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ARB puts squeeze on part-timers

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The ARB has tightened up the rules governing professional indemnity insurance - despite calls for restraint from the RIBA - in a move that could spell the end for part-time practitioners.

The ARB has revised its guidelines on PII, raising minimum levels of indemnity cover and making them compulsory. Registered architects will have until 31 March to confirm they have the adequate cover in place.

The move comes against a backdrop of dramatic rises in insurance premiums as a result of the changing economic climate and the events of 11 September. Insurance experts predict that the ARB's rules, combined with general rises, could force insurance bills up by 50 per cent. A small practitioner currently paying out £600 a year could see their premiums increase to £900.

While the changes will affect all architects, the squeeze will be most severe for part-time practitioners, the semi-retired and those taking occasional private work. Practitioners with an income of less than £10,000 will no longer be considered an exceptional category and will need to raise their cover from £50,000 to the new minimum level of £250,000. As a result, premiums could soar from £195 a year to as much as £600.

With further strictures governing run-off cover, part-time work could become untenable.

The ARB adopted the changes last week despite objections from the RIBA, which called for the rises to be less dramatic. RIBA vice-president for practice, Tim Gough, denied the ARB's claims that under-insurance is widespread among architects.

Currently, the RIBA runs RIBASure, a subsidised insurance scheme aimed at low-income practitioners. Keith Snook, RIBA director of practice who oversees the scheme, was adamant that cover provided is adequate. He predicted that some low-income architects, faced with escalating costs, will deregister and work outside the restrictions of the profession.

ARB board member Marco Goldschmied, who opposed the changes, said they reflected an 'Olympian view of the profession' that failed to take into account its 'subtleties and nuances'. He said he was concerned about the impact on young people taking private jobs before setting up on their own. 'The new and exciting in architecture will be discouraged, ' he said.

Wayne Glaze, a young architect who supplements his full-time employment with occasional private work, agreed that private domestic work was a common way for those starting out to 'cut their teeth'. Faced with rising costs many would be discouraged, he said.

But the ARB dismissed suggestions that levels were too high. ARB chief executive Robin Vaughan said that the leap had been essential to bring the architectural profession up to standard and claimed the new regime was 'quite relaxed'.

He said that while the RIBA was concerned to protect its members, the ARB was charged with serving the public interest. 'The two may not be as one on this occasion, ' he said.

The RIBA has not ruled out further protest.

Gough said he would be taking the lead from the reactions of RIBA members.

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