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Practising as an architect during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

This guidance covers architects’ regulatory responsibilities at this time.  It has been issued in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic and the UK Government’s directions on what we all should do to protect each other and help reduce transmission.

In the rapidly changing environment, we will keep this guidance under review and add to it or update it as needed.  This guidance was last updated on 18 August 2020.

In general, architects should continue to abide by the professional standards laid out in the Architects Code.  We recognise that in these highly challenging circumstances, architects may need to depart from established procedures in order to do so while ensuring the safety of themselves, their staff, colleagues and clients.

Practising with integrity

Standard 1 of the Architects Code expects architects to act with integrity, and this underpinning principle is never more important when dealing with additional pressures and conflicts now and in the weeks to come. While financial and contractual pressures may mount, they do not override your responsibility to practise in an ethical way.

You should follow the latest advice and instructions of the Government, which can be found here. As of 24 March 2020, every citizen (with specified exemptions) must stay at home and only go outside for work where this absolutely cannot be done at home. Business should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible. Employers who have people in offices or onsite should ensure that employees are able to follow Public Health England guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a 2 metre distance from others.

If you are principal in a practice then you therefore have a professional and lawful responsibilities to look after the safety and welfare of your employees. Where possible, you should put in place measures to allow your staff to work from home. The Government’s latest guidance for businesses can be found here. Information on the support available for businesses can be found here.

As a professional person you are expected to comply, as far as possible, with the guidance and requirements of Government. A failure to do so may result in regulatory action. However we recognise the need for pragmatism in these challenging times. If you do face compliance difficulties, we recommend clearly documenting the approach you are taking and why. If you are unsure about what to do in a specific scenario, please contact our Professional Standards team and we will be happy to advise.  Our contact details can be found at the bottom of this page.

Furloughing

If you are an employer and cannot maintain your current workforce because of the market conditions caused by COVID-19, you may be able to take advantage of the furlough scheme run by Government. Through the scheme you can apply for a grant to cover 80% of your employees’ usual monthly wage (to a maximum of £2,500). Once furloughed, an employee cannot provide any service or do any work that makes money for the practice or an associated business. Any employee being asked to work after being furloughed should contact HMRC for further advice.

Communication

Communication is always of important, and never more so than in a time of uncertainty. Most clients should understand the impact the public health crisis will have on their projects, no matter what stage of the scheme they are at. Nevertheless, you should explain to your clients your current position and ability to progress outstanding work, and what they might expect the next steps to be as best you can determine at the time.

You are likely to have contractual obligations to give clients (and others) reasonable notice of any circumstances that will cause a delay to the service, and you should also stay in touch with planning and building control authorities to understand the impact of their ability to function in this period.

Organising your work

We recommend reviewing your contracts and insurances. Check your insurance for clauses that may assist you, such as business interruption provisions. If your professional indemnity insurance is approaching renewal time contact your broker even earlier than usual. The pandemic will be affecting the business efficiency of insurers as much as anyone else, and it is likely the renewal process will take longer than normal.

Under Standard 2.2 of the Architects Code you are expected to make appropriate arrangements for your professional work in the event of incapacity, death, absence from, or inability work. As uncomfortable as it might be to contemplate such a situation, you should turn your mind to what would happen if you become ill.

We appreciate sole traders or those in small practices may not have the luxury of being able to pass work over to a colleague architect, but you do your best to ensure your outstanding work is a fit state to be continued in your absence.

This might include making sure your files and documents are accessible by another (appropriately authorised) person, or taking steps to mitigate the risk of a ‘single point of failure’ in respect of client records, insurance, banking and computer access.

Other support

Follow these links for the latest Government advice, their advice for businesses and advice from the NHS.

Government advice includes guidance on claiming a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.  Applications for the second and final taxable grant under this scheme must be made on or before 19 October 2020. You can contact HMRC if you have a problem with your claim and cannot get the help you need online.

The Construction Leadership Council (CIC) has published operating procedures that can be used to ensure social distancing measures on construction sites comply with Government recommendations.

The Architects Benevolent Society is a charity which supports past and present architects. They help people of all ages who have experienced illness, accident, redundancy, unemployment, bereavement or other personal difficulties.  Their COVID-19 statement and details of the support they can provide can be found here.

Advice regarding business practicalities is available from the RIBA and RIAS.

Offering support

The Government has set up a service for businesses wishing to offer support in the response to coronavirus, which can be accessed here.

Contact us

If you have a question about your regulatory responsibilities not covered by the guidance, please contact us at professionalstandards@arb.org.uk using the subject line Coronavirus Guidance.

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