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Setting out the standards of professional conduct and practice

Setting out the standards of professional conduct and practice

The RIBA’s Code of Professional Conduct (applicable to individual RIBA members) and Code of Practice (applicable to RIBA Chartered Practices) sets out the standards of professional conduct and practice required of RIBA members and practices.

The Codes are based on three principles: Honesty and Integrity, Competence and Relationships. A set of guidance notes explains the standards of professional conduct.

Failure to ensure that work is carried out to an acceptable standard can be a breach of the Code of Conduct.

Where a formal complaint against an RIBA member or Chartered Practice progresses through the Professional Conduct process, reaching a hearing, sanctions may be imposed ranging from private caution to public reprimand and, in the worst case, expulsions. Certain requirements, such as undertaking particular CPD courses, can also be attached to a sanction.

Hearing panels are made up of two lay persons and one RIBA Chartered Member, selected on the understanding that they have no conflict of interest.

In a recent hearing a suspension was imposed after the panel found the RIBA member failed to ensure work was carried out to acceptable standards, took no notes of site visits, and had failed to advise the client of the risks arising from the client’s direct agreement with the building contractor.

Towards the end of 2012, the client (complainant) instructed the member’s practice to act on the refurbishment and redevelopment of a property. The practice was subsequently also instructed as Contract Administrator.

Tenders were sent out and a number of quotes received, but all far exceeded the client’s £100,000 budget for the work. The RIBA member then recommended that an alternative contractor might undertake the work. A fee inclusive of VAT, well within the £100,000 budget, was submitted – this was substantially less than the lowest tender previously received – and agreed directly with the client.

The relationship between the client and architect deteriorated over time as the work was of poor quality and was alleged to have not been in accordance with plans and not in compliance with building regulations.

By late 2013, the client had raised their concerns with the architect and a meeting took place with the architect and a colleague (another architect), after which both architects worked on the project.

The client maintained that the architects should have identified defects with the contractor’s work and resolved them.

‘Many of the problems arose because the architects did not have a breakdown of how the contract sum was calculated, which was required in order for an assessment to be made of the valuation of works as they progressed,’ says hearing panel member Tom Handley.

‘While the architects did bring the lack of a breakdown sum to the client’s attention, they still proceeded to issue interim certificates, certifying the value of completed works when they had no basis for validating the amounts claimed.’

Handley says the architects should have informed the client (preferably in writing) that until a proper breakdown was received, they would be unable to assess the value of the works and carry out their obligations as Contract Administrators.

Alternatively, they could have set out the considerable risks in proceeding without a proper contract in place and without a breakdown of the contract sum having been made available.

A number of elements of the project were constructed in non-compliance with the contract specification, and there were serious building regulation non-compliances including in relation to staircase configuration and rooflights.

The architects failed to identify the defects/non-compliances during their inspections and went on to issue a Practical Completion Certificate certifying the works as complete, resulting in the release of half the retention monies.

The panel heard that despite carrying out more than 30 site visits, the architects failed to make any notes of their inspections and site meetings.

‘The architects should have ensured that more care was taken during inspections and that clear instructions were sent to the contractor to rectify those defects, particularly as all the warning signs were there that this was a project that would require very close monitoring. The contractor had agreed to undertake the project at half the price of the other tendering contractors, and had chosen not to enter into a written contract,’ says Handley.

The architects should have made detailed notes of their inspections, identifying any defects and ideally accompanying the notes with a photographic schedule. Where key elements of work had been covered up prior to inspections, the architects should have noted them and brought them to the client’s attention.

In this case, the panel found a breach of the code of conduct on two counts: failure to apply high standards of skill, knowledge and care in their work on the project in question (Breach of paragraph 2.1, Principle 2); and failure to use their best endeavours to meet the client’s agreed time, cost and quality requirements for the project (Breach of paragraph 2.5, Principle 2).

The panel took into consideration a 12-month suspension already imposed by the ARB and the absence of any other previous findings, but was concerned at the systematic nature of the failings on the project and imposed a sanction of suspension from RIBA membership for a period of four months from the date of the RIBA hearing.

In addition, the panel instructed that contract administration training be undertaken to prevent any similar problems from arising in the future.

Thanks to Tom Handley, Legal Director, Hill Dickinson LLP.

Through the work of the Professional Standards Team, the RIBA aims to promote excellence in architecture by placing professional standards and ethics at the heart of good practice.

The RIBA also offers a number of Alternative Dispute Resolution options, including Adjudication, Arbitration, Mediation and Third Party Opinion, to help parties resolve disputes which have arisen.

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: practice@riba.org

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