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Disciplinary investigations against architects #2 - Complaints to the ARB

23 January 2020. Published by Sarah O'Callaghan, Associate and Emma Wherry, Associate

Further to our previous article which provided an overview of the Architect Registration Board's disciplinary process, we explain the first stage of a disciplinary investigation against an Architect, the complaint stage.

Before complaining to the ARB a client should make a complaint via an Architect's internal complaints procedure (although this does not always happen in practice).

Standard 10 of the ARB Code of Conduct requires every Architect to have a written complaints handling procedure ("CHP").  It stipulates that a CHP should acknowledge a complaint within 10 days of receipt and a detailed response should be provided within 30 days of receipt. If appropriate, the Architect is encouraged to suggest alternative dispute resolution such as mediation or conciliation.

It is important to ensure that the CHP is followed when a complaint is received as the ARB will often consider whether or not it has been complied with. We would recommend adopting a cautious approach if you are unsure whether correspondence received from a client should be treated as a formal complaint and dealing with it in accordance with your CHP to avoid any difficulties at a later date. 

It will not always be possible for an Architect to resolve a complaint to their client’s satisfaction through their own CHP. In those instances, a client may choose to make a complaint to the ARB. The number of complaints received by the ARB appears to be on the rise with the 2018 Annual Report confirming that the ARB received 174 formal complaints in 2018, as against 136 in the previous year. 

In addition, the Registrar may also instigate an investigation of its own accord, for example if an Architect was found to be practicing without Professional Indemnity insurance or had been the subject of a bankruptcy order.

On receipt of a complaint, the ARB will inform an Architect that a complaint has been made about them. Although they may not do this if the complaint is outside of their investigatory powers.

At the complaints stage the complainant must provide written evidence to substantiate the issues they have raised. From this evidence it must be possible to identify the Architect against whom the complaint is made. It must also provide sufficient detail to allow the Architect to understand the allegation that he has to meet.

If a complainant fails to provide sufficient evidence at the outset, the ARB will contact them to request that further information is provided. If they fail to respond adequately the ARB may decide to close their complaint. Architects should be aware however, that the ARB are able to reopen a complaint should the complainant subsequently provide the relevant information.

Click here to read article #1 in the series, Disciplinary investigations against architects #1 - the process

Please look out for the next article in the series which provides an overview of the review stage.  If, in the meantime, you receive any indication of a complaint, please do not hesitate to contact Ben Goodier, Partner, Sarah O'Callaghan, Associate, Emma Wherry Associate or one of the RPC construction team.