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Revision to SFA/92 is long overdue

Surely the guys who drafted the sfa/92 documents never had to clinch a deal themselves. If they had, they would have realised that an architect needs appointment terms that are clear, brief, and easy to use. But intellect seemed to over-ride common sense during preparation of sfa/92, resulting in a document so complex that the riba now provides a 50-page guide to its use, costing £10. Here are some of sfa/92's most obvious failings:

1) The loose-leaf format means parts go missing.

2) Pages are not consecutively numbered and some aren't numbered at all, so they can get lost without the parties realising.

3) The status of the unnumbered pages is unclear - are they part of the agreement or not?

4) Clients get very irritated because there are too many places to initial and too many options to highlight.

5) A tiresome process of pre-determining the scope of duties is involved. Apart from the 55 'basic' services listed within the seven categories of work stage, there are 52 additional services to pre-select. These include such gems as item 19: 'Revise planning application', guaranteed to give a client confidence. Then there are some 70 other services to choose from which contain unsettling options like 'Act as a witness to fact'. It is silly to try to anticipate services in such detail at the outset of a job. What is needed is a simple appointment form that can be extended as a job proceeds - not an exhaustive list of possible services.

6) The document's format is a mixture of A4, A3, and 'triple' A4, which invites mistakes. When forwarding a signed sfa/92 to his client, one architect(exhausted by the preceding marathon) used A3 copy paper throughout - thus missing sheet 6c (part of the triple A4) and its un-numbered reverse side. Barristers had a field-day arguing the terms of that contract, and the effect of the error.

7) The pink boxes do not reproduce on a standard office photocopier - thus providing a minefield of further ambiguity.

8) And what does a client get for his money? What is it that you must do for your fee? Are those items outside pink boxes on sheets 6b and 6c within the fee chargeable for Basic Services? Hardly, you might think, looking at Stage C, item 08 (models), or Stage D, item 14 'conduct exceptional negotiations with planning authorities'. But then see Stage D, item 15, 'submitan application for full planning permission'. Surely that is a basic service? Not according to sfa/92.

9) Schedule four requires the architect to list other consultants, and under 4.1.3 we must confirm the services they will provide. Haven't architects got enough to do without assuming responsibilities for the appointment of other disciplines?

I could go on but the point is made. sfa/92 is far too complicated and long-winded. Just imagine if your solicitor or accountant tried to get you to enter into such an agreement - it would be exasperating. Happily, the riba intends to replace it soon and I have been promised a copy of the draft new form. I will let you know what's in store as soon as I have read it.

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