Assignment vs Novation: Everything You Need to Know

Assignment vs. novation: What's the difference? An assignment agreement transfers one party's rights and obligations under a contract to another party. 4 min read updated on February 01, 2023

Assignment vs. novation: What's the difference? An assignment agreement transfers one party's rights and obligations under a contract to another party. The party transferring their rights and duties is the assignor; the party receiving them is the assignee. Novation is a mechanism where one party transfers all its obligations and rights under a contract to a third party, with the consent of the original counterparty.

The transfer of a benefit or interest from one party to another is referred to as an assignment. While the benefits can be transferred, the obligation or burden behind the contract cannot be. A contract assignment occurs when a party assigns their contractual rights to a third party. The benefit that the issuing party would have received from the contract is now assigned to the third party. The party appointing their rights is referred to as the assignor, while the party obtaining the rights is the assignee. 

The assignor continues to carry the burden and can be held liable by the assignee for failing to fulfill their duties under the contract. Purchasing an indemnity clause from the assignee may help protect the assignor from a future liability. Unlike notation, assignment contracts do not annul the initial agreement and do not establish a new agreement. The original or initial contract continues to be enforced. 

Assignment contracts generally do not require the authorization from all parties in the agreement. Based on the terms, the assignor will most likely only need to notify the nonassigning party.

In regards to a contract being assignable, if an agreement seems silent or unclear, courts have decided that the contract is typically assignable. However, this does not apply to personal service contracts where consent is mandatory. The Supreme Court of Canada , or SCC, has determined that a personal service contract must be created for the original parties based on the special characteristics, skills, or confidences that are uniquely displayed between them. Many times, the courts need to intervene to determine whether an agreement is indeed a personal service contract.

Overall, assignment is more convenient for the assignor than novation. The assignor is not required to ask for approval from a third party in order to assign their interest in an agreement to the assignee. The assignor should be aware of the potential liability risk if the assignee doesn't perform their duties as stated in the assigned contract.

Novation has the potential to limit future liabilities to an assignor, but it also is usually more burdensome for the parties involved. Additionally, it's not always achievable if a third party refuses to give consent.

It's essential for the two parties in an agreement to appraise their relationship before transitioning to novation. An assignment is preferential for parties that would like to continue performing their obligations, but also transition some of their rights to another party.

A novation occurs when a party would like to transfer both the benefits and the burden within a contract to another party. Similar to assignment, the benefits are transferred, but unlike assignment, the burden is also transferred. When a novation is completed, the original contract is deleted and is replaced with a new one. In this new contract, a third party is now responsible for the obligations and rights. Generally, novation does not cancel any past obligations or rights under the initial contract, although it is possible to novate these as well.

Novation needs to be approved by both parties of the original contract and the new joining third party. Some amount of consideration must also be provided in the new contract in order for it to be novated, unless the novation is cited in a deed that is signed by all parties to the contract. In this situation, consideration is referring to something of value that is being gained through the contract.

Novation occurs when the purchaser to the original agreement is attempting to replace the seller of an original contract. Once novated, the original seller is released from any obligation under the initial contract. The SCC has established a three-point test to implement novation. The asserting party must prove:

  • The purchaser accepts complete liability
  • The creditor to the original contract accepts the purchaser as the official debtor, and not simply as a guarantor or agent of the seller
  • The creditor to the original contract accepts the new contract as the replacement for the old one

Also, the SSC insisted that if a new agreement doesn't exist, the court would not find novation unless the precedence was unusually compelling.

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novation vs assignment english law

Deed of Assignment or Deed of Novation: Key Differences and Legal Implications of Novation and Assignment Contracts

novation vs assignment english law

Novation and assignment stand out as pivotal processes for the transfer of contractual rights and obligations. These legal concepts allow a party to the contract to adapt to changing circumstances, ensuring that business arrangements remain relevant and effective. This article explores the nuances of novation and assignment, shedding light on their distinct legal implications, procedures, and practical applications. Whether you’re a business owner navigating the transfer of service contracts, or an individual looking to understand your rights and responsibilities in a contractual relationship, or a key stakeholder in a construction contract, this guide will equip you with the essential knowledge to navigate these complex legal processes.

Table of Contents

  • What is a Deed of Novation? 
  • What is a Deed of Assignment? 

Key Differences Between Novation and Assignment Deeds

Need a deed of novation or assignment key factors to consider, selecting the right assignment clause for your contract – helping you make the right choice, what is a deed of novation.

Novation is a legal process that allows a new party to a contract to take the place of an original party in a contract, thereby transferring both the responsibilities and benefits under the contract to a third party. In common law, transferring contractual obligations through novation requires the agreement of all original parties involved in the contract, as well as the new party. This is because novation effectively terminates the original contract and establishes a new one.

A novation clause typically specifies that a contract cannot be novated without the written consent of the current parties. The inclusion of such a clause aims to preclude the possibility of novation based on verbal consent or inferred from the actions of a continuing party. Nevertheless, courts will assess the actual events that transpired, and a novation clause may not always be enforceable. It’s possible for a novation clause to allow for future novation by one party acting alone to a party of their choosing. Courts will enforce a novation carried out in this manner if it is sanctioned by the correct interpretation of the original contract.

Novation is frequently encountered in business and contract law, offering a means for parties to transfer their contractual rights and duties to another, which can be useful if the original party cannot meet their obligations or wishes to transfer their contract rights. For novation to occur, there must be unanimous consent for the substitution of the new party for the original one, necessitating a three-way agreement among the original party, the new party, and the remaining contract party. Moreover, the novation agreement must be documented in writing and signed by all involved parties. Understanding novation is essential in the realms of contracts and business dealings, as it provides a way for parties to delegate their contractual rights and responsibilities while freeing themselves from the original agreement.

What is a Deed of Assignment?

A deed of assignment is a legal document that facilitates the transfer of a specific right or benefit from one party (the assignor) to another (the assignee). This process allows the assignee to step into the assignor’s position, taking over both the rights and obligations under the original contract. In construction, this might occur when a main contractor assigns rights under a subcontract to the employer, allowing the employer to enforce specific subcontractor duties directly if the contractor fails.

Key aspects of an assignment include:

  • Continuation of the Original Contract: The initial agreement remains valid and enforceable, despite the transfer of rights or benefits.
  • Assumption of Rights and Obligations: The assignee assumes the role of the assignor, adopting all associated rights and responsibilities as outlined in the original contract.
  • Requirement for Written Form: The assignment must be documented in writing, signed by the assignor, and officially communicated to the obligor (the party obligated under the contract).
  • Subject to Terms and Law: The ability to assign rights or benefits is governed by the specific terms of the contract and relevant legal statutes.

At common law, parties generally have the right to assign their contractual rights without needing consent from the other party involved in the contract. However, this does not apply if the rights are inherently personal or if the contract includes an assignment clause that restricts or modifies this general right. Many contracts contain a provision requiring the consent of the other party for an assignment to occur, ensuring that rights are not transferred without the other party’s knowledge.

Once an assignment of rights is made, the assignee gains the right to benefit from the contract and can initiate legal proceedings to enforce these rights. This enforcement can be done either independently or alongside the assignor, depending on whether the assignment is legal or equitable. It’s important to note that while rights under the contract can be assigned, the contractual obligations or burdens cannot be transferred in this manner. Therefore, the assignor remains liable for any obligations under the contract that are not yet fulfilled at the time of the assignment.

Choosing Between Assignment and Novation in a Construction Contract

Choosing between a deed of novation and an assignment agreement depends on the specific circumstances and objectives of the parties involved in a contract. Both options serve to transfer rights and obligations but in fundamentally different ways, each with its own legal implications, risks, and benefits. Understanding these differences and considering various factors can help in making an informed decision that aligns with your goals.

