt (I try not to think about how much time we could have saved if we’d known that all along!)
The complete final draft of the award is still prepared by the building owner’s surveyor but now generally in .pdf format. It’s emailed to the adjoining owner’s surveyor who dates and signs before returning a copy to the building owner’s surveyor so that both surveyors can serve the award on the owners at about the same time. The time limit applicable to the statutory appeal process (14 days) runs from the date of service so it’s important that both owners receive their awards at around the same time.
There are no deemed service provisions when awards are signed electronically so ideally the owner should confirm receipt. In the case of Knight v Goulandris  the court held that the serving party is entitled to rely on service by email (for the purpose of starting the clock for an appeal under section 10 (17) of the 1996 Act) provided that it came to the attention of the receiving party.
We still occasionally receive awards to be signed electronically with a space for witness details and we’ll generally just complete them but we dropped having signatures witnessed on awards long before 2016 as it was not required by the Act. It makes even less sense in this digital age.
If you live in the Cambridgeshire or north Essex area and require advice relating to the signing or serving of awards or any other aspect of party wall procedures, you’re welcome to contact us on 01223 620755 or via email.