"As a statutory regulator working in the public interest, ARB has a key role to play in setting standards."
As a statutory regulator working in the public interest, ARB has a key role to play in setting the standards that both protect the users and potential users of architects' services and support architects through regulation. This report sets out the work of ARB over the past year in pursuit of those aims.
Our Board of 15 members, a mix of architects and members of the public, oversees this work. We saw a significant change to the membership of the Board this year following the three-yearly architect elections to the Board and the standing down of one of our long-serving lay members who had completed two successive three-year terms of office. We said goodbye to five of our architect members, and welcomed their successors to the Board – John Assael, Hans Eisner, Richard Parnaby, Susan Ware and Alex Wright. We also saw two Board members returning for a second three-year term following their successful re-election to the Board: Ruth Brennan and Andrew Mortimer. We said goodbye to lay member David Jones, who so admirably chaired the Prescription Committee, and welcomed Arun Singh in his place. Our new members come from a variety of backgrounds and bring a number of different views to the table, but without exception, they quickly got into their stride and they have brought a new perspective and fresh thinking to our debates and decision making.
The election itself saw the highest number of candidates yet – 24 architects put themselves forward for election to the Board. This was hugely encouraging, and demonstrated that there is considerable interest amongst the profession to be part of the regulatory body that sets standards for architectural education, conduct, and practice. It was, however, unfortunate that there was such a low number of architects who took advantage of their right to have a say in who gets elected to the Board – just 13.7% of architects on the register elected to vote, despite a high profile campaign to publicise the election and to encourage architects to take part. ARB is currently one of the few regulators where members of the profession are elected to the governing body by their peers. While this remains the case, we will continue to encourage architects to both stand for election and to vote.
Anyone who has read our previous annual reports will know how much I enjoy getting out and about to meet people. Not only does this give me the opportunity for sharing information about ARB's work with others, it also means that I can learn from what other organisations are doing. The more informed I am, the more I can share it with the Board and the better our performance will be. Over the past year, I have continued to meet with representatives of the RIBA, including the President, Angela Brady, and we have had some very useful discussions about how we can strengthen the ties between our two bodies. I have also been fortunate to be invited to sit as a panel member in a discussion forum organised by the Association of Consultant Architects and I attended the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists' annual event in Belfast. I came away from each meeting with considerably more knowledge than when I arrived, and I look forward to our continued cooperation in future years.
You will read in the Registrar's report about the revised and updated online Register that we launched during 2012. This was developed with the express intention of making it easy for members of the public to find and contact an architect quickly and easily by giving every architect on the Register their own webpage, which they can then enhance by adding their contact details. While this development was applauded by architects, the architectural professional bodies were initially less than enthusiastic in welcoming it. It was of course never our intention to promote ARB as an alternative to the professional bodies. On the contrary, it was entirely from a consumer perspective that the idea of an enhanced online register came about. Consumer protection is at the heart of everything that we do, and we believe we have a responsibility to ensure that users and potential users of architects' services have a means through which they can access a reliable source of information when they are looking for an architect to assist them with their building project. The new online register fulfils this requirement, and we take every opportunity we can to increase its profile.
To conclude this foreword to the 2012 annual report, I must acknowledge the significant input of our Registrar, Alison Carr, ably supported by her management team and staff, to ensuring that ARB runs smoothly, and for their resolute commitment to delivering ARB's statutory duties efficiently and effectively within limited resources. I must also pay tribute to the men and women who make up our Board for their unwavering support not just of ARB, but for me as Chair. They all have busy lives outside of ARB, and yet they continue to find the time to participate in every aspect of ARB's work. Such a contribution cannot be underestimated.
"2012 saw the completion of a number of areas of work we started in 2011."
2012 saw the completion of a number of areas of work which got off the ground in 2011. It is important that ARB's approach to delivering the Architects Act 1997 and our systems and procedures are regularly reviewed to ensure that we reflect good practice and are adopting the most efficient ways of working.