The choice between assignment and novation in a construction project scenario, where, for instance, an employer wishes to engage a subcontractor directly due to loss of confidence in the main contractor, hinges on several factors. These are:

  • Nature of the Contract:  The type of contract you’re dealing with (e.g., service, sales) can influence which option is more suitable. For instance, novation might be preferred for service contracts where obligations are personal and specific to the original parties.
  • Parties Involved: Consent is a key factor. Novation requires the agreement of all original and new parties, making it a viable option only when such consent is attainable. Assignment might be more feasible if obtaining consent from all parties poses a challenge.
  • Complexity of the Transaction: For transactions involving multiple parties and obligations, novation could be more appropriate as it ensures a clean transfer of all rights and obligations. Assignment might leave the original party with ongoing responsibilities.
  • Time and Cost: Consider the practical aspects, such as the time and financial cost associated with each option. Novation typically involves more complex legal processes and might be more time-consuming and costly than an assignment.

If the intention is merely to transfer the rights of the subcontractor’s work to the employer without altering the subcontractor’s obligations under a contract, an assignment might suffice. However, if the goal is to completely transfer the main contractor’s contractual role and obligations to the employer or another entity, novation would be necessary, ensuring that all parties consent to this new arrangement and the original contractor is released from their obligations.

The legal interpretations and court decisions highlight the importance of the document’s substance over its label. Even if a document is titled a “Deed of Assignment,” it could function as a novation if it transfers obligations and responsibilities and involves the consent of all parties. The key is to clearly understand and define the objective behind changing the contractual relationships and to use a deed — assignment or novation — that best achieves the desired legal and practical outcomes, ensuring the continuity and successful completion of the construction project.

Understanding the distinction between assignment deeds and novation deeds is crucial for anyone involved in contractual agreements. Novation offers a clean slate by transferring both rights and obligations to a new party, requiring the consent of all involved. Assignment, conversely, allows for the transfer of contractual benefits without altering the original contract’s obligations. Each method serves different strategic purposes, from simplifying transitions to preserving original contractual duties. The choice between novation and assignment hinges on specific legal, financial, and practical considerations unique to each situation. At PBL Law Group, we specialise in providing comprehensive legal advice and support in contract law. Our team is dedicated to helping clients understand their options and make informed decisions that align with their legal and business objectives. Let’s discuss!

Picture of Authored By<br>Raea Khan

Authored By Raea Khan

Director Lawyer, PBL Law Group

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Novation and assignment

Novation and assignment

Changing the parties bound to a contract

What is novation, is novation a new contract, what is a deed of novation, why novation can be difficult, when do you use an assignment agreement to transfer a debt or obligation, transfer of a debt, transfer of service contracts.

Novation and assignment are ways for someone to transfer their interest in a contract to someone else.

Whilst the difference between assignment and novation is relatively small, it is an essential one. Assigning when you should novate could leave you in a position of being liable for your original contract when the other party is not liable to perform their obligations.

In contract law the principle of privity of contract means that only the parties to a contract have the obligation to fulfill it and the right to enforce it. Statute law has created a few exceptions but they apply rarely.

The legal concepts of novation and assignment have been developed to overcome the restrictions imposed by the doctrine.

Novation is a mechanism where one party transfers all its obligations and rights under a contract to a third party, with the consent of their original counter-party.

Novation in practice

Let us suppose Michael buys a car from Peter, owing him £5,000 as part of the sale price until Peter obtains a certifcate of authenticity.

Michael then sells the car to Fred under the same terms. Michael wants out, but has obligations to both parties.

Michael persuades Peter and Fred to enter into a novation agreement, signed by all three of them, whereby Fred takes over Michael’s obligations to Peter and Fred now deals with Peter in Michael’s place.

Other examples

The seller of a business transfers the contracts with their customers and suppliers to the buyer. A novation process transfers each contract by the mutual agreement of all three parties.

A design and build contractor in the construction industry transfers a construction contract to a new, substitute contractor. A novation agreement is necessary.

A novation agreement is a new contract that 'extinguishes' the old one.

Because it is a new contract, there can be new terms within it, giving additional rights and obligations.

There are times when and why you should use a deed explains exactly when you need to use one. Novation is not among them.

A Deed of Novation is a relic from long ago when lawyers were even more inclined to cloak their knowledge in obscurity.

One of the main purposes in using the deed format is that it provides the necessity for an unconnected witness to sign the document. So it is that much more difficult for one of the parties to say it was forged or signed a year later than the date shown.

But in a novation, there are at least three parties by definition; three parties who are most unlikely to be connected and each of whom has their separate interest. So you can be pretty sure the agreement has not been tampered with. A witness cannot improve on that. So you do not need a deed.

Another reason to use a deed could be when there is no 'consideration', that is when one of the original contracting parties receives no benefit - monetary or otherwise - in return fot the novation. However, in commercial circumstances you could nearly always argue that there is an advantage to each of the parties. The extinction of the old contract or subjectively more favourable terms within the new contract would both count as fair consideration.

Do you need a deed of novation for your situation? The answer is usually no, as an agreement is fine.

The exception to the rule is that if the original contract was signed as a deed, you need to use a deed to novate it. Real property transaction are by deed. That includes a consent to assign a lease, which has three parties. There are special reasons for that.

There are other examples too, which are more obscure.

When a contract is novated, the other (original) contracting party must be left in the same position as they were in prior to the novation being made.

Novation requires the agreement of all three parties. While obtaining the agreement of the transferor and transferee is easy, obtaining the agreement of the other original party can be more difficult:

The other original party may not understand the benefit to them of having the original contract novated and require extra information about the process that is time consuming to provide.

They may need extra assurance to be persuaded that they won’t be worse off as a result of the novation (especially common where there is a transfer of service contracts between suppliers).

It is possible that they could play up to delay the transfer and squeeze extra concessions from you.

The only way to transfer your rights or obligations is by an agreement signed by all three parties.

But what happens if you are a service provider selling your business with tens of thousands of customers? You can hardly ask every one of them to sign up to their own separate novation.

In practice, a well drawn original agreement will contain a provision which permits the service provider to assign (transfer its contract) without the permission of the customer.

But what happens if it does not?

In practice what happens is that the buyer 'takes a flyer'. The deal is done in the hope that the customers stay with the new owner.

Maybe the buyer obtains an indemnity from the seller to cover their loss if many leave. Maybe the buyer will write to the customers to encourage them to stay. Maybe the customers simply make the next payment and thereby confirm acceptance in law.

In each of those cases, the acquirer will be safe because the customers remain (or become) bound to the terms of the original contract.

Net Lawman offers an assignment agreement to cover that exact situation, together with a draft letter of the sort that might convince customers to stay with the new owner.

The other situation in which assignment is used is where the new party trusts the original party assigning the contract. For example, a subsidiary company may assign contractual obligations to a parent company confident that the parent will uphold the contract.

A construction company is a subsidary in a group. It is working in partnership with another business on several projects to build houses. The other business is a minor partner in the deal. The partnership has run out of money and the smaller partner is unable to inject any more funds. The parent business is unwilling to have its subsidiary fund the remainder of the projects by itself.

A solution may be for the parent to pay both its subsidiary and the third party for the construction contracts to be assigned to it (in other words, buy the contractual rights from the partnership). The assignment provisions would give the parent the obligation to finish the project, which it may be able to do without the third party.

Assignment transfers benefits only

Even if the assignee promises to take on the liability of the assignor to the third parties, the assignor remains personally liable if they fail to do so. An obligation to a third party cannot be assigned without their consent.

When assignment can invalidate your contract

Terms in an original contract can restrict or prohibit assignments. This is particularly common in construction contracts but can apply in any agreement. If you attempt to assign a contract that cannot be assigned, you risk invalidating the original contract.

Personal obligations and assignment

Be particularly careful of an assignment if your obligations can only be performed personally. A good example would be sale of a hair dressing business. Quite apart from the risk of the clients leaving, the actual forward appointments could be interpreted as contracts with the seller, even though they would have no way to fulfill them because they have sold the business.

Buying the right document

Very generally, if you are unsure whether you should assign or novate, we recommend that you novate and obtain consent of all parties. We offer a number of novation and assignment agreement templates for different situations.

