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Miss Debbie Flevotomou

THE ARCHITECTS REGISTRATION BOARD

PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT COMMITTEE

In the matter of

Miss Debbie Flevotomou (076268G)

———-

Emma Boothroyd (Chair)

David Kann (PCC Architect Member)

Jules Griffiths (PCC Lay Member)

———–

 

In respect of the charges against Debbie Flevotomou (“the Respondent”):

 

Debbie Flevotomou:

 

a. accepts the facts and matters set out below and consents to the Consent Order Panel of the Professional Conduct Committee making a disciplinary order against her in the terms set out below

b. confirms that she has been offered the opportunity to appear before a Hearing Panel of the Professional Conduct Committee to present her case, but does not wish to do so.

 

The Architects Registration Board (ARB) accepts the facts and matters set out below and consents to the Professional Conduct Committee making a disciplinary order against Debbie Flevotomou in the terms set out below:

 

The Allegation:

 

An allegation of Unacceptable Professional Conduct has been brought by the ARB against the Respondent. The ARB has particularised the allegation as follows:

 

(1) The Respondent submitted an inaccurate planning application;
(2) The Respondent dealt inappropriately with a complaint;
(3) The Respondent did not enter into a written agreement with her client which adequately covered the terms of engagement contrary to standard 4.4 of the Architects Code.

Statement of agreed facts:

1. The Respondent is a registered architect and has her own practice, Debbie Flevotomou Architects.

2. In October 2017, the Respondent was first contacted by the Complainant to discuss an application for planning permission for a loft conversion at the family home (“the Property”). During an initial meeting at the Property, discussions were also held regarding the replacement of the existing windows throughout the Property and the possible creation of an open plan area downstairs.

3. Following the meeting, the Respondent sent a brochure of her services and provided two fee proposals. The first fee proposal of £1,100 was for her involvement in respect of the loft conversion and the replacement of the windows. The second fee proposal of £1,400 was for the Respondent’s involvement for the loft and windows and in respect of the downstairs open plan area.

4. Following confirmation from the Complainant in December 2017 that they would like to instruct the Respondent on the basis of the £1,400 option, the Respondent sent a formal agreement.

5. The Respondent and her colleague conducted a site visit at the Property on 12 December 2017 where measurements and photographs were taken. At this time, the existing windows were aluminium with a timber frame.

6. The Respondent and Complainant discussed attempting to change the windows to UPVC when the planning application was submitted.

7. The Respondent prepared the planning application. On 17 January 2018 she emailed the Complainant querying the material to be used for the replacement windows. The Complainant responded confirming that the current material on the windows was aluminium but that they would like UPVC if possible.

8. The planning application was submitted to Lambeth Council (“the Council”) on 27 January 2018.

9. On 5 March 2018 the Respondent emailed the Complainant and forwarded an email from the planning officer. This advised that the Council would not accept UPVC windows. The Complainant emailed the Respondent the following day asking for the windows to be aluminium in order to comply with the requirements of the local authority.

10. On 20 March 2018 the Respondent sent a further email to the Complainant stating that she presumed that it was ok to go for timber windows. The Complainant responded confirming that they wanted aluminium windows with timber frames, as were already in place.

11. The Council issued a decision notice on 22 March 2018 which attached four conditions. The fourth condition related to the windows and required detailed drawings of all new windows to be submitted before works commenced. The decision notice stated that the application for the windows was for “all existing single glazed timber windows to timber windows”.

12. On 4 April 2018 the Respondent advised the Complainant that a further application was required for reserved matters and that her fee for this would be £550 plus VAT. The Complainant queried the additional fee and the Respondent advised this was because it was for a second application and the original fee had been for one application.

13. The Respondent and Complainant engaged in a series of email exchanges regarding the additional costs. The Complainant decided to progress the application herself and in due course she was required to submit a S73 application to vary condition four. This set out that the reason for the variation was that the existing windows were aluminium, therefore in order for the proposed windows to match the existing windows they too should be aluminium. The application was approved in December 2018.