Work continued on ARB's website during 2012, and we concentrated on increasing the availability of our online facilities, including a range of online application forms. The new website was launched in January 2013, and work on developing online tools is continuing. You will see from the details provided within this Report that the take-up of online registration has been good and this has helped us improve the turnaround time on dealing with applications. In the second half of the year, we introduced an online chat facility where people using the website can ask questions in real time. The questions we're asked usually relate to the application process, and we hope to extend this facility in 2013 to cover other aspects of our work.
One of the most controversial elements that we cover in this report relates to the improvements that we have made to the online Register. Our aim has been to ensure that the online Register is as accessible as possible so that clients and potential clients can find the information that they need to help them to make an informed choice. We have encouraged architects to link to their own Register entry and to add their contact details, including their website and email addresses. This is to help members of the public to find an architect and to contact them easily if they wish to do so. Maintaining the Register is one of ARB's statutory obligations, and we know from our research that the majority of individuals and firms considering using the services of an architect turn to the internet to find one. It is important that we make the Register available and identifiable to those who use the internet as their search tool.
Our work in the area of title regulation grew with the number of complaints about misuse of title rising by 85% in comparison with 2011. The majority of complaints come from architects themselves and their contribution to identifying misuse of title in their local areas is becoming an increasingly valuable part of the system. ARB continues to take a proportionate approach to regulating use of the title and the work must go hand in hand with raising awareness of the Register. Although architects are concerned about misuse of title and often press for prosecutions, helping individuals to make informed choices about choosing an architect can help to mitigate misuse as the public are encouraged to check the Register. We continue to investigate cases of misuse and our prosecutions increased to six successful cases in 2012. We were particularly pleased to secure a prosecution regarding the use of a meta-tag where, although not visible on a website itself, the use of the word “architect” as a meta-tag means that the site comes up when a search is made for an architect.
We undertook a great deal of work during the year on keeping stakeholders informed and advising Government on developments for possible changes to the Professional Qualifications Directive. This Directive facilitates the movement of architects across Europe through recognising qualifications which are listed at a European level. Changes to the Directive potentially impact on the recognition of qualifications secured by architects in the UK. The output of this work will not be seen until late 2013, when it is anticipated that the changes to the Directive will be finalised.
2012 also saw the continuing trend for more cases to be referred to the Professional Conduct Committee, with 23 cases being considered in 2012 compared with 16 in 2011. Although an increase, this remains a relatively low number for the profession. We provide relevant information to complainants so they can raise their complaint with ARB easily and be kept informed with regard to progress. In preparing the new website, we also kept in mind the need to provide information to architects to mitigate the possibility of complaints arising and we have, as always, included details in this Report of the most common types of complaint and how they can be avoided. In the latter part of the year, we delivered a pilot seminar through the Royal Institute of British Architects' CPD programme on “Keeping out of Trouble”. Further seminars will be held in 2013, again through the RIBA. We are also talking to other professional institutions on how we can help architects to prevent complaints.
We continued to have a presence at two consumer shows in 2012, Homebuilding and Renovating and Grand Designs. Not only did this provide an opportunity for us to alert consumers who may be considering embarking on a building project of the availability of the Register and the status of an architect, but also to hear first-hand about clients' experiences and how they secure the services of an architect. This remains one of the few opportunities for ARB to speak directly to consumers, providing them with a valuable point of information.
Our work continues to increase in most areas. Numbers on the Register are rising, as are applications for registration, which continue to grow year on year. We are using email and our eBulletins more actively to encourage architects to keep their contact details up to date so that they don't miss information from us. Despite this escalating workload, our staff team has remained the same size in 2012, reflecting their commitment to ensuring that ARB operates in the most effective way. Our aim is to provide an efficient service to everyone we are in contact with and in particular, users and potential users of architects' services and architects themselves. We are constantly looking to ensure that we provide good customer service whilst continuing to meet our statutory obligations, and this will be a continuing focus of our work in 2013.
