Our role in maintaining standards
Our role in maintaining standards
- ARB sees its role as being more than simply investigating allegations about architects, so in addition to dealing with formal complaints, our professional standards department issue proactive guidance and advice about matters of practice and ethics in an attempt to help architects avoid situations where their conduct or competence may be called into question.
- We issue a Code of Conduct with accompanying guidance, and also produce specific advice as to how disputes can be avoided. During 2014, we worked on producing an online video entitled ‘How to avoid complaints’.
- In 2014 we undertook 157 formal investigations into the conduct and competence of architects, an increase of 13% on the previous year. Most complaints continue to be in relation to domestic projects and relate to inadequate terms of engagement or poor communication.
- The Investigations Panel issued 84 decisions, an increase of 40% from 2013, and did so within our 12-week target on 73% of occasions. Of those decisions, 21% resulted in a dismissal of the complaint, 36% in advice being given to the architect as to their future conduct, and the remaining 43% were referred to the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) for a disciplinary hearing.
- The Board retains oversight of investigations through its Investigations Oversight Committee (IOC), which is in place to provide assurance that our disciplinary procedures are fair and fit for purpose. The Investigations Oversight Committee meets three times a year, and periodically reports back not only on performance, but also on professional standards issues that should be communicated to the profession.
Third party review
- To ensure parties to a complaint can be confident in the process, there is in place a Third Party Review of investigations which look to see if we investigated the complaint fairly and in line with our own rules. The reviews are undertaken by experienced, independent lawyers and are intended to offer some judicial scrutiny without the cost and expense of court action. The Review cannot change the decision but it can recommend that, where there have been deficiencies in the procedure, the Investigations Panel reconsider the case.
- During 2014, four independent Third Party Reviews were undertaken (compared with eight in 2013). The Review found no flaws in three of the cases, but considered that the remaining complaint had been misinterpreted, and recommended that it be reconsidered by the Investigations Panel, which it was. The eventual outcome of the case was unchanged. The Third Party Review system provides an important independent checking mechanism to ensure that we are undertaking our investigations fairly and properly.
ARB engages four firms of solicitors to prepare and present cases to the Professional Conduct Committee. The solicitor has 12 weeks in which to prepare a report to this committee. On average it took 11 weeks for the solicitors to prepare their reports, and 88% of cases met the 12-week target (compared with 84% in 2013).
Professional Conduct Committee (PCC)
- In 2014 the Professional Conduct Committee held 31 hearings, a 15% increase on the number of cases heard in 2013. Of those, 24 resulted in a sanction of some kind, and seven resulted in not guilty findings.
- During the course of the year, the whole range of sanctions available to the Professional Conduct Committee was employed at some stage. Five architects were erased from the Register, and five were suspended for periods of between six months and two years (the maximum permitted under the legislation). Six architects were issued with penalty orders – ranging from £1,000 to £5,000 (the latter comprising the maximum of £2,500 for unacceptable professional conduct and £2,500 for serious professional incompetence) – and eight were issued with a reprimand.
- The Professional Conduct Committee also imposed sanctions against three architects who had been convicted of criminal offences.
- One decision of this committee was appealed to the High Court. The Court upheld the decision on all grounds.
Misuse of title
- ARB is also responsible for protecting the title ‘architect’. Section 20 of the Architects Act makes it a criminal offence for anyone not on the Register of Architects to call themselves an ‘architect’ in business or practice.
- While ARB’s objective is to investigate and resolve any on-going misuse of title as quickly as possible rather than pursuing a criminal prosecution, there are occasions where the misuse is so serious or persistent that legal action is required to protect the public.
- During 2014 we carried out 331 Investigations into misuse of the title ‘architect’, compared with 381 in 2013. All were successfully resolved, either by way of co-operation or prosecution.
- There were two prosecutions completed in 2014, both defendants were successfully convicted of breaching Section 20 of the Architects Act 1997. The average fine imposed by the Magistrates’ Courts for prosecutions was £2,000, with an average of a further £3,000 being awarded to ARB in costs.
- The growth of online companies and resources presents additional challenges and opportunities for our work in this area. We remain vigilant for misuse of title online and treat such breaches of the law as we would do any other, but also use the internet to stress to consumers the importance of checking their architect’s credentials.
- In tandem with this statutory responsibility we work to prevent misuse of title (rather than solely prosecute) and to raise awareness of the restrictions on using the title ‘architect’. To support our work in this area, we are building partnerships with other organisations to help us raise public awareness of the Register and help users and potential users of architects’ services to make informed choices.