14. On 27 September 2018 the Complainant sent a letter of complaint to the Respondent. The Respondent replied the next day stating that the allegations made by the Complainant were wrong and she referred to potential future court proceedings. She stated that if the Complainant proceeded with the dispute then she would sue her for loss of business and false accusations.

15. The Complainant responded the same day and on 12 October 2018 the Respondent sent a further email advising that her lawyer was extremely confident they would win court proceedings and again threatening to sue the Complainant for any damage to reputation.

Admissions

16. The Respondent accepts that she submitted an inaccurate planning application. The Respondent accepts that the existing windows at the Property were aluminium with timber borders but that in the Design and Access Statement she noted that the Complainant was looking to replace existing single glazing timber windows. The Respondent accepts this was incorrect. The Respondent further accepts that the subsequent conditional approval was issued on the basis of the incorrect information contained within the planning application

17. The Respondent accepts that she did not deal with the complaint appropriately. She accepts that her responses to the complaint were inappropriate and unprofessional. The ARB accepts that the Respondent has subsequently apologised for this.

18. The Respondent accepts that she did not provide adequate terms of engagement at the outset of the contract or throughout. The Respondent admits that she had a professional obligation to provide the Complainant with adequate terms of engagement. The ARB accepts that the Respondent did provide some information at the outset, for example on her fees. However, the Respondent admits that she had a professional obligation to provide the Complainant with adequate terms of engagement and that the initial documents did not adequately detail who would be responsible for what, the provisions for suspension or termination of the agreement or information on complaints handling. The Respondent accepts that all of this information ought to have been provided at the outset in accordance with the requirements of the Code

Statement as to Unacceptable Professional Conduct:

19. In light of the admissions above, the Respondent further admits that this matter amounts to Unacceptable Professional Conduct.

20. Standard 6.1 of the Architects Code 2017 expects an architect to carry out their work with skill and care, in accordance with their terms of engagement. Despite the fact that the Respondent must have been aware of the material of the existing windows not least due to her site visit and photographs and subsequent correspondence with the Complainant, she submitted an application to the Council which inaccurately described the existing windows as timber. This necessitated further liaison with the Council to finalise matters.

21. Standard 10.2 of the Architects Code 2017 requires that complaints are dealt with courteously at every stage. The Respondent’s correspondence dealing with the complaint was not courteous and the immediate litigation threat was inappropriate. The correspondence was a clear departure from the requirements of the Code.

22. Standard 4.4 of the Architects Code 2017 states that an Architect is expected to ensure that they enter into a written agreement with the client which adequately covers a number of matters including the scope of the work, who will be responsible for what and details of fees and/or the method of calculating fees. The Architect is expected to enter into this written agreement with the client prior to undertaking any professional work. As a result of not providing written terms of engagement, the Respondent did not provide adequate details as to:

• Who would be responsible for what;
• The provisions for suspension or termination of the agreement;
• Any complaints-handling procedure, including details of any special arrangements for resolving disputes.

23. The Respondent accepts that it was necessary for her to provide adequate written terms of engagement for the project, as required under standard 4.4 of the Architects Code. A failure to provide adequate terms is serious because, as in this case, it can lead to the potential for misunderstanding and confusion about important matters such as who is responsible for what. In this case there was clear confusion over the Respondent’s role when further documents were required to be submitted to the Council.

Disciplinary Order

The Consent Order Panel of the Professional Conduct Committee, with the consent of the parties and having taken account of its responsibilities to protect the public and maintain the reputation of the profession, makes the following disciplinary order:

24. In all of the circumstances the Respondent agrees to a penalty order in the sum of £1,000.

25. The Respondent has engaged in the regulatory process and has admitted the factual allegation. She has also admitted that this amounts to Unacceptable Professional Conduct.

26. The admitted allegation has the potential to diminish both the Respondent’s reputation and that of the profession generally and therefore the parties agree that the Respondent’s conduct was sufficiently serious to require the imposition of a disciplinary order. In light of the concerns raised, the parties agree that a penalty order in the sum of £1,000 is an appropriate and proportionate disciplinary order to impose.

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