Architect reprimanded after ‘unacceptable professional conduct’

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An architect in Boston has been issued a reprimand after being found guilty of ‘unacceptable professional conduct’.

At a hearing of the Architects Registration Board’s (ARB) Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) in London on Thursday, March 24, 2016, Gerald Robbs of Neil Dowlman Architecture, Boston, Lincolnshire was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and issued with a reprimand.

The PCC heard that in June 2003, Mr Robbs started working as an employee of Neil Dowlman Architecture. At the relevant time, the practice’s website and letterhead referred to ‘Chartered Architects’, and reproduced the RIBA logo above the words ‘Chartered Practice’.

The managing director of the practice is a Chartered Architectural Technologist.

In around 2010, a client instructed the practice to design and apply for planning permission for a house and barn conversion. The work was carried out by the architectural technologists at the practice.

The client complained to the ARB that when he instructed the practice he believed he was using a qualified architect, but that the only architect at the practice, Mr Robbs, provided no input into his work.

The PCC heard that Mr Robbs failed adequately to ensure that the business style of the practice in which he was the sole registered architect was not misleading, and failed to ensure that the architectural work carried out by the practice on behalf of the client was under the control and management of a registered architect. Mr Robbs also faced an allegation that he had failed to ensure that the client was aware of the identity of the registered architect at the practice, and that he had failed to ensure that the client was aware that other persons carrying out architectural work on the project were not registered architects.

Mr Robbs attended the hearing and initially defended all the allegations. His position was that there were several offices for the practice, that he was limited to working in the Boston office, and as such he could not have full knowledge of everything that happens within them. He did not consider that the firm’s letterhead or website was misleading as it was clear that he worked for a multi-disciplinary practice, and felt that the client had failed to check the qualifications of those individuals working on his project.

When giving his evidence, Mr Robbs accepted that the practice’s letterhead and website, by displaying the RIBA logo with the words ‘Chartered Practice’ and referring to Chartered Architects, had the potential to mislead.

He also accepted that he had failed to ensure that all the architectural work carried out in respect of this project was under his control and management as the practice’s sole registered architect, and that he had failed to ensure the client was aware that the persons working on his project were not in fact architects.

The PCC found that the practice’s business style was misleading and noted that Mr Robbs accepted that nowhere was it made clear on the practice’s website or letterhead that RIBA’s Chartered Architects status applied only to the practice’s Boston office. The PCC also found that the architectural work carried out in respect of this particular project was undertaken without Mr Robbs’ knowledge, let alone his control and management.

It further found that it was Mr Robbs’ responsibility to inform his client who the registered persons at the practice were. In finding the facts of the case proved the PCC also found that they amounted to unacceptable professional conduct.

The PCC observed that architects’ practices are, because of the Architects Act, regulated through individual architects and it is therefore important that, when dealing with a firm providing architectural services, clients are made aware of the identity of the registered person. It considered that as Mr Robbs was the sole registered person at the business he bore responsibility to comply with the Code. In the PCC’s view, Mr Robbs had shown a lack of insight as to the extent of those responsibilities and had sought to lay blame on others.

As a director of the company, as well as a registered architect, Mr Robbs assumed managerial and professional responsibilities that went beyond those expressed in his employment contract relating to the firm’s Boston office.

In finding Mr Robbs guilty, the PCC noted that he had engaged in the regulatory process from the outset, that he had not benefitted personally from the conduct of which he had been found guilty and that he had a previously unblemished record. In the circumstances, the PCC found the most appropriate penalty was a reprimand.

Neil Dowlman Architecture has offices in Alford, Boston, Horncastle, Louth, Stamford and Skegness.

A copy of the Committee’s full decision can be found here.