The Architects Registration Board’s legal fees for enforcement actions have ballooned by nearly 25 per cent in the past year
The watchdog’s legal costs for ‘regulation’ increased from £456,661 to £604,878, while total legal costs rose by nearly 20 per cent from £688,040 to £853,648. The rise, which follows a spate of Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) cases against architects, means nearly a third of fees paid by the UK’s 34,174 architects to the board (£2.8 million) is being spent on legal costs.
Among the protracted proceedings that have hit the headlines are the George Oldham case, in which the board ran up a £20,000 bill reprimanding Oldham for his ‘ethnics’ email gaffe, and Faheem Aftab, who took his case to the High Court to overturn a charge of dishonesty.
According to the recently published annual report and financial statement for the year ending 31 December 2012 (see attached), the board’s registrar, Alison Carr, highlighted the ongoing and ‘significant risk’ posed by potential ‘judicial review or legal action in respect of decisions taken by the board, the registrar or PCC’.
The shock revelations come just months after the board voted unanimously to approve a huge £18.50 rise in the retention fee – a 23 per cent hike.
Long-term ARB critic Ian Salisbury said: ‘This rise in legal fees comes as no surprise, bearing in mind the number of bungled disciplinary cases there has been of late. It is time that the ARB’s supervisors at the DCLG took an interest. Though the money spent is not government money, the board is a public corporation that should be publicly accountable.’
Andrew Plumridge, who was struck off for ‘unacceptable professional conduct’ but is intending to challenge the decision, added: ‘[The hike] implies that ARB is taking action in far too many cases, especially when a chat would be much more effective. The board seems to be much too eager to believe anyone who comes forward with a grudge. These figures fuel criticism at a time when a growing number of architects and politicians believe the board is increasing its prosecution rate simply to justify its existence and expand its reach.’
Former RIBA president and long-term ARB-backer Owen Luder was also critical of the rising legal costs. He said: ‘It is important that ARB has the support of the majority of the profession. Several recent disciplinary cases do appear to question whether ARB in dealing with complaints against architects is in danger of exceeding its statutory powers.’
A spokeswoman for the board said nearly £40,000 of the total increase followed the 85 per cent rise ‘in both prosecutions and caseload’ tackling protection of title. She confirmed the remaining upsurge related to costs associated with the PCC, which saw a 43 per cent increase in hearings in 2012.
She added: ‘[The] rising number of complaints cases is a pattern that most regulators are experiencing as this seems to be an area that is generally on the increase.’
Simon Allford, co-founder of AHMM
‘ARB is a self serving anachronism’
Architect Adrian Russell of Adrian Russell Associates who is due before the board’s PCC later this year
‘The ARB appears to waste money on professional conduct investigations by taking the complainants allegations as ‘gospel’ and ignoring any evidence produced to refute the allegations. All the allegations then form the basis of the charge. The complaint was made against me made in January 2012, but due to the cumbersome complaints procedure at ARB no hearing has been held yet.