The RIBA’s Code of Practice for Chartered Practices introduced earlier in the year codified in writing the set of principles Chartered Practices are expected to adhere to and opened a new formal complaints route that enables the sanctioning of the business rather than an individual RIBA member.
While the Code was primarily introduced to ensure Chartered Practices meet the highest standards of professional service, it also recognises the fact that in some circumstances an individual RIBA member should not have to face a complaints procedure alone where the dispute resulted from wider practice concerns.
Professional Standards Officer Xose Lumor reports that complaints tend to be brought against practices where there is a perceived failure by several of its members to work towards an expected standard, or where the internal allocation of responsibilities has been unclear.
‘Much like the Code of Conduct, the Code of Practice is based on three principles: Honesty and Integrity, Competence and Relationships. They are underpinned by the Code’s Professional Values, which set out what is expected of RIBA Chartered Practices in varying situations,’ says Lumor.
‘The Code of Conduct is not as prescriptive as the specific requirements that have to be met by all Chartered Practices. It is a broader statement on how they are expected to operate.’
As part of the Code of Practice, Chartered Practices are required to have in place a written complaints handling procedure (see guidance).
When clients first contact the Institute about any issues involving a Chartered Practice, they are presented with viable alternative options as well as information on how to make a formal complaint if these are exhausted. First on the list is making use of the practice’s own internal complaints procedure.
If a formal complaint is raised against a Chartered Practice it will progress through the Professional Conduct process, and if it reaches a hearing the same sanctions are available as those applicable to an RIBA Member: private caution, public reprimand, suspension, and expulsion.
As is the case with individual members who are found to have contravened the Code of Conduct, additional requirements such as completion of CPD training can be imposed.
David Kann, a longstanding RIBA complaints assessor and disciplinary panel member, believes the Code of Practice complaints procedure offers a useful consumer safeguard.
‘If you are going to have a separate set of guidelines for practices, clients should know that there is a procedure to back up being a Chartered Practice member,’ Kann says.
In his experience it is generally small projects carried out by small practices that tend to be referred to the RIBA or the ARB. Large projects invariably get sorted out though other routes.
‘Every project, even the smallest, needs to be controlled and supervised, with proper records kept and clients kept informed. Where a small project is nominally controlled by an architect, but has been passed on to a student or assistant, that supervision has to be maintained. The reality is that we are much more likely to see a complaint over a modest extension than a major project.’ Kann advises.
Thanks to David Kann, former practice principal and RIBA professional practice complaints assessor; Xose Lumor, RIBA Professional Standards Officer.
Text by Neal Morris. This is a ‘Practice News’ post edited by the RIBA Practice team. The team would like to hear your feedback and ideas for Practice News: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on 12 October 2017.