Consumer advice information
Professional architectural services and your building project
This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales
If you are thinking of appointing someone to design your building project and provide other services connected with the project, it is important to make sure you appoint a professional who has the appropriate qualifications and is adequately insured. This will help to protect you throughout the process.
A qualified and competent professional will have the required knowledge and training and can provide expert advice on the best way to meet your requirements.
What can a professional do for me?
Professionals can act on your behalf from the initial stages of the building project to its completion, whether it is:
- a traditional or contemporary residential or other type of new building
- maintenance, upgrading, alterations or an extension to an existing building
- large or small scale, simple or complex
A professional's services can include the design work as well as negotiating and advising on statutory requirements such as planning permission and building regulations approvals. They will be able to inspect and certify the building work and provide guidance on costs. They will also advise if you need to involve other specialists who deal with the design of buildings, such as engineers (structural, civil, mechanical and electrical) and surveyors (building and quantity). They can also help you to find the most appropriate people to carry out the construction work.
Who should I appoint?
Qualified professionals use the titles 'architect', 'chartered architect' or 'chartered architectural technologist'. To ensure you are working with someone who is qualified, you need to contact the relevant regulatory body, which for architects is the Architects Registration Board (ARB). You can also contact one of the professional bodies representing architects (listed below) or for chartered architectural technologists, the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT).
What are the differences between an architect, a chartered architect and a chartered architectural technologist?
An architect is a person trained in the planning, design and inspection of the construction of buildings. Traditionally the architect takes the lead role in the design team. Depending on the size and nature of your building project, the architect may work with other professionals, such as engineers and surveyors.
The ARB is the UK's statutory regulator of architects and was established by Parliament under the Architects Act 1997.
- it maintains the UK register of architects. Architects on the public register have met set standards of qualifications and experience
- it establishes the qualifications needed to become an architect
- it sets standards of conduct and competence for architects
- it regulates the use of the title 'architect'. No one can use the title 'architect' in connection with their business unless they are registered with the ARB. Other sectors use 'architect' to describe certain roles, for example 'software architect' in the computing sector. The ARB takes a common sense approach to the use of 'architect' in this way.
Businesses or practices that use the title 'architect' when they are not on the ARB register could mislead consumers and breach the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. It is also a criminal offence under the Architects Act 1997.
If you enter a contract because an architect misled you or because they used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. See our guide 'Misleading and aggressive practices: rights to redress' for more information. You should check the register on the ARB website before making an appointment.
Other than the titles 'architect', 'chartered architect' and 'chartered architectural technologist' there are those who may use other descriptions. These may include 'architecture', 'architectural consultant' and 'architectural designer'. Be careful as these descriptions do not necessarily mean that the person is registered or a member of a professional body.
The Association of Consultant Architects (ACA) was founded to promote and support UK architectural practices.
The title 'chartered architect' is used by those architects who are members of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW) or the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). Contact details for these professional bodies are at the end of this guide.
CHARTERED ARCHITECTURAL TECHNOLOGIST
A chartered architectural technologist applies the science of architecture and specialises in the technology of building design and construction. The title 'chartered architectural technologist' is used by someone who is a member of CIAT.
Chartered architectural technologists hold different qualifications from architects; they are not registered with ARB and as such may not use the title 'architect'.
Points to consider
Architects, chartered architects and chartered architectural technologists must adhere to their regulatory or professional body's code of conduct. They must conduct themselves and their business in a proper and ethical way and are expected, amongst other things, to be honest, act with integrity, be competent, trustworthy, consider the wider impact of their work and declare conflicts of interest. Contact the ARB and CIAT if you have a complaint about breaches of their codes of conduct.
The codes require members to have professional indemnity insurance to cover services offered to you. When you appoint your professional, ensure that there is adequate and appropriate insurance in place to cover your building project. Note that this insurance is separate to a building warranty, which is the insurance your contractor may offer you to cover building defects.
Speak to previous clients to find out their experience of the professional; ask to look at previous work (similar to your project) that they have carried out and also take up references.
If your project is specialised in any way, ensure they have specialist skills in that area.
Ensure that the terms of appointment are given to you in writing and that you understand them. They should clearly state which services your appointed professional will provide and over what time period, their costs (including likely expenses) and additional costs such as local authority application fees, and also whether additional specialists are required and what extra costs this may bring.
For architects check with the regulator (ARB) that the architect you have chosen is registered, or with the relevant professional body that they are actually a member of that body. For chartered architectural technologists, you should check with CIAT.
Think carefully before using someone who offers architectural services but is neither registered nor a member of one of the professional bodies.
Contact your local authority to see if it runs a good trader scheme; architects and chartered architectural technologists are professionals and may be part of such a scheme.
The Architects Registration Board website contains a form entitled 'Meeting your architect', which is designed to help you the first time you meet prospective architects.
What are my rights if things go wrong?
As well as your rights under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (mentioned above) the Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives you rights and remedies when you make a contract with a trader that provides architectural services.
Your key rights are:
- the service must be carried out with reasonable care and skill. A trader must carry out their service to the same or similar standard to that which is considered acceptable within their profession
- information about a trader or service is legally binding. Anything said or written down by a trader (or someone acting on their behalf) about themselves or their service forms part of the contract, if you take the information into consideration before you agree the contract, or if you make a decision about the service after the contract is made
- reasonable price to be paid. You are only required to pay a 'reasonable' price for the service unless the price (or the way in which the price is worked out) is fixed as part of the contract
- the service must be carried out within a reasonable time (if time is not fixed by the contract)
Your key remedies are:
- right to repeat performance. If you are dissatisfied with the service because it hasn't been carried out with reasonable care and skill, then it must be performed again. This should be carried out within a reasonable time, without significant inconvenience and at no cost to you
- right to a price reduction. If repeat performance of the service fails to resolve the problem (perhaps it is impossible or it cannot be carried out within a reasonable time or without causing you significant inconvenience) then you are entitled to a price reduction, which can be as much as a full refund
See our guides 'Supply of services: your consumer rights' and 'Supply of services: what to do if things go wrong' for more information on your rights and which remedy you are entitled to.
Providers of architectural services must comply with the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 when they sell their services from their business premises (on-premises contracts), without face-to-face contact with you (distance contracts) and away from their business premises (off-premises contracts).
You have the right to cancel most off-premises and distance contracts and the cancellation period is 14 days. Providers of architectural services must give you certain information before they make a contract with you. They must get your clear agreement if they want to charge you for 'extras'.
The 'Buying from business premises: on-premises contracts explained', 'Buying at home: off-premises contracts explained' and 'Buying by internet, phone and mail order: distance contracts explained' guides give more information on the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.
Contact details for the regulator and professional bodies
- Architects Act 1997
- Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
- Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013
- Consumer Rights Act 2015
Last reviewed / updated: November 2021
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.
For further information in England and Wales contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 2231133. In Scotland contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. Both provide free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.
© 2022 itsa Ltd.
The county council is not responsible for this information.