For example: You borrow from a lender and you later want to transfer the debt to someone else (maybe a friend, a business partner or a the buyer of your business) so that they become liable to repay the lender instead of you. In this situation you should use an agreement that novates the debt .

This is a common consideration when a business is sold and outstanding debts of the business are transferred to the new owner (perhaps loans of money but maybe also loans of goods for sale).

Alternatively, you could novate in order to change who should pay back a personal loan between individuals.

Transfer of a right to receive the repayment of a debt

For example: You make a loan to someone (it could be money or goods) and later you want to change who receives the repayment (an agreement to change who the creditor is ).

The transaction might relate to the sale of a business where the buyer takes on the assets of the seller (the loans to other parties), or when factoring debt.

For example: You provide a service to someone and you want to transfer the obligation of providing that service to another person or company.

Again, a common use for a service contract novation agreement is where a business is sold and the buyer takes on the service contracts of the seller. The service could be in any industry, from a fixed period gardening contract to an on-going IT or website maintenance. Novation changes who is providing the service.

Transfer of an architectural or building contract

For example: You buy a building or property development that is still under construction and you want the existing contractor to continue work despite the original contract being between the contractor and the seller.

In this situation you should use a novation agreement for a building contract .

Our standard assignment agreement can be used for most assignments (exceptions given below). It is not specific to circumstances.

Assignment of a business lease

If you wish to transfer a commercial property lease to another business tenant during the fixed term, Net Lawman offers an agreement to assign a lease .

We have an article specifically about assigning a business lease that may be useful further reading.

It is not advisable to assign a residential tenancy agreement. We would suggest that you cancel the original agreement and draw up a new agreement with the new tenants.

Assignment of copyright

We have  number of assignment agreements for intellectual property rights .

They are effectively sale or transfer agreements where some rights are retained by the seller (such as to buyback the assigned work, or for the work only to be used in certain locations).

They relate to IP in media (such as a film or a music score) and to inventions.

Assignment of a life insurance policy or endowment policy

These agreements allows you to transfer the rights to receive payments from a life insurance policy or endowment policy. We offer both a deed of assignment of a policy on separation or divorce and a deed of assignment to gift or sell the policy to someone else .

Assignment and collateral warranties in the construction industry

Probably the most common use of assignment in the construction industry today is in relation to collateral warranties.

The collateral warranties given by consultants, contractors and sub-contractors in construction contracts are often assigned to subsequent owners or leases. Assignment can do no more than transfer rights available to the assignor. It is not capable of creating new rights and obligations in favour of an assignee.

So while the client can, in theory, assign the right to have a building adequately designed, it is unclear what right would be transferred to sue for damages in the event of breach. If the developer (who would usually be the assignor) has sold the building or created a full-repairing lease, then their right would be to nominal damages only. This is one situation where you should definitely use a deed of novation.

novation vs assignment english law

Assignment and Novation: Spot the Difference 12 November 2020

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  • EPC Contract
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  • Transfer of rights

The English Technology and Construction Court has found that the assignment of a sub-contract from a main contractor to an employer upon termination of an EPC contract will, in the absence of express intention to the contrary, transfer both accrued and future contractual benefits.

In doing so, Mrs Justice O’Farrell has emphasised established principles on assignment and novation, and the clear conceptual distinction between them. While this decision affirms existing authority, it also highlights the inherent risks for construction contractors in step-in assignment arrangements.

"This decision shows the court’s desire to give effect to clear contractual provisions, particularly in complex construction contracts, even where doing so puts a party in a difficult position."

This preliminary issues judgment in the matter of Energy Works (Hull) Ltd v MW High Tech Projects UK Ltd & Others¹ , is the latest in a long series of decisions surrounding the Energy Works plant, a fluidised bed gasification energy-from-waste power plant in Hull². The defendant, MW High Tech Projects UK Ltd (“MW”), was engaged as the main contractor by the claimant and employer, Energy Works (Hull) Ltd (“EWHL”), under an EPC contract entered into in November 2015. Through a sub-contract, MW engaged Outotec (USA) Inc (“Outotec”) to supply key elements for the construction of the plant.

By March 2019, issues had arisen with the project. EWHL terminated the main contract for contractor default and, pursuant to a term in the EPC contract, asked MW to assign to it MW’s sub-contract with Outotec. The sub-contract permitted assignment, but MW and EWHL were unable to agree a deed of assignment. Ultimately, MW wrote to EWHL and Outotec, notifying them both that it was assigning the sub-contract to EWHL. EWHL subsequently brought £133m proceedings against MW, seeking compensation for the cost of defects and delay in completion of the works. The defendant disputed the grounds of the termination, denied EWHL’s claims, and sought to pass on any liability to Outotec through an additional claim under the sub-contract. Outotec disputed MW’s entitlement to bring the additional claim on the grounds that MW no longer had any rights under the sub-contract, because those rights had been assigned to EWHL.

The parties accepted that a valid transfer in respect of the sub-contract had taken place. However, MW maintained that the assignment only transferred future rights under the sub-contract and that all accrued rights – which would include the right to sue Outotec for any failure to perform in accordance with the sub-contract occurring prior to the assignment – remained with MW. In the alternative, MW argued that the transfer had been intended as a novation such that all rights and liabilities had been transferred. As a secondary point, MW also claimed eligibility for a contribution from Outotec under the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 for their alleged partial liability³.

An assignment is a transfer of a right from one party to another. Usually this is the transfer by one party of its rights and remedies, under a contract with a counterparty, to a third party. However, importantly, the assignor remains liable for any obligations it owes under the contract. As an example, Party A can assign to Party C its right to receive goods under a contract with Party B, but it will remain liable to pay Party B for those goods. Section 136 of the Law of Property Act 1926 requires a valid statutory assignment to be absolute, in writing, and on notice to the contractual counterparty.

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Partner London

Mark McAllister-Jones

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"In the absence of any clear contrary intention, reference to assignment of the contract by parties is understood to mean assignment of the benefit, that is, accrued and future rights."

In this case, the precise scope of the transferred rights and the purported assignment of contractual obligations were in issue. Mrs Justice O’Farrell looked to the House of Lords’ decision in Linden Gardens⁴ to set out three relevant principles on assignment:

  • Subject to any express contractual restrictions, a party to a contract can assign the benefit of a contract, but not the burden, without the consent of the other party to the contract;
  • In the absence of any clear contrary intention, reference to assignment of the contract by parties is understood to mean assignment of the benefit, that is, accrued and future rights; and
  • It is possible to assign only future rights under a contract (i.e. so that the assignor retains any rights which have already accrued at the date of the assignment), but clear words are needed to give effect to such an intention.

Hence, in relation to MW’s first argument, it is theoretically possible to separate future and accrued rights for assignment, but this can only be achieved through “careful and intricate drafting, spelling out the parties’ intentions”. The judge held that, since such wording was absent here, MW had transferred all its rights, both accrued and future, to EWHL, including its right to sue Outotec.

Whereas assignment only transfers a party’s rights under a contract, novation transfers both a party’s rights and its obligations . Strictly speaking, the original contract is extinguished and a new one formed between the incoming party and the remaining party to the original contract. This new contract has the same terms as the original, unless expressly agreed otherwise by the parties.

Another key difference from assignment is that novation requires the consent of all parties involved, i.e. the transferring party, the counterparty, and the incoming party. With assignment, the transferring party is only required to notify its counterparty of the assignment. Consent to a novation can be given when the original contract is first entered into. However, when giving consent to a future novation, the parties must be clear what the terms of the new contract will be.

"Mrs Justice O’Farrell stressed that “it is a matter for the parties to determine the basis on which they allocate risk within the contractual matrix.”"

A novation need not be in writing. However, the desire to show that all parties have given the required consent, the use of deeds of novation to avoid questions of consideration, and the use of novation to transfer ‘key’ contracts, particularly in asset purchase transactions, means that they often do take written form. A properly drafted novation agreement will usually make clear whether the outgoing party remains responsible for liabilities accrued prior to the transfer, or whether these become the incoming party’s problem.