Registrar & Chief Executive
- Renewed prescription* of 36 qualifications from 17 institutions
- Approved prescription* for the first time to 5 qualifications from 4 institutions
- Average time taken to process an application for prescription* was 28 weeks
- Received and processed 37 annual monitoring submissions involving 97 qualifications
- Average time taken to process an annual monitoring submission was 4 weeks
- Undertook 12 planning meetings at institutions seeking to renew or apply for prescription*
- Processed 1,481 applications to join the Register
- Administered 135 prescribed examinations
- Collected 33,266 annual retention fees
- Dealt with 633 readmissions and reinstatements to the Register
- Processed 664 resignations from the Register
- Processed 18,040 changes of contact details
- Dealt with 307 company formations
- Investigated 476 cases of potential misuse of the title 'architect', and successfully prosecuted six cases
- Dealt with 144 formal complaints about architects
- Issued 80 Investigations Committee decisions
- Held 23 Professional Conduct Committee hearings
- Managed the three-yearly election of architects to the Board
- Welcomed 6 new members to the Board, 5 architects and 1 lay
- Attended 2 consumer shows to highlight the value of the Register
- Launched a new online Register to help members of the public find an architect quickly and easily
- Dealt with 31 Freedom of Information/Data Protection requests
- Dealt with 73 service complaints about ARB's processes
ARB prescribes (recognises) the qualifications in architecture that lead to registration as an architect. Institutions seeking prescription of their qualifications for the first time, or renewing existing prescription, must present ARB with documentary material demonstrating that key objectives have been or will be met. This gives the Board confidence that, among other things, students obtaining a prescribed qualification will have demonstrated that they have met all of the relevant Criteria, which set out the minimum standards that a qualification in architecture must meet.
How did we do in 2012?
98% of UK registration applications were processed within the target of 30 working days
81% of European registration applications were processed within the target of 30 working days
70% of complaints met the target of 16 weeks for referral to the Investigations Committee or closure
100% of cases referred to the Professional Conduct Committee met the target of 16 weeks from the date of receiving the Board's solicitor's report through to the formal hearing
82% of misuse of title cases met the target of 16 weeks for referral to the Board's solicitor or closure
Complaints about our service
Every forward-thinking organisation should be open to receiving complaints about any aspect of its service. Complaints provide us with valuable feedback from users of our services, and while we are committed to providing a high level service, we recognise that things can sometimes go wrong. We also recognise that complaints can frequently arise because people disagree with our policies and procedures, and when they make their complaint, we then have the opportunity of providing them with an explanation of why a particular process is in place. These types of complaints also inform us on whether our procedures are open, transparent and fair.
During 2012, we received 73 customer complaints about our services. Of these, 32 related to the changes we implemented for the annual retention fee, with the majority of complaints focusing on the increase, with a smaller number raising concerns about the changed payment date. Of the more general complaints about our service, these comprised a mix from architects and members of the public. Some related to Investigations Committee or Professional Conduct Committee processes and procedures, while others ranged from complaints about being removed from the Register for non payment of the retention fee through to the work that we do in regulating use of the title “architect”.
We take each complaint we receive seriously and look to see whether there are improvements to be made or lessons to be learned, and we implement these in appropriate circumstances.
Liaison with stakeholders
One of our key objectives in discharging the Architects Act is to protect the users and potential users of architects' services – consumers. A large part of this role stems from the standards of conduct and competence that are enshrined in the Architects Code, but we also have a responsibility to help consumers make well-informed choices when it comes to embarking on a building project. One way of achieving this is to ensure that they are aware of the ARB 's Register so that they can either find an architect or check an architect's registration.
To help us get this message across, we attended two consumer shows in 2012, Homebuilding and Renovating and Grand Designs. Both these shows are targeted at the consumer, and our presence gives us a valuable platform to raise awareness of the Register with members of the public direct, and to help them understand how they can identify whether an architect is genuine. On average, we talk to around 400 consumers at each show and also find that we get quite a number of enquiries from people who are considering architecture as a career. Educating the public in this way is an important part of our work, particularly in regulating title, because informed consumers are far less likely to be misled by someone who is using the title unlawfully and will instead elect to search the Register to find a genuine architect for their building project. We also take the opportunity to conduct surveys on how people find an architect, which provides evidence on which to base our approach to raising awareness of the Register.
Alongside consumers, our other major stakeholder is the architects' profession. We are conscious that in discharging our responsibility for maintaining standards, we also need to provide architects with a reliable service not only relating to their registration, but also for providing advice and information that is relevant to them in their working lives.
