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Pros and cons of registration

Legal matters

The New Year is the time we are all exhorted to review our personal finances. I confess to having one particularly niggling standing order which troubles me. It is payable to the Architects Registration Board, the arb, which I have to continue to pay in order to describe myself as a member of the RIBA.

The position under the Architects Act 1997 is that a person is not entitled to practise or carry on a business using the word 'architect' unless they are registered under the Act. It is a criminal offence to do so. The Act provides for the arb both to exist and to maintain the Register. As has been widely reported, the arb has had success in prosecuting a member of the riba for using those initials when he was not on the register.

There are numerous architects who are dual-qualified or who have branched out into other areas. There are many well-known architect arbitrators and experts, and doubtless architects who have distinguished themselves in other fields, who, although no longer primarily practising as architects, wish quite rightly to remain on the register.

However there are others who, for valid reasons, may no longer wish to hold themselves out as practising architects. For example, dual-qualified solicitors/architects practising as solicitors may be asked by their employer, perhaps for reasons to do with professional indemnity insurance, to remove their name from the register. It is, however, not unreasonable that they should wish to continue to describe their qualification by using an riba designation. At present they cannot do so without running the risk of prosecution.

As for those, like me, who remain on the register, the arb has the power under section 9 of the Act to decline to allow them to stay on the list if, in the arb's view, they are not competent. However, the arb limits its activities to responding to complaints and to establishing the competence of those seeking entry or re-entry to the register. No checks as to the competence of those already on the register are carried out, unless a complaint is made. It seems that as the scope for complaint to the arb about those who do not practise as architects is limited, the chance of their competence being investigated is remote.

The other side of this equation is the arb's avowed intent of protecting the consumer. The present arrangements distinguish merely between those who pay to retain their name on the register and those who do not. To allow those who no longer wish to hold themselves out as practising to remove their name from the register would be a potential benefit to the public. A further step to avoid confusion between those members of the riba who wish to describe themselves as practising and those who don't would be a designation, agreed between the arb and the riba, to describe that status. ribanp might be a starting point.

The arb has recently issued a guidance note addressed to the non-registered as to their use of riba designations. The note does not deal with many of the wider issues. Architects are a diverse group pursuing a range of activities; this is one of the strengths of the profession. The arb would do well to canvas and consider the wide range of questions which might be raised by both the registered and unregistered, and to provide comprehensive guidance. The result may be a register and riba designations which more closely reflect the activities of the modern architectural profession. And I might cancel my standing order.

Kim Franklin returns in March

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