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Thursday24 July 2014

‘Zero fees’ working — the discussion continues

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During 35 years of running my solo practice, I was always very busy during that wonderful period of mandatory minimum fees for housing that was accepted by government and all the public housing agents.

Architect on balloon

Source: Angela salt

Will reinstating fee scales help architects get paid what they’re worth?

However, in the 1970s and 1980s I did work for three housing associations who all pleaded poverty in respect of paying fees up until a scheme was in sufficient detail and planning consent as to be accepted by the Housing Corporation within its general financial programme — noting that I was kept at arm’s length from these negotiations. I was promised that, if a scheme did go ahead, I would be the architect and would be paid the full mandatory fee.

Over the years I received at least two substantial contracts from each association, but at the expense of over 14 scheme studies with no fee. Two of these obtained outline or full planning consents, and one was refused consent and on appeal, with a modified design, again refused but won on a further appeal. Where a consent is obtained, but not proceeded with by the housing association, the consent attaches to the site and thus establishes a development value for the landowner for nothing.

The only way I could afford this disgraceful situation was by doing the professional work myself and working such hours as necessary, and thus be able to cope with the hundreds of hours for no payment.

I was led to understand that this situation was common throughout the housing association movement at the time, and I am intrigued to learn what happened following the scrapping of the mandatory fees so as to lead to the current Sanctuary Housing argument (News November 23). Did things get better for a time?

David N Sutcliffe
Welwyn Garden City

Where are our professional bodies?

What do the RIBA and Arb think about an architect’s ability to meet his professional duties set out in the codes of conduct if he charges no fees? Surely Arb should be disciplining such activity and the RIBA removing practices which offer such deals from its register?

Similarly, do practices bidding for work on the terms of the Sanctuary Housing fee demands inform their PI insurers that they are working on no fee and what does this mean for their cover? Perhaps you could approach some PI insurers and publish their answers?

Lastly, as well as boycotting Sanctuary, should the profession not also boycott the project managers and agents helping them — such as Faithful & Gould in this case? I am going to raise this issue with our executive board, but it might help the profession — to let those who perpetuate no-fee bids know that this will be taken account of in other circumstances.

Niall Phillips
Bristol

Zero equals zero

Clients should remember: if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Architects tempted to work for minimal or no fees should remember that loss leaders inevitably lead to losses and if you start off on a low fee it is very difficult, if not impossible, to increase fees on the next job for that client.

Owen Luder
Westminster

What are you worth?

The debate about fee scales misses the point: how much money does it cost you to provide a service, and how much profit do you want to make? If that can be expressed by a random percentage on a graph, without any reference to the nature of the client and the complexity of the site and planning issues, or the level of design and detailing required, then I wish my architectural colleagues good luck.

Most business sectors seem to survive without fee scales. What needs to change is the profession’s culture of being afraid to argue its value to hard-nosed clients and developers who often don’t appreciate that a relatively small investment in great design early in a project reaps dividends for years to come.

Be bold, and raise your fees for 2013. I have in 2011 and 2012, and intend to in 2013. And ignore any stupid 0% scams.

Warren Whyte
via bdonline

Only ourselves to blame

Clients are paying peanuts and getting a highly skilled professional service, it is us monkeys that are lowering the price of our services through desperation and survival.

I believe the only way to solve this is to set a minimum fee scale. Why would any architect argue against this? It would protect the profession and the built environment. Quality should be central to this: we lower our fees, we lower our time, we lower our service. A minimum standard needs to be set.

Lawrence Blake
via bdonline

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I want to start by saying that I am relatively new at this and dont have the wealth of experienced shown by many on this site but it seems to me that the 3 main issues are fee scales, services and speculative work (zero fees).

    From what I understand both Germany and France have fee scales so why doesnt the UK? Don't lawyers and doctors have some form of fee scale? Werent the old fee scales based on providing all services (A-L) for a project of a certain size? This way the architect could establish what fee they would charge in accordance with what 'normal services' they were agreeing to carry out, irrespective of the politics and procurement route involved. If the client asks you to do the interiors or other work outside normal services you use the appointment and charge additionally. If you are told to appoint subconsultants use the appointment etc

    The fee scale and a more rigorous use and understanding of services and the architects appointment should be brought in to combat zero fees. It seems to be that architects are continuously undercutting each other and underpaying their staff who are often working unpaid overtime. The argument against the fee scale is that 'idiots' who work for free will crash out, leaving only the good, sensible practices left standing. While that is true to some extent, those 'idiots' are also preventing the rest of the profession from getting paid work and are furthermore devaluing not only our fees but the value of the very services which we provide.

    Finally ARB code : 9.1 'You should ensure that your professional finances are managed responsibly.' The ARB should take control of this and do something for the profession (for a change). Define 'responsible'. Bring in a minimum fee scale based on normal services which would be suicidal to go under (without unpaid overtime and unpaid part 1 students) and strike off from the register those that go below it for failing to be 'responsibe'.

    A disgruntled monkey

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