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Continuing to meet your professional duties during the COVID-19 disruption

26 March 2020

Carys Rowlands, RIBA Head of Professional Standards, explains the key provisions to be aware of during the COVID-19 disruption.

In its COVID-19 checklist for Members, the RIBA urges all members to carefully consider the implications of the current period of disruption for themselves and their businesses, and to keep up to date with all official advice and guidance.

All architects registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) must continue to work in accordance with the Architects Code. The ARB has published guidance on doing so.

The RIBA Code of Professional Conduct and Code of Practice (the Codes) set out and explain the standards of professional conduct and practice which the RIBA requires of all its Members and Chartered Practices. The Codes continue to apply during this challenging time, but we do recognise that our members and practices may need to amend their processes, procedures, policies and ways of working in order to continue to meet the requirements while also prioritising the safety of their staff, colleagues, clients and themselves, in line with government advice.

The current situation puts even greater emphasis on the three principles underpinning the Codes - Integrity, Competence and Relationships - as well as the broad duties they encompass: to the wider world, towards society and the end user, towards those commissioning services, towards those in the workplace, towards the profession and towards oneself. It is worth remembering that where two or more principles of the Codes come into conflict, the one which takes precedence is the one which best serves the public interest in the particular circumstances.

Key provisions to be particularly aware of at this time:

Integrity

"Members/Chartered Practices shall behave with integrity and shall strive to safeguard and improve the standing, reputation and dignity of the Institute and its Members in all their professional activities. Members shall consistently promote and protect the public interest and social purpose, taking into account future generations."

Impartiality, conflicts of interest

Ensure that you remain impartial and make independent, professional decisions without undue influence from others. There will inevitably be many competing issues to deal with at this time and it is important to properly and impartially weigh these in the balance, making informed and professional decisions.

Confidentiality and privacy

With most people moving to work from home, make sure that your systems and processes are set up to maintain privacy and confidentiality, ensuring documents, information and data are shared appropriately and securely.

Competence

"Members/Chartered Practices should continuously strive to improve their professional knowledge and skill. Members should persistently seek to raise the standards of architectural education, life‑long learning, research, training, and practice for the benefit of the public interest, those commissioning services, the profession and themselves. Members should strive to protect and enhance heritage and the natural environment."

Skill, knowledge, care, ability

Provide appropriate knowledge, ability, financial and technical resources for the work you undertake and realistically appraise your ability and resources in respect of any proposed work. In challenging times it is easy to overestimate resource and/or ability in order to deliver current work or secure additional work, but it is important to remain realistic and to honestly appraise the situation, and to inform your clients of any action required to mitigate any disruption to your ability to perform the required services.

Appropriate arrangements

Ensure that you have in place appropriate arrangements for professional work to continue in the event of an individual’s incapacity, death, absence from or inability to work, ie arrangements for work to be passed to a suitably qualified colleague or to another suitable local practice to ensure continuation of work for the client.

Supervision

Ensure proper supervision and oversight of work done under the authority of a RIBA Member or Chartered Practice (including employees, sub-consultants under direct control, etc). With more people working at home, regular communication among teams and between colleagues is more important than ever to ensure that work is properly supervised and progressed.

Terms of Appointment

Ensure that terms of appointment remain clear, are recorded in writing and cover the key requirements. Review terms of appointment regularly to see if any variations or amendments are required. Agree any necessary variations or amendments with the client in writing.

Time, cost quality

Carry out work without undue delay, but note the RIBA information­­­­­ in respect of Force Majeure.

Keeping clients informed

Advise clients in writing as soon as possible if the likelihood of or timeframes for achieving the agreed requirements and aspirations of the project change and keep records of the progress, circumstances and communications regarding a project.

Health, Safety and Wellbeing

Take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of those under your instruction or direct control and those likely to be affected by construction work for which you are providing professional services – including clients and members of the public. As part of this duty you must stay up to date with and follow the current government advice on coronavirus.

Competence to practice

Continue to develop and update your skills, knowledge and expertise to maintain and improve your competence for the work that you undertake. See detailed guidance on meeting your annual CPD (continuing professional development) obligations as a Chartered Member. Our quick guide looks at some frequently asked questions and specific circumstances.

Remember: Many activities, both structured and informal, can count towards your requirement, which is equivalent to 45 minutes per week. Online and digital forms of CPD can count as structured content and continue to be accessible during this period. The RIBA’s face to face CPD events are being delivered online for the duration of the current crisis which will enable you to keep up to date, and to meet your CPD requirements, while working remotely.

Recording your CPD

Practising Chartered Members must undertake and record CPD for as long as they continue in practice. Complete your 2019 record and continue recording 2020 CPD activities by logging in to My Account and clicking your name on the left hand navigation bar.

Relationships

"Members/Chartered Practices shall respect and seek to uphold the relevant rights and interests of others. Members shall treat people with respect and shall strive to be inclusive, ethical, and collaborative in all they do. Members shall seek and promote social justice."

Health, Safety and Wellbeing

As a Chartered Practice or as an RIBA Member operating as an employer, you have both a legal and a professional duty to look after the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees – including by providing a fair, safe and equitable working environment. This includes following government advice to allow your staff to work from home wherever possible. The current government advice is that the single most important action we can all take in fighting coronavirus is to stay at home, in order to protect the NHS and save lives. Under the staying at home guidance published on 24 March 2020, travelling to and from work is now only permitted where work absolutely cannot be done from home.

Working hours

Have regard for the maximum weekly working hours and the working time directive. Maintain regular contact with teams working remotely to ensure people are keeping a healthy work-life balance.

RIBA Members and Chartered Practices must, of course, comply with relevant laws and must uphold the highest ethical standards, including when seeking to use the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. When furloughing staff, Members and Chartered Practices must abide by the rules of the scheme and crucially must ensure that no furloughed employee undertakes or is asked to undertake any work for, or on behalf of, the practice.

Insurance

Continue to hold suitable insurance to cover any potential liabilities arising from your professional activities. See the RIBA update in respect of the impacts of COVID-19 on Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) renewals.

Further information

Any complaints received by the RIBA in respect of its Members and Chartered Practices are always, and will continue to be, dealt with on a case by case basis. We understand many of the challenges currently being faced in practice and, while the Codes are a mechanism to hold people to account where necessary and appropriate, they are also a useful tool to support practitioners day to day.

For practical queries and further information, please contact professional.standards@riba.org.

Please also note the support on offer from the Architects Benevolent Society – a charity which supports past and present architects. They help people of all ages who have experienced illness, accident, redundancy, unemployment, bereavement or other personal difficulties. See their COVID-19 statement and details of the support they can provide.

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