Changes to Party Wall legislation – but caution is still required
The first change to the Party Wall etc Act 1996 since its enactment has recently been approved, with the Party Wall etc Act 1996 (Electronic Communications) Order 2016 coming into force on 6 April 2016. It acknowledges the digital world we inhabit and how we choose to communicate within it.
The new amendment allows for statutory notices, awards and other documents to be served by electronic means (primarily email), potentially expediting the process previously limited to traditional postal means. However, this amendment is not a panacea, as it requires the recipient to have stated that they are willing to receive and accept such documents by electronic means. Obtaining such a statement will take time and we suggest must include establishment of detailed protocols detailing acceptable formats, email addresses, identities and acknowledgement procedures. Hence, unless this process is anticipated long before notices and the like are actually required, there is unlikely to be any reduction in the time taken to serve notices by electronic means rather than by post.
Other points to consider when setting up the protocols for service of notices etc by electronic means are:
- Ensuring the email (or other) address provided is of an individual authorised to receive such notices anyway.
- Ensuring the email (or other) address provided is monitored regularly.
- Agreeing the timing for the clock to start running on the statutory notice periods, i.e. what constitutes receipt? Is an automatically generated deliver/read receipt acceptable? What status is given to an out-of-office reply?
- Would a duplicate notice served by post be received by the same individual as would read the email and if not, might this cause confusion over timings and responses issued by them to each duplicate notice?
- Protocols for other means of electronic communication, such as fax, social media, file sharing websites etc may require different considerations.
Without undertaking such due diligence to establish these ground rules with potential recipients ahead of time, the risk of electronic notices and other documents being considered invalid remains until the process is tested in court or further clarification is provided.