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Published 2 September 2014
The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has announced a consultation on the regulation of architects. The primary purpose of the consultation is to assess whether there is a continuing need for architects to be regulated and, if the consultation finds that there is, to consider the most appropriate model for regulation.
At present, the architects' profession is regulated by the Architects Registration Board (ARB), which is an independent statutory body created by Parliament in 1997. All appropriately qualified architects, who wish to practise with the title "architect", need to be registered with the ARB. The ARB carries out a number of functions, including maintaining the register, setting the standards for professional qualifications and practice, investigating complaints against architects and ensuring that only professionals on the register use the title "architect". As it stands, the title of "architect" is protected by the ARB but anybody can legally carry out the functions of an architect, provided they do not call themselves an "architect".
The consultation is intended to explore whether there is on-going support for the statutory regulation of architects in the UK. Reasons in favour of continued regulation include: recognition of architects' rigorous educational standards; consumer confidence in the profession; and maintenance of high levels of service. Conversely, reasons opposing regulation include: restriction on the profession's flexibility; lack of justification because the profession is not high risk; and the fact that many other construction professions are not regulated. The Government's official position is that it does not have a preference either way and, in this context, is seeking to canvas opinion on the subject by way of a call for evidence.
In the event the consultation reveals that continuing regulation is desirable, this could take a number of forms. One option would be to make the architect's profession self-regulating. This would involve withdrawing the Government's mandate over regulation and would instead rely on a professional body to drive and maintain standards. A consequence of self-regulation would be that the title "architect" would cease to benefit from statutory protection and, in all likelihood, architects would adopt a "chartered" status under the RIBA. Alternatively, if self-regulation is not thought to be appropriate, statutory regulation could continue, either by a professional body, or by an independent body (as is the current position with the ARB).
Responses to the call for evidence will be obtained by the DCLG until the end of May 2014, following which there will be a review process involving representatives from the ARB, the architects' profession and other Government Departments. The review process is scheduled to be completed by the end of August 2014. Initial findings and recommendations will then be considered in September 2014, before a final report is published by the end of the year.
It remains to be seen whether the consultation will result in a fundamental change to the regulation of architects. The profession itself (through RIBA) has confirmed that it favours continued regulation by the ARB, subject to improvements in the body's performance to provide value-for-money for the Government, architects and for the public. In the event of de-regulation, functions currently undertaken only by registered "architects" could be carried out by unqualified practitioners who are not required to meet specific professional standards. The consequence of this could feasibly be more complaints and claims, as well as higher insurance premiums, although building design services could ultimately be more affordable for the consumer in a more open and competitive de-regulated market.