In developing our new website, we have made more information/resource available to architects, much of which can be accessed by the click of a button. We will be continuing to improve this aspect of the website during 2013. We issued a number of eblasts during the year, particularly with regard to the annual retention fee, but also in relation to other matters, for example, when we were looking to appoint architect members to the new Investigations Pool (which replaced the Investigations Committee). We continue to provide an electronic update service to those architects who subscribe to it, and have, during the year under review, sent out press releases, PCC decisions and the periodic eBulletin. Using the technology that is available to us, this is a cost effective way for us to keep architects up to date with developments at ARB.
As well as dealing with queries from architects on complaints and professional indemnity insurance, we also seek feedback from them. For example, if they have been party to a complaint, we will ask for feedback once the process has been concluded. This allows us to analyse the responses to see whether there are opportunities to improve the service that we provide not only to architects, but to members of the public as well. We also seek feedback from those architects who use our online service for joining or rejoining the Register. Again, the responses are invaluable in helping us to improve the service that we offer.
As in previous years, we met regularly with the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture (SCHOSA), Association of Professional Studies of Architecture (APSAA) and the RIBA on educational issues during 2012. We have also actively engaged in meetings held by the United Kingdom Inter-Professional Group (UKIPG) and by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). These meetings add value to our work, as they allow us to share information and keep fully up to date with developments that might impact on the work we do in relation to prescribing qualifications and our involvement in Europe.
In the latter part of 2012, we joined forces with the RIBA to deliver a CPD seminar entitled “Keeping out of trouble”. The content for the seminar was drawn from our knowledge of what can go wrong with building projects and was informed by our role of investigating complaints about an architect's conduct or competence. The seminar was well attended, and given the subject matter, of great relevance to architects as it identified the most common reasons giving rise to complaints, and how they can be avoided. The seminar will run again in Woking, Leicester and Wakefield during 2013, and we will announce the details in advance on our website.
Throughout the year, we met regularly with the RIBA on qualifications matters, and are keen to continue this good working relationship on other matters to help raise consumer awareness. We have also been in contact with the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT), the Association of Consultant Architects (ACA), and the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). As with many of the educational stakeholders mentioned above, this contact means we can keep abreast of developments in other organisations and professions, and is a useful benchmark against which we can assess ARB's work and activities. Our participation in discussions with external organisations also means that we can learn from others and ensure that we follow best practice.
Architects Council of Europe
ARB is a joint member of the Architects Council of Europe with the RIBA. ARB and the RIBA work collaboratively in matters relating to ACE in order to respond collectively on issues at ACE and other European forums. ARB benefits from ACE membership by having access to topical information and by having the opportunity to influence ACE's European activities, which in some cases have impacted on the development of European policies. In the last year, ARB has been particularly involved in the following issues:
- EU minimum requirements for training (such as the duration and location) and UK flexible routes to education and registration
- EU mobility programmes
- The potential administrative and financial burden associated with the possible introduction of a card system for EU registration
- The potential risks of the introduction of a system of partial access to the profession of architect at EU level
- The progress in the implementation of the Services Directive
- EU free trade agreements and potential mutual recognition agreements for the profession of architect
Through its membership of ACE, ARB has, over the years, built a strong network of contacts across Europe, including both regulators and professional bodies. This network enables ARB to gather and exchange information regarding European and international developments which could affect the UK. It has also meant that ARB has been able to alert UK Government to growing issues on a timely basis.
European Network of Architectural Competent Authorities
The European Network of Architectural Competent Authorities (ENACA) is a voluntary network of competent authorities for the architectural profession in Europe. The network provides a forum for exchanging information and discussing issues affecting competent authorities or areas within competent authorities' jurisdiction, such as registration and EU listing of new qualifications.
As with its membership of ACE, ARB benefits from being a part of ENACA by gaining information about European activities and having the opportunity to influence the development of European-level policies. Attendance at ENACA meetings and discussions via electronic means have also provided a unique opportunity to learn more and share information about the day-to-day practicalities involved in the registration of architects across European borders. This has helped to improve the process of registration for architects seeking to work in other European States as well as providing other Member States with a greater understanding of the UK's processes.