Our role in maintaining standards
Professional Conduct matters
- In 2015 we received 157 formal complaints about architects, this is consistent with previous years. Of those, 62 resulted in a referral to one of ARB’s Investigations Panels, a small decrease on 2014’s figure of 66. The remaining complaints were resolved directly between the parties under Standard 10 of the Architects Code, or the allegations were considered as being outside of ARB’s jurisdiction. In an effort to manage expectations for parties to a complaint, we have developed a new guidance note to assist them in understanding the threshold that allegations must meet before a complaint can be investigated by the ARB.
- The majority of complaints in 2015 continued to be about domestic projects. The most common complaints were allegations under Standard 4 and Standard 6 of the Code of Conduct. These include issuing terms of engagement and keeping clients informed as to the progress of work.
- Since 2011 when the Board decided to resource the Investigations Pool using specifically-appointed members, the performance of the Investigations Panels has improved dramatically with 81% of decisions being issued within the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of 12 weeks.
- The Investigations Pool issued 72 decisions, a slight decrease on last year’s figure of 84. 14% of those decisions were to take no further action, 44% of decisions issued the architect with advice and 42% resulted in a referral to the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC). It took an average of 11 weeks for a final decision to be issued; this is compared to 2014’s average of 11.6 weeks.
Investigations Oversight Committee
- 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
- Third Party Review considers the Investigations Procedures that do not have a statutory appeal to the courts. It would be applicable for cases where an Investigations Panel has determined that no further action should be taken or advice should be issued.
- There were only two Third Party Reviews undertaken in 2015, a 60% decrease on the 2014 figure. Both reviews concluded that the Investigation Panel’s decision had been properly made, but identified avoidable delays in one of the cases and advised on future best practice.
There are four firms of solicitors engaged to prepare and present cases to the Professional Conduct Committee. Solicitors have 12 weeks in which to prepare a report, this target was met in 71% of cases with the average report taking 11 weeks to complete. The solicitors are subject to an annual performance review to discuss any shortfalls.
Professional Conduct Committee (PCC)
- In 2015 the PCC held 24 hearings over 42 days, a 23% decrease on the 2014 hearing figure.
- One of the cases concerned two architects from the same practice and the PCC reached different decisions for each architect. This means there were 25 outcomes, despite there only being 24 hearings.
- Of the 25 decisions, 15 findings of unacceptable professional conduct and one of serious professional incompetence were made. The remaining decisions related to the imposition of a sanction following a relevant criminal offence, and the erasure of two architects who had failed to pay a penalty order previously imposed by the PCC.
- The PCC determined that there was no case to answer in two cases and two architects were found not guilty.
- In 2015, the average cost of a PCC hearing (which includes the preparation of the legal case and advocacy where relevant, cost of venue and PCC member/witness/expert witness attendance) saw a 12% reduction on 2014’s figure.
- In 2015, the PCC Rules were amended to provide that admitted allegations of unacceptable professional conduct and serious professional incompetence can be disposed of by consent. The cost saving identified above is partly attributable to two cases in 2015 being disposed of via this method.
Communicating the work of the Professional Standards Department
In addition to dealing with enquiries and formal complaints, the Professional Standards Department is undertaking a number of proactive measures to inform registrants about the Code and how to ensure they act in a way so as to make complaints unlikely. We have implemented an advisory column in the ARB eBulletin, sent out to subscribers around four times a year, which covers topics such as how to deal with complaints and introducing new or updated ARB guidance on various matters. It also highlights any important news items such as the Code of Conduct consultation that took place in 2015 (being continued in 2016), and informs readers about any recent misuse of title prosecutions. More information on misuse of title can be found below.
Misuse of title
ARB’s procedure for dealing with misuse of title complaints is to investigate and stop any on-going misuse of title as quickly as possible – we seek to raise awareness rather than prosecute.
Not only do we investigate misuse of title complaints, we also undertake proactive work to inform the public about the Register of architects and the fact that the title is protected. A key element of our strategy is to work with partners to reach out to their networks. Over the last two years, our work with the HomeOwners Alliance has been particularly successful in this regard and has led to them informing their members about our role and pointing those considering using an architect to our consumer ‘Meeting your architect’ form. Our approach to inform the public has also seen us attending consumer shows, creating online guidance videos, working with online directories to check the veracity of their data and using search engine optimisation to help raise awareness of the online Register and the registered status of the profession.
We continue to look for new and effective ways to raise awareness of the statutory Register, so that consumers when looking for an architect can find one and understand the distinction between architects and those not on the Register.