Architect Sofie Pelsmakers was one of 1,824 architects recently thrown off the ARB register for non-payment. She tells the AJ about her frustrating ordeal
‘On 28 November I went online to check my account details. Everything was set up for automatic payment of my yearly ARB fee. I went on holiday thinking all was fine, until I picked up an email on 5 January on my Blackberry saying I had been struck off the register due to failed payment.
‘I was still abroad - with pretty much only my phone as internet connection - so I called ARB who told me a direct debit failed and an email had been sent to tell me this. I was told that if I could show my account was in the black, ARB would refund the £55. I could not re-register by phone - only online.
‘Anyway after much faffing about I managed to get online and paid the fee plus £55. I sent ARB the email showing I was in the black when they tried to take payment. I also gave them a screenshot of the email they talked about on 10 December saying payment failed - which had ended up in my work spam and which my phone does not pull up. I never normally receive any ARB emails in my spam.
‘I heard back from the ARB yesterday (12 January) - they are refusing to reimburse the £55. They claim my bank declined payment. However after 40 minutes on the phone to my bank, they say they never received a request from the ARB for payment either to accept or refuse. My bank also told me that what ARB calls a direct debit, is actually a BACS card payment and my bank told me that in the past few months how BACS are collected has changed - i.e. a card expiry date is now required to combat fraud (and to avoid continuous payments for years from the same card).
‘Without it payment could be refused automatically. ARB had no card expiry date option in its ‘direct debit’ info and this may have automatically sent the payment back to them as invalid before it even reached my bank.
I have asked ARB to keep me informed about what caused this but I doubt they will
‘There could be other reasons too - I have asked them to keep me informed about what caused this - but I doubt they will. They seem to have this view that we are all criminals as architects, yet I have never paid late or been struck of the register. I have never had a direct debit or payment fail on any of my accounts. This is important stuff, yet all they do is send an email in my spam and no written letter to say payment failed.
‘Astonishingly, since I went online in November they deleted my card details and payment details of my account yet ask me to fill in a new direct debit mandate when clearly there is no point if their system is not robust enough to take payment nor if they do not know why it fails or seem uninterested to find out why it fails at their end. Last year my payment went through ok with the same details.
‘It never seems to have occurred to the ARB that we architects have no interest or benefit in paying late/being struck of the register. We only have benefit by it - yet we are treated as if we are at fault and as if we do this on purpose.
‘So, my question is: how many of the 1,800 architects have had the same thing happen to them? ARB benefit financially from non-payment and direct debit/BACS failures. This year they are set to make just under £100,000 from us poor architects. Given I have to re-register online I cannot see the actual cost of reinstatement being anywhere near £55 as it is all done automatically.
‘I am pretty annoyed and have been stressed about this - the opposite of why I had set up a direct debit payment.’
- Sofie Pelsmakers is an architect and doctoral researcher at UCL Energy Institute