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Top Tips for Making Clarification Questions Work For You

04 July 2017 #Public Procurement

The most important step in winning a public tender is writing a first-class bid.  Making sure that your bid addresses each aspect of the tender questions and provides evidence where required is key to achieving that.

Another important part of the tender process is making sure that you understand exactly what the tender documents expect of you.  Sometimes tender documents contain mistakes and ambiguities or are simply too vague for you to be certain you are providing the correct information.

Asking clarification questions is a recognised part of any procurement process. Do not be afraid of submitting them – it is better to raise a question (even if your competitors get the benefit of the responses provided) than to make an incorrect assumption about what the tender documents require.

Follow our top tips set out below to get the best out of the process and help you submit a winning bid.

  1. Read the tender documents carefully and do not assume that you understand what the contracting authority is asking for. If the documents are ambiguous and could impact your submission, submit a clarification question at the earliest opportunity. Contracting authorities do not select or reject bidders based on the content of clarification questions.

  2. Make sure that you understand the process and the deadline for submitting clarification questions. If the process does not give you the chance to submit questions, then ask the contracting authority if questions can be raised.

  3. Follow the process for asking clarification questions in the tender documents, if there is one. Failing to comply with that process might detrimentally impact your submission.

  4. Work out whether your clarification question will reveal anything about your submission (a “Confidential Clarification”) or if it is general to all bidders (a “General Clarification”). If it is a Confidential Clarification, then check the tender process to work out the circumstances in which your question will be revealed to all bidders and when it will be kept confidential.

  5. If your tender deals with General and Confidential Clarifications in a different way, then make sure when you frame your question you are clear which category it should fall in. If the process is silent then your first clarification question should be whether you may submit a Confidential Clarification question that will not be disclosed to the other bidders.

  6. Frame your questions so they are one issue per question, keeping them clear, and concise. Do not ask one question including a number of separate questions unless they are linked and set out in bullet points. That way you encourage the contracting authority to cover all issues that you have raised and you can easily check off that the contracting authority has answered all of your questions.

  7. If the response received to a clarification question does not properly address the issue, ask further clarification questions until you are satisfied that your query has been answered.

  8. Make sure that you know the deadline for submitting clarification questions and submit them at the earliest opportunity. Missing a deadline will probably mean you cannot raise any clarification questions prior to submitting your bid. Equally if the question has a significant impact on the way you will structure your bid make sure that you submit it early so that you can get the response in sufficient time to then prepare your proposal.

  9. Hopefully, the above tips will mean that you have a full understanding of the tender requirements by the time you submit your bid.  Sometimes, however, the answers you receive mean that there is an uncorrected mistake in the tender documents or a breach of the regulations.  If that happens, decide urgently whether you need to take legal action to protection your position.  The general rule is that you must issue legal proceedings within 30 days of the date on which you first knew or ought to have known that you had grounds for bringing a challenge.  If you do not bring a legal challenge within this period, you are likely to lose your right to complain in the future.

So, follow the rules, make sure that your entire team reviews the tender document early and raises any questions as soon as you can and check that the contracting authority has answered your questions fully and has properly addressed any mistakes or other issues in the tender documents.



Clarkslegal, specialist Public Procurement lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Public Procurement matter please contact Clarkslegal's public procurement team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
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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