As with any contractual agreement, the words used by the parties are key. Mrs Justice O’Farrell found that the use of the words “assign the sub-contract” were a strong indication that in this case the transfer was intended to be an assignment, and not a novation.

This decision reaffirms the established principles of assignment and novation and the distinction between them. It also shows the court’s desire to give effect to clear contractual provisions, particularly in complex construction contracts, even where doing so puts a party in a difficult position. Here, it was found that MW had transferred away its right to pursue Outotec for damages under the sub-contract, but MW remained liable to EWHL under the EPC contract. As a result, EWHL had the right to pursue either or both of MW and Outotec for losses arising from defects in the Outotec equipment, but where it chose to pursue only MW, MW had no contractual means of recovering from Outotec any sums it had to pay to EWHL. Mrs Justice O’Farrell stressed that “it is a matter for the parties to determine the basis on which they allocate risk within the contractual matrix.” A contractor in MW’s position can still seek from a sub-contractor a contribution in respect of its liability to the employer under the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 (as the judge confirmed MW was entitled to do in this case). However, the wording of the Act is very specific, and it may not always be possible to pass down a contractual chain all, or any, of a party’s liability.

Commercially, contractors often assume some risk of liability to the employer without the prospect of recovery from a sub-contractor, such as where the sub-contractor becomes insolvent, or where the sub-contract for some reason cannot be negotiated and agreed on back-to-back terms with the EPC contract. However, contractors need to consider carefully the ramifications of provisions allowing the transfer of sub-contracts to parties further up a contractual chain and take steps to ensure such provisions reflect any agreement as to the allocation of risk on a project.

This article was authored by London Dispute Resolution Co-Head and Partner Rebecca Williams , Senior Associate Mark McAllister-Jones and Gerard Rhodes , a trainee solicitor in the London office.

[1] [2020] EWHC 2537 (TCC)

[2] See, for example, the decisions in Premier Engineering (Lincoln) Ltd v MW High Tech Projects UK Ltd [2020] EWHC 2484, reported in our article here , Engie Fabricom (UK) Ltd v MW High Tech Projects UK Ltd [2020] EWHC 1626 (TCC) and C Spencer Limited v MW High Tech Projects UK Limited [2020] EWCA Civ 331, reported in our article here .

[3] The Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 allows that “ any person liable in respect of any damage suffered by another person may recover contribution from any other person liable in respect of the same damage whether jointly with him or otherwise .”

[4] Linden Gardens Trust Ltd v Lenesta Sludge Disposals Ltd [1994] 1 AC 85

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  • 13 March 2018
  • Commercial Real Estate

Novation and Assignment: Sisters, Not Twins

There’s often, understandably, a bit of uncertainty about whether (and how) a party to a contract can “assign” (transfer) its rights, or pass on its obligations, under that contract, to another person.

In law, the general rule is that only the original parties to the contract can discharge or fulfil the obligations and enforce the rights created under it and nobody else gets a look in. This is called “privity of contract”.

Essentially, novation and assignment are both mechanisms to get around this restriction. However, while the end result is the same, there are some important differences between these two mechanisms.

Under an assignment, one party (the assignor) keeps performing their obligations under the contract, but transfers some or all rights to a third party (the assignee). The parties to the contract remain the same so privity of contract is preserved.

Assignments can be legal or equitable. In order for an assignment to be a legal assignment, the assignment must be agreed in writing, signed by the assignor, and the other party to the contract must be given notice of the assignment. A legal assignment is usually preferable as this allows the assignee to enforce the rights in their own name directly.

If the assignment is an equitable assignment because it does not fit the criteria for a legal assignment (for example, the other party was not given notice of it), the assignee will need to get the assignor to enforce the assigned rights on its behalf.

Contracts often require the consent of the other party before any assignment can take place. Some contracts expressly prohibit assignment. However, even where there is such wording in the contract, there is nothing stopping you from asking the party to consent to the assignment anyway, though you should take care to record any agreement in writing.

The main point to remember is that you cannot assign obligations under a contract to another party – you can only assign your benefits or rights. Even if the assignee agrees that they will take on the obligations under the contract, it is still the assignor who remains responsible for performance of the obligations and liable if they are not. In practice, what often happens is that the assignee does take over the performance of the contractual obligations but simply agrees to indemnify the assignor for any failures in performance.

It is also important to note that some rights may not be legally capable of assignment.

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When you novate a contract, the original contract effectively ceases to exist and is replaced with a new contract. The new contract contains exactly the same rights and obligations as the original contract, except that it substitutes one of the original parties (the outgoing party) with a third party (the incoming party).

As you are creating a new contract, technically you need to provide fresh consideration. Usually a simple novation agreement between all the parties will be enough, but, if there is any doubt, the parties may choose to execute the novation as a deed instead, which dispenses with the need for consideration.

The novation agreement (or deed) will specify what happens to the liabilities under the original contract. In a typical novation, the outgoing party would be released from all liabilities and the incoming party would inherit these. However, this is up to the parties to decide; they could even decide that the outgoing party will remain liable for all of the liabilities under the original contract.

Novating the contract will release the outgoing party from any future obligations which may arise. This is a crucial difference between novation and assignment.

Although the novation agreement itself can be simple, the process of getting all the parties to the table to agree and execute might be more complex. The main issue for an outgoing party will be persuading the other original party to sign. The other original party often has concerns about service continuity and may want certain assurances or information about the incoming third party.

Equally, the other original party is not obliged to agree: they can refuse to novate and then sue for breach if the party trying to exit the contract fails to meet its contractual obligations. As they still have this other option, in any novation scenario, the outgoing party is probably in a weaker bargaining position, and the other original party may well use this to their advantage.

About this article

  • Subject Novation and Assignment: Sisters, Not Twins
  • Author Stephen James
  • Expertise Commercial Real Estate
  • Published 13 March 2018

Disclaimer This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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What is the Difference Between an Assignment and a Novation in the UK?

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Updated on 21 November 2022 Reading time: 5 minutes

This article meets our strict editorial principles. Our lawyers, experienced writers and legally trained editorial team put every effort into ensuring the information published on our website is accurate. We encourage you to seek independent legal advice. Learn more .

  • What is an Assignment? 

What is a Novation?

Two key differences between an assignment and a novation, key takeaways, frequently asked questions.

As a business owner, you may encounter occasions where you must transfer certain beneficial rights or obligations to a third party. For example, your business may stop performing a service and wish to transfer the rights conveyed to you under a particular contract to another party. An assignment or a novation can help you do this. However, they act in very different ways and have differing requirements. This article will explain the main differences between an assignment and a novation and the circumstances where you may wish to use them. 

What is an Assignment? 

Under the terms of a standard contractual agreement, you or your business partners will receive rights or benefits. You can transfer the right to receive these benefits through an assignment to anyone who is not part of the original agreement. Assignments are made through an assignment deed, which will set out the benefits you wish to bestow on another person. It is worth noting that you can only assign your own rights. You cannot assign any other person’s rights conveyed in a contract.

Once you (the assignor) transfer your rights to the third party (the assignee), they can enjoy the benefits of the contract you provided.

Assignments are common in construction contracts where a property developer may enter into a building contract with a contractor. The developer can transfer their rights under that contract to anyone buying the property. Those rights then allow the purchaser to demand the contractor perform their duties under the original arrangement. Otherwise, they can make a claim against the contractor for a breach of contract. 

Novations are slightly more complicated than assignments. They transfer both the rights and obligations that you have under a contract. You may use a novation to leave a contract you no longer wish to be a party to and find a replacement. For example, if you stop trading in a specific service or line of goods, you can use a novation deed to remove yourself from a contract to provide these services. The novation deed will then allow you to substitute yourself for someone else willing to do this work.

Technically, a novation cancels the original contract you held with your business partner and creates a duplicate contract. In that duplicate, a third party will take the rights, benefits, and obligations conveyed to you from that agreement.

