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Architects Act 1997 (the Act)

Section 20 of the Act makes it a criminal offence for an individual to use the title ‘architect’ in business or practice if they are not listed on the Architects Register.

In addition, a limited company or limited liability partnership (LLP) can only use ‘architect’ in their name if there is an architect in control and management of all of the architectural work. Businesses wishing to use the title must apply to ARB for permission to do so and Companies House will request evidence that this step has been taken.

The Act establishes all of our statutory responsibilities as the regulator of UK architects, including maintaining the Architects Register and regulating the use of the title ‘architect’.

When the title ‘architect’ is used correctly, the public can be assured they are using a genuine professional who is appropriately trained, qualified and insured.  By protecting the title we help maintain trust in UK architects.

Our objectives

We have two objectives that underpin the delivery of our statutory responsibilities under the Act:

  • Protect the users and potential users of architects’ services
  • Support architects through regulation

These objectives inform this policy and provide the framework for our work and approach to protecting the title ‘architect’.

Prevention activities

We aim to limit the potential harm title misuse can cause with proactive and timely action.  We raise awareness of the title’s protected status, promote the Architects Register as a tool to check if an individual is a genuine architect and provide guidance on how to use the title appropriately. By engaging with the public, the media and other relevant organisations and groups, we aim to help potential users of architects’ services make an informed choice about who they hire.

Misuse by an individual or a practice

Individuals and companies can be held responsible for breaching the Act. Such breaches commonly occur when the title is misused in business names, letterheads, advertising materials, websites (including URLs and metadata), social media and terms of engagement.

Where concerns are raised about possible misuse we take the following approach:

  • Investigate and verify the facts
  • Where appropriate, provide advice and guidance on the appropriate use of the title
  • Where relevant, gain satisfactory assurance the breach will be remedied and not repeated
  • Consider prosecution in line with our prosecution policy (set out below) if the matter is not resolvedSeek co-operation from online listings or other relevant organisations to correct a breach
  • Where appropriate, follow up to check there is no recurrence of misuse
  • Keep the complainant up to date on the case’s resolution where disclosable

Misuse or inaccurate use by a third party

Sometimes the title is used by a third party to inaccurately describe an individual as an ‘architect’. Such breaches commonly occur through online directories, where the individual or practice has not authorised the listing or within Google’s business listings where an individual or practice may not be aware they are listed under the category ‘architect’.  The term can also be incorrectly applied in commentary, such as in news articles or media broadcasts.

Where concerns are raised with us about possible misuse or incorrect use, we take the following approach:

  • Investigate and verify the facts
  • Seek the co-operation of online directory (or responsible third party)
  • Where appropriate, request a press correction and/or engage strategically with the media on the correct use of the term
  • Keep the complainant up to date on the case’s resolution where disclosable

Use of the title ‘architect’ outside of the built environment

The term ‘architect’ is sometimes used in a way that is unconnected with the built environment, for example ‘software architect’ is increasingly used within the IT industry.

Given the effort it takes to earn the right to use the title, we can understand why its use by any unregistered individual can cause concern.  When investigating title misuse, we consider the likely degree of harm as well as the likelihood of the public being misled.   We prioritise our resources and aim to take proportionate action so the greatest harm is tackled most robustly.

Misusing the title in connection to the built environment and architectural services is a high risk.  However the Act acknowledges there are uses of the term that would not constitute a breach (‘naval architect’, ‘landscape architect’ and ‘golf-course architect’), and experience tells us most people are unlikely to be misled by the use of the title in a purely IT or financial context.  Nonetheless, we consider every case on its own merits and should, for example, an ‘IT architect’ offer CAD services we would consider action. 

Use of the title ‘architect’ by students

If used by a student in a business or practice context, this could be considered a breach of the Act.  We consider matters on a case by case basis, but a breach could include use of the title on a CV, social media or business card to secure work or build a reputation.

Terms like ‘Student Architect’, ‘Part 2 architect’ or ‘[name] RIBA’ should be avoided.  Terms such as ‘Architectural Assistant’ and ‘Architecture Student’ are less likely to be problematic.

Where concerns are raised with us about possible misuse, we take the following approach:

  • Consider whether the use is in business or practice (for example, to secure work) or could otherwise be regarded as misleading
  • Carefully consider the context of each case, for example has an employer created a job title that when referenced may inadvertently breach the Act
  • Where relevant, gain satisfactory assurance the breach will be remedied and not repeated
  • Keep the complainant up to date on the case’s resolution where disclosable

Designated letters

Some concerns arise in relation to the use of designated letters, such as ‘RIBA’, to signify membership of an architectural professional body by an individual who is not on the Architects Register, and therefore not a UK architect.

The use of a designation by an unregistered person is problematic when it is in connection with business or practice, because the law says that including the word ‘architect’ in an acronym is tantamount to using the title ‘architect’.  This can include individuals who are affiliate members of a professional body working in the built environment or those who have recently retired but are providing the occasional architectural service.

Our approach in these instances will depend on the specific circumstances in each case, and we will follow similar steps to those identified in earlier sections of this policy.  If the individual is found to be misusing the designation itself, we will raise this with both the individual and the relevant organisation (without passing on any non-disclosable information).

Prosecution

Our approach to prosecution is in line with the Better Regulation Commission principles, particularly the principle of proportionality.  According to this principle, regulators should only intervene when necessary.

Solutions must be proportionate to the problem or risk, and justify the costs imposed.   All options for achieving compliance must be considered, not just prescriptive regulation.  Alternatives may be more effective, and enforcers should consider an educational rather than a punitive approach where possible.

In deciding whether to prosecute an individual or business, we apply two principles:

  1. Is it in the public interest to prosecute?
  2. Is there a reasonable prospect of success?

The public interest test relates to the risk of reoffending and the consumer detriment caused.  Prosecution should not be used simply to “punish” offenders if they are unlikely to reoffend or there is little evidence of client harm, as this would not generally be in the public interest.  The prospect of success is usually determined by the evidence available.

We seek advice from our solicitors on whether to prosecute, and if they advise against taking a case forward it carries significant weight.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we prosecute in the magistrates’ courts. In Scotland, prosecutions are brought by the Procurator Fiscal, following their own consideration of the public interest and prospects of success tests. Because of this, and the differing evidence requirements of Scottish law, specific legal advice is taken regarding prosecutions in Scotland.

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