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A Balancing Act: The Head Contractor Exemption and Project Trust Requirements

Laura King
Laura King March 15, 2024

A key component for all building business operating under the Head Contractor Exemption is understanding the nuances and interaction of this approach with the project trust account regime.  Following on from my previous articles Navigating Regulatory Changes: A Strategic Approach to the Head Contractors Exemption for Developers and The Head Contractor Exemption in Practice: Appointing a Superintendent, this article examines how best to approach new legislative requirements under the project trust regime for developers and any other building businesses currently taking advantage of the Exemption.

The Head Contractor Exemption Revisited

As detailed in my previous articles on this topic, the head contractor exemption is a provision within construction law that exempts certain parties from the requirement to hold a contractor’s licence when engaging in construction work. This exemption is typically applicable to entities acting as head contractors, overseeing and coordinating construction projects. While the head contractor exemption streamlines the licensing process for certain parties, it also introduces complexities, particularly concerning financial management and accountability.

Understanding the Project Trust Account Regime

Project trust accounts are designed to safeguard payments within the construction industry, ensuring that funds are properly allocated and distributed among contractors and subcontractors involved in a project. Under this regime, head contractors are often required to establish trust accounts to hold project funds, providing transparency and protection against payment disputes and insolvency risks.

Under the Building Industry (Security of Payment) Fairness Act 2017 (Qld) (BIF Act), a ‘contracted party’ (typically the head contractor) is obligated to establish a project trust account for specific construction projects. This requirement applies to private head contracts valued over $10 million, where over 50% of the contract price constitutes ‘project trust work,’ and subcontractors are engaged for all or part of the work.

In essence, project trust accounts ensure that progress payments are safeguarded, and subcontractors are paid promptly from designated trust funds. The scope of ‘project trust work’ encompasses various construction activities beyond traditional building work, including associated services like plumbing, site work, and contract administration.

The Interaction & Intricacies

Understanding the interaction between the head contractor exemption and the project trust accounts regime is crucial if you are operating your building business under this model. Here are key insights into how these two elements intersect and their implications.

Licensing Exemption, not a Project Trusts Exemption: While the head contractor exemption may exempt certain parties from holding a contractor’s licence, it does not absolve them from complying with other regulatory requirements, including those related to trust account management. It’s essential for exempted head contractors to understand their obligations under the project trust accounts regime and ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

Financial Accountability: Even though exempted head contractors may not require a licence, they are still responsible for managing project funds appropriately. This includes establishing and maintaining trust accounts in accordance with the project trust accounts regime. Failure to adhere to trust account requirements can lead to legal repercussions, including fines, penalties, and potential suspension of construction activities.

Administrative Duties: Despite operating under the Head Contractor Exemption, exempted head contractors are responsible for opening, using and closing the project trust accounts.  The establishment of a project trust account requires the parties to fill out forms and disclose a licence number. As an exempt head contractor does not hold a licence, they will not be required to do this as they rely on the head contractor exemption to avoid the requirement to hold a QBCC licence.

Ensuring Compliance: It is crucial for exempt head contractors to clearly delineate in project documentation that they are not carrying out any building work to maintain compliance with the head contractor exemption. If the contracting party, such as the Developer or Principal, opts to remunerate the exempt head contractor (which may offer accounting advantages), they must ensure that the payment does not encompass building work subcontracted to licensed individuals.

Risk Mitigation: Compliance with the project trust accounts regime offers significant benefits in terms of risk mitigation. By maintaining transparent financial records and segregating project funds in trust accounts, head contractors can mitigate the risk of payment disputes, insolvency, and legal disputes with subcontractors and suppliers. This not only enhances financial stability but also fosters trust and confidence among project stakeholders.

In conclusion, the interaction between the head contractor exemption and the project trust accounts regime requires careful consideration and understanding. By staying informed about regulatory requirements, fulfilling obligations, and seeking legal guidance when needed, developers and building businesses alike can navigate this complex landscape effectively while fostering trust, transparency, and accountability within the industry.

If you require further assistance or legal advice regarding licensing or the project trusts regime, do not hesitate to contact our experienced team of construction lawyers. We are committed to providing comprehensive legal support tailored to your specific needs and challenges.

If you need advice on how best to approach and structure your construction business when relocating to Queensland, contact Laura King at

Not intended as legal advice. Read full disclaimer.
Laura King
Laura King March 15, 2024

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