As the party leaving the contract, you will let go of all your rights to your benefits under the original contract. You will also no longer need to perform your contractual duties. It is worth noting that the burden of finding a replacement party for the novation often falls on the person leaving the contract. Therefore, to set up a novation, you must find the replacement yourself. However, you should be aware that any party involved in the existing contract can veto your decision to bring in a replacement if they are unsatisfied.

Novations often happen where businesses are bought and sold or where debt transactions occur. For example, when a company borrows money from a lender and wants to transfer the obligations to repay the debt to a third party. They can transfer these obligations via a novation. 

As discussed above, the main difference between an assignment and a novation is that a novation transfers your obligations and rights under that contract. By contrast, an assignment transfers only your rights and benefits.

But there are other differences between the two that business owners must be aware of.

1. Novations Require the Consent of All Parties

An assignment does not require the consent of all parties to the contract to transfer the rights. Additionally, you do not necessarily have to notify the other parties to an agreement that an assignment is taking place. However, as a commercial courtesy, it is wise to notify your business partners that you intend to assign your rights to a third party. It is also essential to ensure no contractual terms prohibit you from transferring a benefit to a third party. Doing say may lead to breaching the contract, and you will be liable for damages. 

With novations, you must obtain consent from every party to a contract before transferring your contractual obligations and rights. This is because you are transferring your duties to perform obligations to a third party. In addition, as the other businesses involved in a contract rely on the performance of these obligations, they have a right to be notified of the novation arrangements. They must also provide their consent to these arrangements. Therefore, a novation deed must be signed and approved by every party to that original agreement, including the party exiting the contract.

2. Novations Require Consideration

Consideration is an essential element of contract law. It is a legal term for payment of value in exchange for a promise. To have a legally binding contract, you must have some form of consideration passing between parties. For example, in a delivery contract, one party must pay another party for shipping a set of goods. Without that consideration passing between parties, you cannot have a legally binding contract, and you can take action against your business partner for breach of contract. 

Novation deeds require you to exchange consideration before terminating the original contract. They also require consideration when making the new novation contract. On the other hand, as assignments do not involve the termination of a contract, you do not have to show that parties to the contract exchanged consideration.

Assignments and novations differ in three important ways. For instance, assignments transfer rights to contractual benefits to third parties, while novations transfer rights and obligations under a contract to a third party. Additionally, novations require the consent of all parties to the contract. On the other hand, you can make assignments without the consent of all parties. Finally, novations require consideration. 

If you need help transferring your rights, our experienced contract lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents.  Call us today on 0808 196 8584 or visit our membership page .

Assignments are where business owners can transfer a right or benefit given to them under a contractual arrangement to a third party. 

A novation transfers both a business owner’s rights and obligations under a contract to a third party. 

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What is the difference between Assignment vs. Novation

  • April 4, 2024

When it comes to business agreements, there are some terms and concepts that can be confusing. Two such terms are assignment and novation. While they may seem similar, they have distinct differences that are important to understand to properly navigate business agreements. Our expert lawyers will explore the difference between assignment and novation, and how they can impact your business agreements.

Are you facing challenges with assignments or novations in your business contracts? Call us for a Free Consultation with our expert solicitors today on 0207 459 4037 or complete our booking form below to schedule your consultation.

What is Assignment?

Assignment is the transfer of rights and obligations from one party to another. This means that one party, known as the assignor, transfers their rights and obligations under a contract to another party, known as the assignee. The assignee then becomes responsible for fulfilling the obligations and receiving the benefits outlined in the contract.

Examples of Assignment

An example of an assignment would be if a company sells a piece of property to another company. The original company would assign their rights and obligations under the contract to the new company, who would then take over ownership of the property and be responsible for fulfilling the terms of the contract.

Another example would be if a freelancer assigns their rights and obligations under a contract to a subcontractor. The subcontractor would then take over the work and be responsible for fulfilling the terms of the contract.

Types of Assignments

Assignments can take various forms depending on the nature of the contract and the parties involved. Here are some common types of assignments:

Absolute Assignment

In an absolute assignment, the assignor transfers all their rights and obligations to the assignee without any conditions. This type of assignment is irrevocable and the assignor no longer has any control over the rights transferred.

Conditional Assignment

A conditional assignment is one where the transfer of rights and obligations is subject to certain conditions being met. The assignment only becomes effective when the specified conditions are fulfilled.

Partial Assignment

In a partial assignment, only a portion of the rights and obligations under a contract are transferred to the assignee. The assignor retains some control over the remaining rights and obligations.

Legal Assignment

A legal assignment involves the transfer of legal ownership of rights and obligations to the assignee. This type of assignment is enforceable in court and provides the assignee with legal protection against any claims from third parties.

Equitable Assignment

An equitable assignment does not involve the transfer of legal ownership, but rather an intention to transfer the rights and obligations. This type of assignment is based on principles of fairness and equitable remedies.

Multiple Assignments

Multiple assignments occur when the same rights and obligations are assigned to more than one assignee. This situation can lead to complex legal issues and disputes over which the assignee has a valid claim to the rights.

What is Novation?

Novation is the replacement of one party in a contract with a new party. This means that one party, known as the transferor, transfers all of their rights and obligations under a contract to a new party, known as the transferee. The transferee then becomes a party to the contract and is responsible for fulfilling the obligations and receiving the benefits outlined in the contract.

Examples of Novation

An example of novation would be if a company sells their business to another company. The original company would transfer all of their rights and obligations under the business contracts to the new company, who would then become responsible for fulfilling the terms of the contracts.

Another example would be if a company merges with another company. The two companies would enter into a novation agreement, where one company would transfer all of their rights and obligations under their contracts to the other company.

Types of Novation

Novation is a complex legal concept that involves the substitution of one party to a contract with a new party. There are several types of novation that are commonly used in business agreements. Here are the key types of novation:

Full Novation

A full novation involves the complete substitution of one party to a contract with a new party. This means that the original party relinquishes all rights and obligations under the contract, and the new party assumes full responsibility for fulfilling those obligations.

Parallel Novation

In a parallel novation, a new party is added to the existing contract alongside the original parties. This new party shares the rights and obligations of one of the original parties without replacing them entirely. This type of novation is often used in complex business transactions where multiple parties are involved.

Temporary Novation

Temporary novation is a type of novation where the substitution of parties is only for a specific period of time or under certain conditions. Once the specified period or conditions are met, the original party may resume their rights and obligations under the contract.

Permanent Novation

Permanent novation, on the other hand, involves a permanent substitution of parties in a contract. The original party permanently exits the contract, and the new party takes over all rights and obligations for the duration of the contract.

Bilateral Novation

Bilateral novation occurs when all parties involved in the contract agree to the substitution of one party with a new party. This type of novation requires the consent of all parties to the contract for the substitution to be valid.

Unilateral Novation

In unilateral novation, only one party to the contract seeks to be substituted by a new party without the consent of the other party. This type of novation may involve legal complexities and challenges, as the non-consenting party may seek to dispute the validity of the substitution.

Key Differences Between Assignment and Novation

While assignment and novation may seem similar, there are key differences that are important to understand including:

Transfer of Rights and Obligations

The main difference between assignment and novation is the transfer of rights and obligations. In assignment, the assignor transfers their rights and obligations to the assignee, but they still remain a party to the contract. In novation, the transferor completely transfers all of their rights and obligations to the transferee and is no longer a party to the contract.

Consent of All Parties

Another key difference is the consent of all parties involved. In assignment, the assignor and assignee must both agree to the transfer of rights and obligations. However, the other party in the contract does not need to give their consent. In novation, all parties involved must agree to the replacement of the transferor with the transferee.

In assignment, the assignor remains liable for any breaches of the contract, even after the assignment. The assignee is only responsible for fulfilling the obligations outlined in the contract. In novation, the transferor is no longer liable for any breaches of the contract, as they are no longer a party to the contract. The transferee assumes all liability for fulfilling the obligations outlined in the contract.

Impact on the Original Contract

In assignment, the original contract remains in effect, with the only change being the transfer of rights and obligations. In novation, the original contract is terminated and a new contract is created between the remaining party and the transferee.

