Architect removed from register for two years

Simon Donohue

A Manchester architect has been suspended from the register of the profession's governing board for two years after a finding of "unacceptable professional conduct".

Faheem Aftab was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and suspended from the Register of Architects for two years at a hearing of the Architects Registration Board's Professional Conduct Committee.

His case had been referred back to the PCC following an earlier hearing, so that the committee could reconsider whether he had made a dishonest statement to the ARB in respect of his insurance arrangements.

He had previously been found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct in relation to five other allegations arising from a domestic project he undertook through his firm A-Cube Architects, now in liquidation.

These allegations were that he had acted in a manner inconsistent with his professional obligations in respect of the informal and undocumented appointment of the builders; had offered a service that combined consulting services and architectural services without explaining that no independent architectural function could therefore be provided; had failed to provide adequate competence and resources for the project; had failed to provide sufficient terms of engagement; and had failed to carry out works without undue delay and within agreed cost limits.

A-Cube Architects was appointed to provide architectural services by a long-standing friend and his fiancée relating to major extension works to what was to be their matrimonial home.

There were no terms of appointment in place and the only contractor's tender returned was vastly in excess of the clients' budget.

To reduce costs, Aftab suggested using building workers he had worked with previously, and who would work on a project of his and the complainants' project at the same time.

He would pay them for both projects and recharge the complainants the cost. He would take payments from them, and pay on their behalf. No contract was ever put in place.

The committee heard that t

here were numerous problems with the works, including inappropriate behaviour by workmen, damage to a neighbouring property, breaches of Building Regulations, sub-standard work, incorrect specification and a general lack of progress.

The workmen had threatened to walk off site because they were not being paid by Aftab or his company, resulting in the complainants having to pay them direct to ensure work continued.

When the complainants refused to pay A-Cube any more money until a full breakdown of costs and receipts had been provided, A-Cube issued County Court proceedings.

A-Cube's claim was struck out, and judgment entered for the complainants on their counter-claim, for a figure, later agreed by the liquidator and put into a consent order but never paid, of £129,000.

After the complainants complained to the Architects Registration Board, ARB enquired about the adequacy of Mr Aftab's professional indemnity insurance.

Aftab sent to ARB a copy of his policy and stated that he had properly notified his insurers of the claim, and that it would be covered.

He told ARB that insurers were dealing with the claim, jointly with A-Cube's liquidators, and that he understood the insurers were going to cover any successful claim against A-Cube.

In fact, the Committee heard, the insurers had written to A-Cube some 18 months earlier, declining insurance for this project on the grounds of misrepresentation and non-disclosure of the potential claim.

Because A-Cube insurance was ineffective, and the firm was in liquidation, Aftab's clients have been unable to, and are unlikely to, recover any of the £129,000 judgment in their favour.

Aftab attended the hearing and denied that he had dishonestly misrepresented to ARB the true position of his professional indemnity insurance cover, being of the belief that he was being asked a question concerning the liquidation of his company.

The PCC found that while Aftab was guilty of unacceptable professional conduct in respect of his misrepresentation and on any objective view had acted without integrity, it also accepted that at the time he did not act dishonestly, as in his own mind he did not have dishonest intent as he genuinely believed that ultimately the insurance company would see what he regarded as its error and pay out.

Because of this, the PCC found that he had not been dishonest.

The Committee considered all of the mitigating factors in the case, including Aftab's previously unblemished record; his admission of all but one of the allegations; the acceptance of his failings; his expressions of regret and remorse toward his former clients; that he had not benefited financially from the conduct complained of but, on the contrary, had suffered financially as a result of his firm's liquidation; and that Aftab is passionately committed to architecture, and his successful career had been blighted or extinguished by this case, and the whole business had been prompted by a desire to assist long standing friends.

However, the committee decided that the findings of unacceptable professional conduct were very serious, stating: "In this case we have noted the enormous impact on the client.

"The architect failed to pay heed to the most basic of boundaries; was he the architect, was he the contractor, was he neither?

"Ultimately he ceased to be involved and sued the client for money he said was outstanding.

"The clients have recovered nothing of their enormous loss, and nor will they. These are serious matters indeed."

In the circumstances the PCC considered that it would be inappropriate to impose anything less than the maximum two year suspension possible.

A-Cube entered into voluntary creditors liquidation in December 2010.

Aftab, together with his core team members, joined Leach Rhodes Walker after the closure of A-Cube and is understood to have remained with the company until December 2012.

Insolvency practitioners John Sallabank and Paul Boyle of Harrisons were appointed official liquidator to A-Cube in November, 2010.

A-Cube was established in 2002 and was based on Sparkle Street behind Piccadilly Station.

Completed projects included the balcony extension to the Dukes 92 bar in Manchester's Castlefield area and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Loreto College in Hulme, also in Manchester.

Place North West attempted to contact Faheem Aftab for comment.

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