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Standard 4: Management of your business

Standard 4 of the Architects Code applies whenever you carry out architectural work. Whether you run a practice employing hundreds of staff or you’re a sole trader, Standard 4 will help you ensure your business is run competently and effectively for clients.

Unfortunately, it’s also the area in which we most commonly see complaints. Between 2018-2020 around 50% of the cases considered by the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) involved a breach of Standard 4. So what constitutes a breach, and how can you avoid one?

Standards 4.1 and 4.2 require the systems, resources, monitoring and supervision you have in place to be appropriate and ensure a good service to clients throughout the life of each project. We advise tailoring your approach to suit the nature and size of your business and keep good records of what you do. For example, if you employ staff you must make sure they are suitably qualified and are supervised accordingly.

If we receive a complaint that an unregistered member of staff fails to deliver a competent service, we would ask to see evidence of adequate supervision from the architect in control and management of the practice. This could include notes of supervisory meetings, correspondence about the work, or sign-off of work such as drawings and designs.

Standard 4.3 relates specifically to the management of client data and, as technology evolves and working environments change, it is something we see increasingly in the complaints we handle. The first step to ensuring compliance is to familiarise yourself with data protection laws that affect your practice and the work you do. You should also think about the way you, and your staff, handle client data. Are records being taken off-site and/or managed remotely? If so, are adequate safeguards and restrictions in place to ensure data is not misplaced or lost? Implementing a policy on data management is a good way to ensure good practice is understood and followed by all staff.

We are often asked whether an architect may use copies of their work from former practices when developing portfolios and setting up business. If you wish to use such material we strongly advise that you speak with your former employer. Each employer will have their own rules about the use of company records, so only they can advise whether you are permitted to do so. Taking such data without agreement could lead to a complaint, a copyright or contractual dispute, or a data protection breach. Even if your employer gives you permission to use copies of work, you should always ensure it does not include personal client data as this could still constitute a breach of Standard 4.3.

By far the Standard we see engaged most in complaints is 4.4, which details the minimum requirements for your written terms of engagement. These terms play a crucial role in every project by ensuring, among other things, the scope and cost of work is agreed in writing and that the parties understand the roles and responsibilities of those involved. Many complaints we see about architects are rooted in the absence of robust terms of engagement at the start of the project. This is because lay clients are then unsure what they can expect of their architect and misunderstandings occur. A good way to avoid a complaint is to ensure full written terms of engagement are documented before you carry out any architectural work, regardless of the scale of your instruction or who the client is (including friends or family members). This is to protect you just as much as your client.

Under Standard 4.5 you must also update your terms during the course of the project if your instruction changes. This avoids any confusion later down the line if a client’s expectations are not met or a dispute arises about your role. In addition, you must return any documents clients are contractually entitled to, in order to stay compliant with Standard 4.6.

Remember – Standard 4 is there to support you in running an effective and competent practice, and each element of it will protect you as well as your client. Ensuring good business governance such as developing policies, procedures, standard documentation, and supervisory arrangements will help you avoid the common pitfalls we see.

We hope you found this advice useful. We are here to support you through regulation, and the Professional Standards team is on hand to provide further advice and guidance on professional obligations under the Code. Contact us if you have any concerns or queries and we will be happy to help.