When to Use Assignment vs. Novation

The decision to use assignment or novation in a business agreement depends on the specific circumstances and goals of the parties involved:

  • Assignment is typically used when one party wants to transfer their rights and obligations under a contract to another party but still wants to remain a party to the contract. This can be beneficial if the assignor wants to maintain a relationship with the other party, or if they want to continue receiving benefits outlined in the contract.
  • Novation is typically used when one party wants to completely transfer all of their rights and obligations under a contract to a new party. This can be beneficial if the transferor wants to completely exit the contract and have no further involvement, or if the transferee wants to become a party to the contract and receive all benefits outlined in the contract.

Expert Business Contract Solicitors

While assignment and novation may seem similar, they have distinct differences that are important to understand to properly navigate business agreements.

Assignment involves the transfer of rights and obligations from one party to another, while novation involves the replacement of one party with a new party. The decision to use assignment or novation depends on the specific circumstances and goals of the parties involved. By understanding the difference between assignment and novation, you can ensure that your business agreements are properly executed and fulfilled.

For expert legal advice on assignment and novation matters, don’t hesitate to contact our expert business and commercial solicitors at 0207 459 4037 for a Free Consultation today.

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Contracts: The Critical Difference Between Assignment and Novation

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Introduction

An assignment of rights under a contract is normally restricted to the benefit of the contract. Where a party wishes to transfer both the benefit and burden of the contract this generally needs to be done by way of a novation. The distinction between assignment and novation was addressed recently in the case of Davies v Jones (2009), whereby the court considered whether a deed of assignment of the rights under a contract could also transfer a positive contractual obligation, which in this instance included the obligation to pay.

Mr Jones (the first defendant) contracted to sell Lidl (the second defendant) a freehold property (the "Lidl Contract"). At that time, the freehold was vested in the claimants as trustees of a retired benefit scheme. Mr Jones contracted to buy the land from the claimants (the " Trustee Contract") and assigned his right, title and interest to the Trustee Contract to Lidl by way of a deed of assignment.

Clause 18 of the Trustee Contract permitted Mr Jones, as purchaser, to retain £100,000 from the purchase monies payable to the claimants until the outstanding works (ground clearance and site preparation) had been completed. Following completion of the works Mr Jones was entitled to retain one half of the proper costs from the retention and release the balance to the claimants. There was a similar clause in the Lidl Contract, which allowed Lidl to retain the proper costs from the retention. Importantly, although similar, under the Lidl Contract Lidl was entitled to retain the whole cost of carrying out the works as against only half in the Trustee Contract.

Lidl retained the sum of £100,000 from the money due by Mr Jones to the claimants on completion of the contract. Once the works were completed Mr Jones failed to pay the claimant the retention monies claiming that the proper cost of the works was over £200,000.

The claimants argued that the benefits granted by way of the assignment were conditional on Lidl performing Mr Jones' obligations under the Trustee Contract. Therefore, the question considered by the court was whether Lidl was bound to observe the terms of the Trustee Contract and in particular clause 18, given that benefit of the contract had been assigned to them.

The court held that the benefit which passed to Lidl by way of the deed of assignment did not require Lidl to perform the obligations of Mr Jones under the Trustee Contract. The assignment did not impose any burden on Lidl. The only person who clause 18 of the Trustee Contract was binding on was Mr Jones. The transfer to Lidl could not impose on Lidl the obligation to perform Mr Jones' obligations and these therefore remained with Mr Jones. This reaffirms the principle that when you take an assignment of a contract, you don't take on the burden (except in limited circumstances where enjoyment of the benefit is conditional on complying with some formality). Therefore, if an owner assigns a building contract to a purchaser of land and the building is still under construction, the obligation to pay the contractor remains with the original owner and does not pass to the new owner.

Assignment and novation in the Construction Industry

Both assignment and novation are common within the construction industry and careful consideration is required as to which mechanism is suitable. Assignments are frequently used in relation to collateral warranties, whereby the benefit of a contract is transferred to a third party. Likewise, an assignment of rights to a third party with an interest in a project may be suitable when the Employer still needs to fulfil certain obligations under the contract, for example, where works are still in progress. A novation is appropriate where the original contracting party wants the obligations under the contract to rest with a third party. This is commonly seen in a design and build scenario whereby the Employer novates the consultants' contracts to the Contractor, so that the benefit and burden of the appointments are transferred, and the Employer benefits from a single point of responsibility in the form of the Contractor.

If the intention is that the assignee is to accept both the benefit and burden of a contract, it is not normally sufficient to rely on a deed of assignment, as the burden of the contract remains with the assignor. In these instances a novation would be a preferable method of transferring obligations, and this allows for both the benefit and burden to be transferred to the new party and leaves no residual liability with the transferor.

Reference: Davies v Jones [2009] EWCA Civ 1164 .

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 07/06/2010.

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What Is Novation?

How novation works, novation vs. assignment.

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Novation: Definition in Contract Law, Types, Uses, and Example

novation vs assignment english law

Investopedia / Julie Bang

Novation is the replacement of one of the parties in an agreement between two parties, with the consent of all three parties involved. To novate is to replace an old obligation with a new one.

For example, a supplier who wants to relinquish a business customer might find another source for the customer. If all three agree, the contract can be torn up and replaced with a new contract that differs only in the name of the supplier. The old supplier relinquishes all rights and obligations of the contract to the new supplier.

Key Takeaways

  • To novate is to replace an old obligation with a new one.
  • In contract law, a novation replaces one of the parties in a two-party agreement with a third party, with the agreement of all three parties.
  • In a novate, the original contract is void. The party that drops out has given up its benefits and obligations.
  • In the financial markets, using a clearinghouse to vet a transaction between two parties is known as a novation.
  • Novation is different than an assignment, where the original party to the agreement retains ultimate responsibility. Therefore, the original contract remains in place.

In legal language, novation is a transfer of both the "benefits and the burdens" of a contract to another party. Contract benefits may be anything. For example, the benefit could be payments for services. The burdens are the obligations taken on to earn the payment—in this example, the services. One party to the contract is willing to forgo the benefits and relinquish the duties.

Canceling a contract can be messy, expensive, and bad for an entity's reputation. Arranging for another party to fulfill the contract on the same terms, with the agreement of all parties, is better business.

Novations are often seen in the construction industry, where subcontractors may be juggling several jobs at once. Contractors may transfer certain jobs to other contractors with the client's consent.

Novations are most frequently used when a business is sold, or a corporation is taken over. The new owner may want to retain the business's contractual obligations, while the other parties want to continue their agreements without interruption. Novations smooth the transition.

Types of Novations

There are three types of novations:

  • Standard : This novation occurs when two parties agree that new terms must be added to their contract, resulting in a new one.
  • Expromissio : Three parties must be involved in this novation; a transferor, a counterparty, and a transferee. All three must agree to the new terms and make a new contract.
  • Delegation : One of the parties in a contract passes their responsibilities to a new party, legally binding that party to the terms of the contract.

A novation is an alternative to the procedure known as an assignment .

In an assignment, one person or business transfers rights or property to another person or business. But the assignment passes along only the benefits, while any obligations remain with the original contract party. Novations pass along both benefits and potential liabilities to the new party.

For example, a sub-lease is an assignment. The original rental contract remains in place. The landlord can hold the primary leaseholder responsible for damage or non-payment by the sub-letter.

Novation gives rights and the obligations to the new party, and the old one walks away. The original contract is nullified.

In property law, novation occurs when a tenant signs a lease over to another party, which assumes both the responsibility for the rent and the liability for any subsequent damages to the property, as indicated in the original lease.

Generally, an assignment and a novation require the approval of all three parties involved.

A sub-lease agreement is usually an assignment, not a novation. The primary leaseholder remains responsible for non-payment or damage.

Novation Uses

Because a novation replaces a contract, it can be used in any business, industry, or market where contracts are used.

Financial Markets

In financial markets, novations are generally used in credit default swaps, options, or futures when contracts are transferred to a derivatives  market clearinghouse. A bilateral transaction is completed through the clearinghouse , which functions as an intermediary.

