Arb says practitioner was ‘inaccurate and misleading’ towards client, and quietly tweaked standard appointment terms

A London-based architect who bills himself as a “non-practising barrister” and expert witness on architecture has been fined £1,000 after being found guilty of unprofessional conduct by the Architects Registration Board.

The Arb’s professional conduct committee said Seth Handley, of AEW Architecture, had failed to adequately set out terms of engagement over the extension and refurbishment of a domestic property, and had failed to deal with client complaints properly. 

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Handley’s practice is an entirely different entity from large Manchester practice AEW Architects.

The Arb said Handley had “made representations to his client that were inaccurate and misleading” and had inserted additional clauses into standard RIBA conditions of appointment that he referred to in his letter of appointment.

The PCC found Handley had “sought to improperly restrict the extent of his liability both in time and quantum” to the client by the alterations, which committee members said was “a serious failing designed to benefit Mr Handley to his client’s detriment”.

One clause sought to limit AEW Architecture’s financial liability for the project to £80,000, even though the initilal project budget was £90,000 and its anticipated cost subsequently shot up to £190,000. The other sought to limit the client’s claim window to 12 months, which the PCC said was “materially lower” than the default period of six years prescribed by the Limitation Act 1980.

It said: “The PCC considered his failure to secure his client’s consent or even draw his attention to the changes from the standard document to be misleading and demonstrated a lack of integrity.

“The committee further considered that the way in which Mr Handley dealt with his client’s complaint was intimidatory.”

Handley accepted that he had failed to adequately set out his terms of engagement in writing as the terms provided omitted to make reference to a complaints handling procedure.

He denied other factual allegations and denied that they amounted to unacceptable professional conduct, but was found guilty at the hearing earlier this month.

AEW Architecture’s website says Handley has been a RIBA part III-qualified architect for 22 years and holds legal qualifications that saw him called to the bar in 2007.

He offers architecture, adjudication and expert witness services and says he worked at a Stirling Prize-winning practice before setting up AEW, which has a postal address in Wimbledon, south-west London.