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In commercial dealings, you may find yourself having to transfer a contract. There are two common ways of doing this; through assignment or novation. Although both reach the same outcome – a transfer of a contract – each process does so in a different manner and leaves you and other contracting parties in different positions. This article will elaborate on the difference between assignment and novation when transferring a contract. 

What Is an Assignment?

An assignment of a contract is when an individual (‘the assignor’) assigns their benefits under the agreement to a new person or business (‘the assignee’).

For example, an owner of another business might owe you a debt. In this case, you can assign the right to be paid the debt to one of your employees, by entering into a deed of assignment.

Under the assignment process, however, an individual could not assign their contractual obligations to a new person or business. This new party could inherit the right to payment for a service, but could not be assigned to provide that service. This means that the assignor may continue to be responsible for carrying out their contractual obligations even after they have assigned the contract to a new party.

For example, if the business owner is only obligated to pay this debt on the basis that you will provide them with free products, they will not have to pay until you have provided these goods. You could not assign this obligation to provide goods to your employee, even if you have assigned them the benefit of being paid the debt owed. 

Some contracts may contain a term that prohibits you from undergoing an assignment. However, it is a general rule that if a contract does not include such a term, you can undertake an assignment.

What Is a Novation?

A novation is when an individual (‘the novator’) transfers its benefits, rights and obligations under a contract to a new person or business (‘the novatee’). This means that the novator no longer has to carry out any obligations under the contract. 

For example, in a novation, you could transfer the benefit of being paid the debt owed to your employee, as well as the obligation to provide goods. You would no longer be obliged to help in the provision of the goods, nor would you be entitled to be paid the debt owed. 

Essentially, a new contract has formed with the novatee and the other party to the contract. 

What Are the Differences Between an Assignment and a Novation?

1. Transfer of Benefits Versus Complete Replacement

Under an assignment, you can only transfer the benefits you receive from a contract to this new person or business. In contrast, through novation, you can transfer both contractual benefits and obligations to this new party. They will completely replace you as a contracting party.

2. Liability of the Original Party

As you can only transfer your contractual benefits through assignment, the contract may require you to continue performing any obligations. 

Under a novation, this new person or business replaces you, and you cease to be a party to the contract. Hence, you no longer have an obligation to provide the goods or services that the agreement required you to supply, once a novation takes place.

This distinction is crucial if you are the ‘original party’ – either the assignor or the novator. Depending on the type of transfer you underwent, you may or may not still have obligations under that contract. 

3. Consent of the Other Party to the Contract 

Given the transfer of responsibility in a novation, it is a requirement that all contracting parties have consented to it. This allows all parties to ensure that:

  • the new person or business can fulfil the contractual obligations they are inheriting; and
  • the new person or business has sufficient skill to do so. 

Since a transfer cannot occur under an assignment, consent from the other parties to the contract is not always necessary. However, there may be a term in the contract that requires approval from this other party. Therefore, it is useful to ensure that you are entirely aware of your contract’s contents before engaging in an assignment. 

Key Takeaways

An assignment and a novation can transfer a contract. However, both differ in three key ways. Under an assignment, you can only transfer contractual benefits. Through novation, a new contracting party completely replaces you as a party to the contract. This means that your contractual obligations cease once a novation has occurred, yet can continue under an assignment. Therefore, consent from the other party to the contract may not always be necessary for an assignment. However, it is a requirement for a novation to take place. 

Your contract may prevent you from undergoing an assignment without the consent of the other parties involved. Alternatively, your contract may prevent an assignment altogether. Therefore, you should understand the contents of your contract. If you have any questions about assignments or novations, contact LegalVision’s contract lawyers on 0800 447 119 or complete the form on this page. 


What is an assignment?

Under an assignment, you transfer the benefits you receive from a contract to a third party whilst continuing to fulfil your obligations under the contract.

Can you assign a contract without an assignment clause?

It is a general rule that if there is no exclusion of assignment in your contract, you may assign it. However, if there is a term that excludes assignment, you cannot do so. Likewise, if there is a term that only allows assignment with the other contract party’s consent, this must occur.

What is a novation?

A novation is when a new person or business replaces you as a contracting party and inherits your rights and obligations under that contract.

What is the difference between assignment and novation of a contract?

There are three differences between an assignment and a novation.
Firstly, under an assignment, you only transfer the benefits of the contract to the new party. In a novation, you transfer both your benefits and contractual obligations.
Secondly, due to this complete transfer that occurs in a novation, the original party no longer has any contractual obligations. In an assignment, the original party may still have to fulfil these obligations.
Thirdly, the other contracting parties are always required to consent to a novation, whilst it is only necessary for an assignment if specified in the contract.

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