The sellers transfer the rights to and obligations of their securities to the clearinghouse. The clearinghouse, in turn, sells the securities to the buyers. Both the transferor (the seller) and transferee (the buyer) must agree to the terms of the novation, and the remaining party (the clearinghouse) must consent by a specific deadline. If the remaining party doesn't consent, the transferor and transferee must book a new trade and go through the process again.

Real Estate

Contracts are a part of real estate transactions, so novation is a valuable tool in the industry. If buyers and sellers enter into a contract, novation allows them to change it when issues arise during due diligence, inspection, or closing.

Commercial and residential rental contracts can be changed using novation if tenants or renters experience changes that affect their needs or ability to make payments.

Government Contracting

Federal, state, and local governments find it cheaper and beneficial for the economy to contract specific tasks rather than create an official workforce. Contracts are critical components for private or public companies who win a bid to do work for governments. If the contractor suddenly can't deliver on the contract or other issues prevent it from completing its task, the contractor can ask the government to recognize another party to complete the project.

A novation is not a unilateral contract mechanism. All concerned parties may negotiate the terms until a consensus is reached.

Banks use novation to transfer loans or other debts to different lenders. This typically involves canceling the contract and creating a new one with the exact terms and conditions of the old one.

Example of Novation

Novation can occur between any two parties. Consider the following example—Maria signed a contract with Chris to buy a cryptocurrency for $200. Chris has a contract with Uni for the same type of cryptocurrency for $200. These debt obligations may be simplified through a novation. By agreement of all three parties, a novation agreement is drawn, with a new contract in which Chris transfers the debt and its obligations to Maria. Maria pays Uni $200 in crypto. Chris receives (and pays) nothing.

Novations also allow for revisions of payment terms as long as the parties involved agree. For example, say Uni decided not to accept crypto but wanted cash instead. If Maria agrees, a novation occurs, and new payment terms are entered on a contract.

What Is a Novation?

In novation, one party in a two-party agreement gives up all rights and obligations outlined in a contract to a third party. As a result, the original contract is canceled.

What Is The Meaning of Novation Agreement?

In novation, the rights and obligations of one party to a two-party contract are transferred to a third party, with the agreement of all three parties.

Is Novation a New Contract?

Yes, because the old contract is invalidated or "extinguished" when the new contract is signed.

In a novation, when all parties agree, one party in a two-party agreement gives up all rights and obligations outlined in a contract to a third party. As a result, the original contract is canceled.

Novation differs from an assignment, where one party gives up all rights outlined in the contract but remains responsible for fulfilling its terms. The original contract remains in place.

International Swaps and Derivatives Association. " ISDA Novation Protocol ."

General Services Administration. " Subpart 42.12 - Novation and Change-of-Name Agreements ."

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What is the difference between “novation” and “assignment”?

As general counsel to our small- and medium-size business clients, a large portion of our services consists of reviewing, modifying, and negotiating agreements – whether they are transactional in nature between our client and another party or concern our client and its personnel.  When these agreements need to be modified and/or assigned, there are several key legal concepts that need to be considered to ensure the enforceability of the revised or assigned agreements.  Two concepts that have been conflated, and should be clearly defined, are “novation” and “assignment.”

Under New York law, a novation occurs when there is (i) a previously valid obligation, (ii) an agreement by all parties to a new contract, (iii) the extinguishment of the old contract, and (iv) a valid new contract.   Callanan Indus. V. Micheli Contr. Corp ., 124 A.D.2d 960, 961 (3d Dept. 1986).  A novation does not discharge obligations created under a prior agreement unless it was so intended, and a novation cannot exist where there is evidence that the rights existing under the purportedly canceled agreement have been transferred or assigned to another party.  See Warberg Opportunistic Trading Fund L.P. v. GeoResource, Inc. , 151 A.D.3d 465 (1st Dept. 2017).

Contrasted with a novation which, if effective, discharges and supersedes a prior written agreement, an assignment is the complete transfer to another party of an interest or an undivided part of that interest, and such transfer must be complete insomuch as the assignor must be divested of control over the rights assigned.   Biosynexus, Inc. v. Glaxo Group Ltd. , 2006 N.Y. Slip Op. 50359 (New York Cty. Supr. Mar. 13, 2006). 

Unlike a novation, an assignment does not terminate the original written agreement.  Rather, there is a shift in the interests or rights that are being assigned to another party, while a novation must unequivocally state that it is intended to supersede a prior writing amongst parties.  As such, a novation must be demonstrated through clear documentary evidence that contains languages indicating that the new contract “revokes, cancels, extinguishes, supercedes, or otherwise satisfies a party’s obligations to the another under the original contract.”   See Bellco Drug Corp. v. Interactive Health Pharmacy Servs ., 2013 N.Y. Slip Op. 32327 (New York Cty. Supr. Sept. 25, 2013).

In contract formation, the intention of the parties is material, and as a result, the language used to memorialize these intentions must be explicit.  When entering any contract, the advice of a lawyer is invaluable to ensure that the intentions are clear, the language is accurate, and you are properly counseled as to the rights and obligations created thereunder in your favor.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this post is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls and communications. Contacting us, however, does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Assignment and Novation

What are assignment and novation clauses.

The two main legal tools for the transfer of the rights and/or obligations under a contract to another party are: assignment, for the transfer of benefits; and novation, for the transfer of rights/benefits and obligations. Each has unique features that must be taken into account when deciding which is the preferred option.

Assignment and novation clauses

Assignment, novation and other dealings boilerplate clauses, non-assignment clauses, withholding consent to an assignment.

The two main legal tools for the transfer of the rights and/or obligations under a contract to another party are:

  • assignment, for the transfer of benefits; and
  • novation, for the transfer of rights/benefits and obligations

Each has unique features that must be taken into account when deciding which is the preferred option.

Assignment clauses

A contracting party at common law has a general right to assign its rights without any consent or approval from the other party (unless by its very nature the right is personal). An assignment clause may be included in an agreement to exclude or limit this common law right. In order for the assignment of rights by one party to not be exercised unilaterally without the knowledge of the other party, it is common for contracts to include a provision that a party can only assign its rights under the contract with the consent of the other party.

After assignment, the assignee is entitled to the benefit of the contract and to bring proceedings (either alone or by joining the assignor depending in whether the assignment is legal or equitable) against the other contracting party to enforce its rights. The assignee does not become a party to the contract with the promisor. As the burden or obligations of the contract cannot be assigned, the assignor remains liable post assignment to perform any part of the contract that has not yet been performed.

Novation clauses

By executing a novation, a party can transfer both its rights/benefits and obligations. At common law, the obligations under a contract can only be novated with the consent of all original contracting parties, as well as the new contracting parties. This is because the novation extinguishes the old contract by creating a new contract.

A novation clause will usually provide that a party cannot novate a contract without the prior written consent of existing parties. Including a novation clause in an agreement is designed to prevent oral consent to a novation, or consent being inferred from a continuing party’s conduct. However, a court will look to the substance of what has occurred, and such a clause is not effective in all situations.

It is possible for a novation clause to prospectively authorise a novation to be made by another party unilaterally to a party chosen by the novating party. The courts will give effect to a novation made in this manner provided it is authorised by the proper construction of the original contract.

Option 1 – Assignment, novation and other dealings – consent required

A party must not assign or novate this [deed/agreement] or otherwise deal with the benefit of it or a right under it, or purport to do so, without the prior written consent of each other party [which consent is not to be unreasonably withheld/which consent may be withheld at the absolute discretion of the party from whom consent is sought].

Option 2 – Assignment, novation and other dealings – specifies circumstances in which consent can reasonably be withheld

(a)   [ Insert name of Party A ] may not assign or novate this [deed/agreement] or otherwise deal with the benefit of it or a right under it, or purport to do so, without the prior written consent of [ insert name of Party B ], which consent is not to be unreasonably withheld . 

