Under the Public Sector Directive 2004/18/EC a contracting authority is obliged to reject an abnormally low bid due to the words used in the directive (“shall”). When the UK government implemented the directive into national law (in the form of the Public Contract Regulations), the term “may” was used instead of “shall”. At first sight this looks as though the rejection of abnormally low bids is a matter which is subject to the contracting authority’s discretion, rather than being mandatory.
However, in Morrison Facilities Services Limited v Norwich City Council the court held that the true ambit of this obligation should be as stated in the Directive and not the Regulation, and although the contracting authority does not have to check each price quoted, it must examine the reliability and seriousness of the tenders which it considers to be generally suspect.
In the above case, all the bids were within the range of £23 to £26 million, except for the successful bidder’s price, which was much lower at £17.5 million. The contracting authority had itself budgeted the cost of the services in question at £27.4 million and had asked the bidder twice to verify its prices. This clearly indicated that the contracting authority considered the bid to be suspect.
Morrison Facilities Services Limited v Norwich City Council 2010 EWHC 487 (Ch)