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The Architects Registration Board (ARB) Fee Increase: Is it justified?

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The Architects Registration Board (ARB) has recently come under scrutiny for its decision to raise the annual retention fee for architects. This move has generated a spirited discussion within the architecture community in the UK, with architects and industry professionals expressing differing opinions about the implications of these fee hikes. Let’s delve deeper into the arguments from both sides, featuring insights from those directly affected.

Why is the ARB Fee Increasing?

Investment in Modernisation: Supporters of the fee increase emphasise the ARB’s commitment to modernising the initial education and training of architects. Last year Alan Kershaw, Chair of the ARB board, told the Architects Journal, “This fee level has been set to balance the need for vital investment in [ARB] strategy with rising costs and economic challenges.” The ARB has set out plans to reform the educational process required to become a qualified Architect, and those who support this view see these investments as essential for the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of the profession.

Comparatively Low Fees: Some in favour of the fee increase highlight the fact that the ARB’s retention fee remains relatively modest when compared to fees charged by other professional regulators in the UK. This was outlined by ARB chair Alan Kershaw stating, ‘the ARB is a small and efficient organisation, with fewer than 50 full-time staff. We understand that any increase will be unwelcome at this time of increases in cost of living. ARB’s retention fee remains one of the lowest amongst UK professional regulators.’

Financial Sustainability: The ARB argues that the fee hike is essential for its financial sustainability. Stephen McCusker, an ARB board member and practicing architect, empathised with the challenges of balancing the financial problems architects face, and the ARB’s financial needs, stating, ‘Like many architects on the UK register, I have run a small architectural practice and am ever-mindful of the challenges involved. In setting the 2023 fee, the board has considered the cost-of-living increases faced by everyone in the country alongside the need to modernise ARB.

‘The objectives in ARB’s strategy remain crucial. I’m especially keen that ARB continues its work to update an educational model that is over 50 years old with a new model that could encourage innovation and improve access to the profession.

This perspective stresses the importance of ensuring the ARB’s ability to fulfil its role as a regulator responsible for safeguarding the ‘architect’ title and maintaining professional standards.

Concerns About the ARB Fee Increase

Financial Strain on Architects: Critics of the fee increase argue that architects are already grappling with financial challenges. Static salaries, coupled with raises in inflation and interest rates, have left many architects feeling financially stretched. As Jason Boyle, a passionate advocate for architects and host of the “Broke Architect Podcast,” notes, “With the rising cost of living and the stagnation in architects’ salaries over many years, the last thing we need is our registration body raising fees by 67% over a 3-year period for things we didn’t ask for!” Jason has started a petition on change.org to have the price increase stopped.

Lack of Consultation: Architects express frustration over the perceived lack of consultation regarding the fee increases. They feel that architects should have had a more significant say in decisions that directly impact their finances and professional obligations. As Boyle states, “We demand transparency about how these additional funds are being used and insist that any further increases should be discussed with those who bear this financial burden – us architects.”

Demand for Transparency: Architects are increasingly calling for transparency in how the additional funds generated from fee increases are utilised. They want a clearer understanding of how their contributions are benefiting the profession and where the investments are being made. As Boyle passionately advocates, “It’s time for ARB to stop treating us as mere sources of income and go back to basics.” 

Finding Common Ground

In navigating this complex issue, it is crucial for architects and the ARB to find common ground. Both sides share the goal of preserving the integrity of the ‘architect’ title and ensuring that the profession remains robust and competitive in a rapidly changing world.

To alleviate tension between Architects and the ARB, they must engage in open dialogue and collaboration. By actively involving more architects in discussions about fee increases and providing transparent information about how their contributions are being utilised, the ARB can address concerns while safeguarding the profession’s future.

As the debate continues, most or all will renew their registration as it is the only way to hold the title of Architect, but moving forward the industry should be hopeful that a balanced solution will emerge, one that ensures the financial sustainability of the ARB while alleviating the immediate financial concerns of its practitioners. Achieving this balance will be essential for the continued success and vitality of the architecture profession in the UK.

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