Under Section 20 of the Architects Act 1997, the title ‘architect’ is protected. It can only be used in business or practice by someone who has had the education, training and experience needed to become an architect, and who is registered with us. Firms or partnerships can use ‘architect’ in their business name, as long as a registered architect is in direct control. When someone uses the title ‘architect’, it means that people can check with us that they are dealing with a trained and qualified professional. The Act also protects the public from dishonest individuals who deliberately mislead people by calling themselves something they’re not. The name ‘architect’ is sometimes used in a way that isn’t connected to building and design. For example, ‘software architect’ or ‘systems architect’ are examples from the computer and IT industry. We take the commonsense view, and accept that no one could be misled into thinking this had something to do with the design and construction of buildings, and we wouldn’t take any action in these cases. Consolidated: this document has been produced to assist; it is not an official version.
Recognising qualifications and setting standards of conduct and competenceBecoming an architect takes a long and demanding period of study and practical training experience, usually about seven years. We set the standards for architecture qualifications, and will only let people register to become an architect once they have successfully finished all parts of their training. Under the Architects Act, we keep the UK Register of Architects. We have a code of conduct to guide architects in their professional lives – Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Competence. This is a guide for good practice, and supports an architect’s professional status. Architects are proud of their title, and do not want to see it used either to mislead the public or in a way that could damage their professional reputation. We set standards for architectural education and good practice, and make sure that architects maintain these standards.
Professional standardsVery rarely, an architect might fail to meet the standards of conduct and competence that we – and the public – expect of them. The most serious failures are heard by the Professional Conduct Committee. This committee looks at the performance and conduct of an architect who is charged either with unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence, or in some cases, both. These are the two ‘offences’ that we have the power to investigate. There are four penalties the committee can apply if it finds the architect guilty. 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);
- removing them from our register (so they wouldn’t be able to work using the title ‘architect’).
Using the title ‘architect’Regulating use of the title ‘architect’ and prosecuting people for using the title when they are not registered are two of our highest profile activities. We work closely with business directories to prevent false listings under the ‘Architects’ heading. This is so that anyone using an architect can be confident that they are working with someone who has the qualifications and experience they claim. We have asked the directories to put a note above their ‘Architects’ listing to encourage members of the public to check with us that their architect is registered.
ProsecutionsIn England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we prosecute in the magistrates’ courts. Scottish law is slightly different, and our prosecutions there are through the Procurator Fiscal’s office. Before deciding whether to prosecute someone for misusing the title ‘architect’, there are two tests we must apply.
- The ‘evidence’ test Magistrates need clear evidence – for example, headed notepaper, business cards or planning applications that clearly show that the offender was claiming to be an architect when they weren’t on our register. This is because if an offender is convicted, they may have to pay a fine (currently up to £2500).If we don’t have enough evidence, we can ask the offender to give us a written guarantee that they won’t repeat the offence. Or, we could send them a warning letter, telling them that they are at risk of being prosecuted if they continue to use a title they have no right to. Both methods are successful in protecting the public from unregistered and unqualified people.
- The ‘public interest’ test Prosecutors have to ask themselves whether a prosecution would be in the public interest. If, for example, the offender posed as an architect to make money and is likely to offend again, a prosecution would probably be in the public interest. If the offender gave a reasonable explanation why they called themselves an architect and it was unlikely to happen again, it would not be in the public interest to prosecute.