Who is the RIBA and what are the “mandatory competences”?

The Royal Institute of British Architects (the “RIBA”) has recently announced that it will be introducing “mandatory competences” for its members, with testing to take place every 5 years.

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Who is the RIBA and what are the “mandatory competences”?

The Royal Institute of British Architects (the “RIBA”) has recently announced that it will be introducing “mandatory competences” for its members, with testing to take place every 5 years. Senior Associate, James Badger, considers what this means in practice and what effect it is likely to have in the construction industry.

Who is the RIBA and what are the “mandatory competences”?

The RIBA is an organisation comprising architects from all over the world. It leads in setting the standard for educational and professional excellence for its profession. So, when it announces that it is introducing a new set of “mandatory competencies” for its members, it’s time for everyone in the industry to stop and listen.

Details of the mandatory competencies are currently sketchy, but the RIBA’s first competency assessment will be on health and safety knowledge, including fire safety. This is due to be introduced early this year. Following the Grenfell tragedy is 2017, the content of this first competency assessment is no coincidence: it goes to the very heart of Grenfell by ensuring its members are up to date with minimum levels of health and safety knowledge and fire safety requirements to prevent such tragedies from happening again.

Details of the RIBA’s further mandatory competencies in the future include climate literacy, ethics and research but, as yet, there has been no date decided on when to introduce these further competency assessments. The intention is for the RIBA to test its members every 5 years.

It is important to note that the RIBA will be working closely with the Architects Registration Board (“ARB”), who are responsible for the profession’s statutory governance. Independent to the RIBA, ARB has announced that it is undertaking a review of its own regulatory model and architects’ competence as a result of the draft Building Safety Bill currently before Parliament. With a likely reform of the ARB’s powers and regulatory model later this year, the RIBA has signalled its own new mandatory competencies now ready for 2021 and beyond.

Why the change?

The RIBA sees the introduction of the competencies, in particular the health & safety competency, as a demonstration of the required competence to be a designer under the eagerly awaited Building Safety Bill. Described by the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, as “the biggest improvements to building safety in nearly 40 years”, the Building Safety Bill introduces new and more stringent requirements in the construction and development of residential buildings.

The draft Bill also empowers the ARB to monitor architects’ competence, set the relevant criteria and have the power to remove an architect from the register if he or she does not meet the criteria. With this in mind, the RIBA is acting now.

The RIBA competencies will commence on a voluntary basis to begin with but will be compulsory for members to undertake by the end of 2021. They will also be a pre-condition of the 2023 membership prescription renewal.

What is the likely impact on the construction industry?

Cost: There will undoubtedly be cost implications to the extra assessments. In addition to the RIBA membership fees, these costs are likely to be passed onto clients using architectural services, meaning increased fees for clients.

Time: The profession already has to meet CPD requirements and these competencies are likely to take up additional time and resources.

Insurance: It is unclear whether professional indemnity insurers will start requiring its insured architects (who are members of the RIBA) to satisfy the mandatory competencies as a “pre-requisite” to cover. In other words, if the RIBA mandatory competences are not met, will the professional indemnity policy fail to respond to a claim? Conversely, if the RIBA mandatory competencies are met, will professional indemnity insurance premiums be reduced to reflect the higher standards being demonstrated by its insured?

What are the next steps to consider?

Any process which helps assess any profession’s competency can only be a positive step forward. However, employers and contractors alike are advised to not only be aware of the arrival of the new competency standards but consider their wider effects, including:

(1) being alert to the new competency requirements and potentially only selecting architects who are engaging with the process;

(2) ensuring appropriate provisions (if applicable and once further details are known) are included in the suites of construction documents to reflect the need to meet the required competencies; and

(3) checking professional indemnity insurance policies (and discussing the same with brokers) to ensure that policy cover is not affected by this change.

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