If a client raises a problem or concerns with you it is always advisable that you try to settle it with them yourself. If you cannot reach an agreement, you might like to consider whether it is something that could be settled by mediation or arbitration (an independent go-between can often help you reach an agreement with your client). You will probably also need to contact your professional indemnity insurers.
Dealing with a client’s complaint
When you are dealing with a client’s complaint, you might find the following guidelines helpful:
- If the complaint is in writing, you should try to acknowledge it immediately.
- Tell your client who will be dealing with the complaint, and let them know how long it is likely to take.
- Find out what the client expects from the complaints process, and whether their expectations are reasonable.
- If your client asks for a meeting, try to arrange one as quickly as possible.
- Open a complaint file, and keep a record of the steps you take to settle the matter.
- Make sure you keep your client informed of the progress of their complaint.
- Finally, remember that dealing with complaints quickly helps to keep your client’s good will and is often the most cost-effective solution for you.
We know that it will not always be possible to settle a complaint to your client’s satisfaction. When this happens, tell your client that they can send their complaint to us if it is about your conduct or competence.
Guidance and Information
How we deal with complaints
In most cases, we will tell you if there has been a complaint about you as soon as we receive it. We might not do this if we are unable to consider the complaint, for example, if it is outside our powers to investigate; however the Architects
Act 1997 requires us to investigate all allegations of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence.
If we receive a complaint about you, we will usually:
- tell the person who made the complaint what we can and cannot do;
- look at the complaint in detail to see if there may be issues of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence that we need to investigate;
- send you a copy of the complaint, and ask for your comments; and
assess whether we need any more information before referring it to the Investigations Panel
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 the person who made the complaint have the same respect for confidentiality.
The Investigations Panel looks at the complaint in more detail and will decide whether you have a case to answer at the Professional Conduct Committee. This means that it will assess whether there is sufficient evidence to suggest that you did or did not do what is alleged, and if so, whether such a failing might be so serious that it could amount to unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence.
The complaint will be considered by three people from this panel – one is an architect and the other two are members of the public.
When the panel has enough information to make a decision, it can:
- dismiss the complaint;
- give you advice about your future conduct or practice; or
- refer the complaint to the Professional Conduct Committee
The Investigations Panel will provide reasons for its findings, and give you the opportunity to comment before finalising its decision.
Professional Conduct Committee (PCC)
When a complaint is referred to the PCC, the ARB’s solicitor will prepare a report and a public hearing is held. The case will be heard by three people from the Committee – one architect, one member of the public and a solicitor appointed by the Law Society.
After hearing the evidence, the Committee will decide whether you acted in a way that amounts to unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence (or both). It can dismiss the case if it believes there is not enough evidence to support it or that any failings are not serious enough to warrant a disciplinary nding. If it does nd you guilty, it will impose a penalty according to how serious the offence is.
What are the penalties?
The possible penalties that can be imposed by the PCC are:
- a reprimand;
- a fine – currently up to a maximum of £5000;
- suspension from the Register of Architects for up to two years; or
- permanent erasure from the Register
Where the PCC finds an architect guilty of an offence, ARB will issue a news release giving details of the findings, and publish the decision on its website.
How long will it take?
It can take many months to deal with a complaint, especially if it is complicated or if it proceeds through to the PCC. 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 the complaint, please get in touch with us straight away.
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
Other organisations that might be able to help you
Acas - Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
Acas has a number of regional offices.
Phone: 08457 47 47 47
Chartered Institute of Arbitrators
12 Bloomsbury Square, London WC1A 2LP
There are local citizens advice bureau throughout the UK.
Law Centres Federation
There are local law centres throughout the UK.
Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
66 Portland Place, London W1N 4AD
Phone: 020 7580 5533
Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)
15 Rutland Square, Edinburgh EH1 2BE
Phone: 0131 229 7545
Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW)
4 Cathedral Road, Cardiff CF11 9LJ
Phone: 029 2022 8987
Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA)
2 Mount Charles, Belfast BT7 1NZ
Phone: 028 9032 3760