The Architects Registration Board (ARB) has struck off architect and Association of Consultant Architects (ACA) Council member Stephen Yakeley after finding him guilty of charging a client ‘excessive’ fees
The board’s Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) removed Yakeley, of Islington, from the register after finding him guilty of three counts of unacceptable professional conduct in relation to a flat refurbishment in central London.
The PCC heard that Yakeley, 77, had failed to keep his client adequately informed of matters affecting costs, made excessive demands for payment for work after the termination of his engagement and failed to pay fees owed following the decision of an adjudicator.
Explaining its decision, the PCC said: ‘This was a sustained deliberate attempt to intimidate and overcharge the client, and the respondent made no attempt to resolve matters with the client.’
Yakeley was appointed by the client in April 2016 to refurbish a 72m² basement flat with an ‘indicative budget’ of £100,000, inclusive of fees, to be completed by Christmas.
According to the PCC, the architect gave no indication that this project cost was inadequate, although he said that ’to allow leeway’ he would insure the project for £200,000.
However, the judgement reads that when, in August, Yakeley presented three cost options of between £343,000 and £500,000 (excluding VAT and fees), the client decided he did not want to proceed with the work and asked to be billed for the design work undertaken.
The architect then issued the client with an invoice for £74,000, and when that figure was disputed he issued a second invoice for a further £45,000 for dealing with the complaint.
This was subsequently followed by another invoice of £28,000 for dealing with his client’s solicitor.
The architect, who co-authored the BIID Interior Design Job Book in 2010, later attempted to settle for £182,000 and the dispute went to an adjudicator, which made an award of £30,000 to Yakeley. He accused the arbitrator of bad faith and bias and refused to pay the adjudication fee.
The client complained to the ARB about Yakeley’s behaviour.
According to the ARB, Yakeley admitted he was ‘not a cost expert and [could not] be blamed for the cost overrun’, adding that it was ‘not his fault that the complainant had not provided clear budget information to him’.
Yakeley, the PCC heard, also blamed his solicitor ‘for not advising him properly once the complainant had terminated his retainer’ adding that ’he followed advice that …. he had later realised was wrong’.
In deciding on a sanction, the ARB considered Yakeley’s ‘50-year unblemished career’ and the fact he was ‘now 77 and winding down’. It also heard he thought his client was experienced and that had ‘coloured his view’.
But the body considered the architect’s ‘entrenched attitude’, the extent of the overcharging, and the ‘completely inappropriate nature of what he did’ meant a penalty order would be insufficient.
‘Yakeley gave no information to his client about cost before submitting the projections at figures vastly over what the client has asked for, and ought to have given his client information about the cost of what he was designing.
‘To bill a client £147,000 when that client had asked for help to refurbish a flat at an indicative (total) cost of £100,000, and to bill a percentage of proposed costs figures of which the client had no idea, was truly appalling.’
Yakeley, who denied all the allegations, said: ‘My actions were entirely as a result of trusted legal advice which I took from the very moment the dispute [arose].
‘I also followed the clause [in the contract] that allowed me to invoice for the time spent on recovering the costs incurred by the client not paying. If doing so puts an architect at risk of being struck off, then that is a horrendous outcome.
‘This ruling makes it even more difficult for smaller practices who face unreasonable refusals to pay. It sets a dangerous precedent and is certainly draconian.’
ACA president Brian Waters said that following the ARB’s judgement, the association had made Yakeley an ‘honorary member’ so that he could remain on its council.
Water added he feared the decision threatened the ‘ability of architects to claim unpaid fees without fear of being struck off’.