(b) [ Insert name of Party A ] acknowledges that it will be reasonable for [ insert name of Party B ] to withhold its consent under this clause if:

(i)      [ Insert name of Party B ] is not satisfied with the ability of the proposed assignee to perform [ insert name of Party A ]’s obligations under this [deed/agreement];

(ii)      [ Insert name of Party B ] is not satisfied with the proposed assignee’s financial standing or reputation;

(iii)     the proposed assignee is a competitor of [ insert name of Party B ]; or

(iv)       [ Insert name of Party B ] is in dispute with the proposed assignee .

Click  here  for information on how to use this boilerplate clause.

A non-assignment clause prevents a party or parties from assigning the benefit of the contract. Non-assignment clauses are generally effective if they have been clearly drafted.

Contracts commonly provide for assignment with the consent of the other party. Such provisions usually provide that consent must not be unreasonably withheld and, where there is no such proviso, one may be implied. Accordingly, if it is intended that a party may withhold its consent to an assignment for any reason whatsoever (including on unreasonable grounds) clear contractual language should be used.

A purported assignment that contravenes such contractual restriction may constitute a breach of contract and result in an ineffective assignment.

The ‘reasonableness’ of withholding consent to an assignment is assessed by an objective standard and given a broad and common sense meaning.

The relevant factors in assessing reasonableness will differ in each case and heavily depend on the particular circumstances, including the nature and object of the specific contract and the purpose of the non-assignment clause.  Relevant factors may include any defaults in obligations under the contract and the solvency and identity of the assignee.

A party’s actions in withholding consent will generally be considered unreasonable if the grounds relied upon to support the withholding are:

  • extraneous or disassociated from the subject matter of the contract;
  • materially inconsistent with any provision(s) of the contract; or
  • based on collateral or improper considerations.

It is advisable, where withholding consent to an assignment, to clearly set out the reasons for withholding consent in a letter to the other party.

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COMMENTS

  1. Assignment vs Novation: Everything You Need to Know

    A novation occurs when a party would like to transfer both the benefits and the burden within a contract to another party. Similar to assignment, the benefits are transferred, but unlike assignment, the burden is also transferred. When a novation is completed, the original contract is deleted and is replaced with a new one.

  2. Assignment and novation

    Like assignment, novation transfers the benefits under a contract but unlike assignment, novation transfers the burden under a contract as well. In a novation the original contract is extinguished and is replaced by a new one in which a third party takes up rights and obligations which duplicate those of one of the original parties to the ...

  3. Assignment or Novation: Key Differences and Legal Implications

    Assignment. Transfer of rights or obligations. Transfers both the benefit and the burden of a contract to a third party. Transfers only the benefit of a contract, not the burden. Consent Required. Novation requires the consent of all parties (original parties and incoming party).

  4. Novation vs Assignment: Which One Is The Correct One?

    Novation and assignment are both terms used in contract law. Novation is the act of replacing one party in a contract with another party, while assignment is the act of transferring rights or obligations from one party to another. Novation is the proper term when a new party is being substituted for an existing party in a contract.

  5. Novation And Assignment: What Is The Difference?

    In contract law the principle of privity of contract means that only the parties to a contract have the obligation to fulfill it and the right to enforce it. Statute law has created a few exceptions but they apply rarely. The legal concepts of novation and assignment have been developed to overcome the restrictions imposed by the doctrine.

  6. Assignment and Novation: Spot the Difference

    An assignment is a transfer of a right from one party to another. Usually this is the transfer by one party of its rights and remedies, under a contract with a counterparty, to a third party. However, importantly, the assignor remains liable for any obligations it owes under the contract. As an example, Party A can assign to Party C its right ...

  7. Assignment vs. Novation: What is the Difference?

    However, be aware that these differ. An assignment gives some rights to a third party, whereas a novation transfers both rights and obligations to a third party. Ensure that whichever method you choose, you document this in a written agreement. If you need further assistance with an assignment or novation, our experienced contract lawyers can ...

  8. Construction law terms: assignment and novation

    A novation involves the termination of one contract and the creation of a new one in its place. In the case of an assignment Party A's existing contractual rights are transferred to Party B, but the contract remains the same and Party A remains a party to it so far as its obligations are concerned. A novation involves the transfer of both ...

  9. Novation and Assignment: Sisters, Not Twins

    13 March 2018. Commercial Real Estate. Novation and Assignment: Sisters, Not Twins. There's often, understandably, a bit of uncertainty about whether (and how) a party to a contract can "assign" (transfer) its rights, or pass on its obligations, under that contract, to another person. In law, the general rule is that only the original ...

  10. Differences Between Assignment and Novation

    As discussed above, the main difference between an assignment and a novation is that a novation transfers your obligations and rights under that contract. By contrast, an assignment transfers only your rights and benefits. But there are other differences between the two that business owners must be aware of. 1.

  11. What is the difference between Assignment vs. Novation

    When to Use Assignment vs. Novation. The decision to use assignment or novation in a business agreement depends on the specific circumstances and goals of the parties involved: Assignment is typically used when one party wants to transfer their rights and obligations under a contract to another party but still wants to remain a party to the ...

  12. What's the Difference Between Assignment and Novation?

    Therefore, it is important to understand those differences. Moreover, assignment is a partial transfer (in respect to the rights of a contract) to a third party. A novation is a complete transfer of that contract (rights & burden) to another party. In both instances of transferring rights or obligations to a third party, consult a contract lawyer.

  13. Contracts: The critical difference between Assignment and Novation

    An assignment of rights under a contract is normally restricted to the benefit of the contract. Where a party wishes to transfer both the benefit and burden of the contract this generally needs to be done by way of a novation. The distinction between assignment and novation was addressed recently in the case of Davies v Jones (2009), whereby ...

  14. Assignment and Novation Difference

    Today I will discuss what an assignment actually is and whether novation should be a more appropriate option. An assignment involves the transfer of an interest or benefit from one person ("Assignor") to another ("Assignee"). However, the "burden", or obligations, under a contract cannot be transferred. Thus, an assignment usually ...

  15. Contracts: The Critical Difference Between Assignment and Novation

    Assignment and novation in the Construction Industry. Both assignment and novation are common within the construction industry and careful consideration is required as to which mechanism is suitable. Assignments are frequently used in relation to collateral warranties, whereby the benefit of a contract is transferred to a third party.

  16. Assignment, novation and construction contracts

    Both assignment and novation are forms of transferring an interest under a contract from one party to another. However, they are very different and in their effect. An assignment transfers the benefit of a contract from one party to another, but only the benefit, not the burden. In contrast, a novation will transfer both the benefit and the ...

  17. Novation: Definition in Contract Law, Types, Uses, and Example

    Novation is the act of replacing one party in a contract with another, or of replacing one debt or obligation with another. It extinguishes (cancels) the original contract and replaces it with ...

  18. What is the difference between "novation" and "assignment"?

    Unlike a novation, an assignment does not terminate the original written agreement. Rather, there is a shift in the interests or rights that are being assigned to another party, while a novation must unequivocally state that it is intended to supersede a prior writing amongst parties. As such, a novation must be demonstrated through clear ...

  19. What is the difference between assignment and novation?

    A novation requires consent of all the parties to the original contract as well as the person that the contract is being novated to. Boilerplate assignment/novation clauses. It is common practice ...

  20. Assignment

    Assignment. The transfer of a right from one party to another. For example, a party to a contract (the assignor) may, as a general rule and subject to the express terms of a contract, assign its rights under the contract to a third party (the assignee) without the consent of the party against whom those rights are held. Obligations cannot be ...

  21. Assignment and Novation

    Option 1 - Assignment, novation and other dealings - consent required. A party must not assign or novate this [deed/agreement] or otherwise deal with the benefit of it or a right under it, or purport to do so, without the prior written consent of each other party [which consent is not to be unreasonably withheld/which consent may be withheld at the absolute discretion of the party from ...

  22. Novation

    Novation. A three-way contract which extinguishes a contract and replaces it with another contract in which a third party takes up the rights and obligations which duplicate those of one of the original parties to the agreement. Consideration must be provided for this new contract unless the novation is documented in a deed signed by all the ...