The answer to the question 'can the client be the principal contractor?' is yes, in theory.
It is perfectly possible for the same person or organisation to be both the client, and the principal contractor under CDM.
There is no rule under CDM that says the client and the principal contractor have to be separate entities.
However, there are projects where the client should be the principal contractor and projects where they shouldn't.
There can only be one principal contractor appointed on a project at any one time, and so careful consideration should be given as to who would be best to carry out the role. Especially since the client needs to appoint them in writing.
Knowing when the client can be the principal contractor, and when they can't, is mostly down to understanding CDM roles.
Two of the key roles under CDM are those of the client and the principal contractor.
The client is the person or organisation who the construction project is carried out for.
Clients must make sure that the required duty holders are appointed, that relevant information is prepared and provided to other duty holders, that welfare facilities are provided, and that the principal designer and principal contractor carry out their duties under CDM 2015.
There's nothing to say that the client cannot appoint themselves as the principal contractor.
In fact, if a client fails to appoint a principal contractor, they automatically become the principal contractor!
5.—(4) If the client fails to appoint a principal contractor, the client must fulfil the duties of the principal contractor...
What this does mean if you are the client, however, is that in addition to CDM client duties, you also have to carry out the duties of the principal contractor.
You can find out more about client duties in our free CDM duty holder guide for clients.
The principal contractor is the contractor in overall control of the construction phase.
Because they are in charge of the construction site, they have many important duties to ensure the safety of the work.
Principal contractors are responsible for planning, managing, monitoring and coordinating the construction phase of the project, including preparing the construction phase plan, organising cooperation between contractors and coordinating their work and liaising with other duty holders.
They must make sure that suitable site inductions are provided, prevent unauthorised access, provide welfare facilities and consult and engage workers on health and safety matters.
You can find out more about principal contractor duties in our free CDM duty holder guide for principal contractors.
The most obvious time when a client can be the principal contractor is when a developer is carrying out a project.
This is the most common type of project where the client and the principal contractor will be the same person or organisation.
A developer may buy a plot of land, or a building in need of refurbishment, carry out construction work, and then sell it on completion. They don't know who they are doing the work for because they don't know who the buyer is yet.
They are the client, because they own the land or building, and are carrying out the work for themselves.
They can also be the principal contractor if they are in overall control of the construction phase, either completing work themselves or managing contractors on site.
The client can also be the principal contractor under CDM if they are having work carried out within their own occupied premises.
For example, a client running a factory where work will be carried out within the facility while it is still in use.
If the client is going to be managing the project on site, carrying out inductions, enforcing site rules, controlling the work, issuing permits etc, then it makes sense that they can be the principal contractor.
Of course, while they can carry out the role of principal contractor, they don't have to. They could also appoint the principal contractor role to another person or organisation who they have in control of the works.
The client really can't be the principal contractor if they don't have the skills, experience, knowledge or resources to carry out the role.
8.—(1) A designer (including a principal designer) or contractor (including a principal contractor) appointed to work on a project must have the skills, knowledge and experience, and, if they are an organisation, the organisational capability, necessary to fulfil the role that they are appointed to undertake, in a manner that secures the health and safety of any person affected by the project.
Just because a client is appointing subcontractors, and doesn't have a main contractor in charge of them all, does not mean they can, or should be, the principal contractor.
There are certain duties a principal contractor must carry out on site, and so, whoever is appointed as the principal contractor needs a presence on site.
Site inductions need to be provided, site security needs to be maintained, and work needs to be managed and monitored.
If, as a client, you are not going to have the presence on site to carry out these duties, then you would not be able to comply with the principal contractor requirements.
Get help with your principal contractor role with our CDM principal contractor support pack, including documents and training.