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Contract killers: architects flout written agreement code

More than two thirds of architects working on small projects have breached strict regulations over the use of written contracts, leaving them exposed to prosecution and hefty fines, exclusive AJresearch reveals this week.

A straw poll of 20 architects from Belfast to Bournemouth revealed that since the Architects Registration Board was established in 1997, with its code of conduct insisting on written contracts, 65 per cent of architects had undertaken work without any form of written contract between themselves and their client. Laziness, the possibility of confusing a client, and fears that a written contract could even be seen as an insult to long-held clients were all cited as reasons to break the code.

The findings came as the ARB rapped its second architect in six months for failing to use a contract.

The professional conduct committee reprimanded Welshpool-based Stephen Liney for only using a verbal agreement with a client (AJ 25.1.00). The lack of a written contract 'led to one problem after another', the court heard. Solicitor to the ARB Katrina Wingfield described a contract as 'a basic need . . . for architects to carry out their work competently and with integrity'.

'The decision illustrates the fact that the ARB wants people to note the requirement more carefully, ' Liney said.

The AJ research took a random sample of architects which the RIBA's Client Advisory Service categorises as being interested in small works - less than £30,000 - and revealed an astonishing disregard for written contracts (see box), one of the three problem areas which the ARB thinks is damaging the reputation of the profession.

ARB chief executive Robin Vaughan said: 'My message to architects is: I know you are busy, I know this seems tiresome, but you are breaking your professional code, acting against the advice of your professional body and leaving yourself vulnerable to complaints to which you may have no reply.'

'It's quite frankly stupid not to get things down in writing, ' added ARB vice chairman Owen Luder.

However, the evidence also shows that use of a contract is no guarantee that disputes will be avoided, and 43 per cent of those architects who always use a written contract have been in dispute over its interpretation in the past 12 months.

Although failure to use a written contract breaks codes of conduct at both the ARB and the RIBA, neither organisation is planning to search out guilty architects, beyond responding to complaints.

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