Making a complaint - what happens when you complain to the Architects Registration Board (ARB)
We are the organisation set up by Parliament to regulate architects in the UK. One of our duties is dealing with complaints about an architect’s conduct or their ability to do their job – their competence. This page of the website explains how our complaints procedure works. We don’t have any legal powers to help you settle your complaint, or to help you recover money from your architect.
We can only deal with complaints about individual registered architects. You can check your architect’s registration on the Register of Architects here.
Before sending a complaint to us, you should talk to your architect about your concerns. Under the Code of Conduct, architects should have their own process for dealing with complaints. This is often the quickest and best way to deal with a complaint or problem.
If you are thinking about complaining to your architect, it might help if you take the following steps.
- Check what was said in writing about roles and responsibilities at the beginning of your project. Check also the terms and conditions of the contract or agreement that your architect drew up.
- It is a good idea to put your complaint in writing so that both you and your architect have a record of your concerns.
- Ask who will deal with your complaint, and how long it is likely to take.
- Set out the details of your complaint as clearly as you can.
- If you have more than one complaint, list them and give them numbers.
- Make notes of any meetings that you have, and keep copies of any letters you send to your architect.
- Tell your architect what you would like them to do to settle your complaint (but please understand that your architect might not be able to do what you ask).
If you have followed your architect’s own complaints procedure but you haven’t been able to agree a solution, you might like to consider mediation to try to settle your complaint. This is where an independent, knowledgeable person acts as a go-between to help you and your architect discuss the problem and reach a conclusion. You can also send your complaint to us if it is about your architect’s conduct or competence.
When we receive your complaint, we will look at it carefully to see if it is something we can deal with. We can only look at complaints about an architect’s conduct or competence to see if they have fallen below the standards in our code of conduct. We don’t have any legal powers to help you settle your complaint.
The Architects Code of Conduct is not a set of rules that architects must follow, but guidance for architects in their professional lives. We wouldn’t automatically take disciplinary action against an architect if they fell below the standards, but we would look to see whether their actions amounted to unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence. These are the two ‘offences’ that the Architects Act says we can investigate.
We treat every complaint fairly, and we don’t charge for investigating them.
When you send us your complaint, please make sure you include:
- your name, address and contact details;
- the name and address of the individual architect you are complaining about;
- your relationship with the architect (for example client, contractor or employee);
- the details of your complaint;
- whether anyone else has been involved in trying to deal with the problem (for example, another architect, engineer, or surveyor) and if so, what action they took;
- your permission to send a copy of the complaint to the architect (it will be difficult for us to investigate your complaint without your permission); and
any documents or other evidence to support your complaint (for example, any contract or agreement, relevant correspondence, and so on)
We understand that it may not be possible for you to put your concerns in writing, for example if you have a disability or find writing difficult. If this is the case, we can take a statement over the phone and send it to you to check and sign. For more information about making a statement over the phone, please call the Professional Standards Department and we will arrange a convenient time and date to call you back.
When we receive a complaint, we will:
- study it in detail to see if the architect has shown evidence of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence (these are the only things which we can investigate); and if so
- send copies of your complaint to the architect and ask for their comments; and
show you the architect’s reply, and ask if you have any comments to make.
When we deal with a complaint, we are committed to protecting the confidentiality and reputation of both sides. We only make a complaint public if it reaches a Professional Conduct Committee hearing. We ask that both you and your architect have the same respect for confidentiality.
Once we receive comments from you and your architect, we will pass your complaint to our Investigations Panel. Your complaint will be considered by three people from this panel – one is an architect and the other two are members of the public.
If the panel needs more information, we can appoint an independent inquirer on its behalf to investigate in more detail. We choose the expert from a panel of expert architects who help us when a complaint is complicated or technical. They carry out a detailed investigation, which might include visiting the sites where work is carried out and interviewing the people involved in the complaint, before reporting back to the Investigations Panel.
When the panel has enough information to make a decision, it can either:
- dismiss the complaint;
- give the architect advice as to their future conduct; or
- refer it to the Professional Conduct Committee for a full public hearing.
When we pass a complaint to the Investigations Panel, it will always try to reach a decision within twelve weeks of receiving it. However, the length of time it takes the panel to reach a decision can vary depending on the complexity of the complaint.
When a complaint goes to the Professional Conduct Committee, there is a full public hearing. Cases are heard by a panel of three people – one architect, one member of the public, and a legally qualified chair nominated by the Law Society.
After hearing the evidence, the committee will decide whether the architect behaved in the way being claimed, and whether this behaviour could be considered so serious that it amounts to unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence, or both. The committee can dismiss the case if it believes there isn’t enough evidence to support the complaint.
There are four penalties the committee can impose if it finds the architect guilty of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence. These are:
- a formal warning (a reprimand);
- a fine – currently up to a maximum of £5000;
- suspending them from our register for up to two years (this means they would not be able to describe themselves as an architect for business purposes during this time); or
- removing them from our register (so they wouldn’t be able to work under the title ‘architect’).
The penalty will depend on how serious the architect’s offence is.
It can take many months to deal with a complaint, especially if it is complicated or technical. It is important that we deal with each stage quickly and efficiently, and we ask everybody involved with the complaint to reply to our letters within 14 days. We accept that this will not always be possible and if you let us know that you need more time, we will do what we can to allow this.
We will keep you updated by writing to you at least every six weeks. However, if you have any concerns or questions about your complaint, please get in touch with us straight away.
Because we must work in line with the Architects Act, we cannot do the following.
- Deal with complaints that are not about a registered architect. (But we can take action when someone is offering their services as an architect without being on our register. This is a criminal offence in the UK and you should let us know if this happens to you.)
- Deal with complaints about matters that are covered by general law (for example, employment, discrimination or copyright)
- Investigate complaints that are more than six years old, unless there are special circumstances
- Intervene in a planning dispute
- Give you legal advice about your complaint, or ask a solicitor to act for you
- Order your architect to put right something which has gone wrong, or award compensation for poor service. Only the courts can award compensation
- Make your architect apologise to you
- Become involved in disputes about a contract or fee levels, or if your architect may have been negligent. These are legal issues and must be dealt with through the courts.
We will always try to give you helpful advice, even if we can’t help you with your complaint. We may be able to suggest other possible solutions, or other organisations that might be able to help you.
Arbitration or mediation
The first step is to check what was in your agreement or contract with your architect. This may help to settle a dispute. If not, many of the organisations that represent architects in different parts of the UK sometimes offer local arbitration or mediation services (this is where a knowledgeable, independent person acts as a go-between for you and the architect and helps you both find a solution). You can find details of these organisations further on in this section.
In a serious dispute where you and your architect have been unable to reach an agreement, you may have to take court action. If this is the case, you might want to take legal advice to find out what your options are.
We are committed to providing a high-quality, professional service to everyone who contacts us. If something goes wrong, we need you to tell us. We will do everything we can to sort out your concerns, and respond positively to your comments. Please ask us for a copy of our customer service complaints leaflet, or use the online version at www.arb.org.uk
Acas - Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
Chartered Institute of Arbitrators
Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)
Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW)
Law Centres Federation
Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA)