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'Unblemished' architect rapped for terms of engagement blunder

Architect Robert Baxter has been reprimanded by the ARB’s professional conduct committee for failing to give his clients written terms of engagement before carrying out work

The founder of south west London-based RBD Architects with an ‘unblemished career spanning nearly 30 years’ was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct even though the committee admitted that his ‘one-off’ blunder ‘may have been unintentional’.

There was no evidence to suggest that this was anything than a one-off failing

The committee said: ‘There was no evidence to suggest that this was anything than a one-off failing on Baxter’s part. Having said that, [we] cannot adequately emphasise the importance of always complying with Standard 4 of the Code of Conduct [requiring architects to ensure that before undertaking any professional work, a written agreement is entered into containing the specified terms with the client].’

‘Compliance with this standard is of critical importance both in terms of effective risk management from the architect’s point of view and managing the client’s expectations.’

The complainants approached Baxter in respect of works to a property they were looking to purchase. According to the committee, Baxter had sent a document setting out estimated costs after the initial meeting, however it failed to specify the scope of the work.  The clients then paid almost £6,000 - a sum which they thought was to be held on account and would be put towards the feasibility study for the proposed work once the purchase of the property had been finalised.  

The clients decided not to proceed with the works and Baxter then sent an email giving details of the time he had spent on the project. His clients were ‘dismayed’ with this figure which the defendant subsequently detailed, only then providing his standard terms of engagement. A dispute followed as to the further invoice of £4,800 being claimed.

At the hearing, Baxter admitted he had failed to provide his terms of engagement before the commencement of work, as expected by Standard 4 of the ARB Code of Conduct, but denied that this oversight amounted to unacceptable professional conduct.

However the committee concluded that while the failure to provide terms of engagement may have been unintentional, it was of such critical importance to the protection of both client and architect, the shortcoming did amount to unacceptable professional conduct.

A spokesman concluded: ‘Having considered the isolated nature of the incident, the regret and co-operation Baxter had shown and his previously unblemished career over nearly 30 years, the committee decided that a reprimand was the appropriate sanction.’

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