Defending in Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) proceedings

When professionals become a member of Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) they are expected to comply with the relevant professional standards rules and regulations. RICS Rules of Conduct for Members are mandatory for all RICS professionals, students and trainees regardless of their geographic location or sector of practice. RICS Rules of Conduct for Firms are mandatory for all RICS regulated firms. Failure to comply with the Rules may give rise to disciplinary proceedings.
 

These frequently asked questions aim to answer some of the common queries asked by members and firms when they are faced with a disciplinary investigation by RICS.

The answers provided do not incorporate specific nuance of individual cases. If you are facing a disciplinary investigation by RICS, it is important to seek tailored advice at the earliest opportunity. This will ensure the best possible outcome in the circumstances. 

What sort of complaints do RICS investigate?

RICS investigate a wide range of complaints, ranging from breaches of professional standards and Rules of Conduct. Complaints can be made about professional work but also conduct that has occurred in a member’s personal life as even though the conduct may occur outside of professional life it could bring the profession into disrepute. For example, RICS will investigate conduct where a member has been charged or convicted with an offence that could result in a custodial sentence.  

 

Do I need to refer concerns about my own or my Firm’s conduct to RICS?

The Bye Laws specify the situations in which reports must be made to RICS, including for certain breaches of RICS rules and regulations as well as following charge or conviction for certain criminal offences. The RICS guidance on speaking up on the duty to report states that professional judgment must be used to determine whether to report concerns to RICS. If you are in any doubt about whether a report should be made, it is best to seek advice.

 

What does the investigation involve?

When RICS receives a complaint or information that may suggest a breach of standards or rules, an investigation will be commenced and overseen by RICS Head of Regulation. They will inform the member of the allegation, provide copies of any documentation and invite the Member or Firm to provide a response within 28 days. This is a crucial opportunity for the member or Firm to put forward an account, defence or other explanation to what is alleged. Failure to engage properly at this stage can mean that a case will pass through to a hearing when that might have otherwise been avoided.

 

Am I required to provide documents/information?

There is an expectation in the Rules of Conduct for Members and Firms that members and Firms provide information and cooperate fully with RICS during an investigation. Any response made at this stage may be shared with the person who raised the complaint and this may be a relevant factor in deciding how much information or documentation to provide. Where RICS request information or documentation as part of a disciplinary investigation, careful consideration needs to be given as to what material is provided, whether there might be any reason to withhold that information for example reasons of confidentiality. It might also be necessary to seek an undertaking from RICS not to provide a response to the complaint to the complainant.

 

What interim measures can be taken?

Where a Disciplinary Panel is satisfied that it is necessary for the protection of the public, otherwise in the public interest or the interest of the Member, they may suspend a Member’s registration with RICS or impose conditions on membership for a period not exceeding 18 months, on an interim basis prior to any disciplinary outcome being imposed.

Members will be given notice where RICS intend to apply for interim suspension or conditions and afforded an opportunity to make representations. Although interim measure applications are usually dealt with in private, if an interim suspension or conditions order is granted by the Panel, then that will be published on the RICS website. 

 

What happens once an investigation is complete?

Once an investigation is complete, the Head of Regulation will decide whether there is a realistic prospect of establishing if the member is liable to disciplinary action. If so, they will also decide whether it is in the public interest for RICS to take disciplinary proceedings.

 

What outcomes are available at the investigation stage?

If the Head of Regulation concludes that there are insufficient prospects of establishing liability to disciplinary action the case will be closed. Where the Head of Regulation decides that RICS should institute disciplinary proceedings, they can decide to:

  • Take no further action
  • Impose a fixed penalty
  • Impose a regulatory compliance order
  • Refer the case to a Single Member of the Regulatory Tribunal or
  • Refer the case to a Disciplinary Panel

 

How are referred cases dealt with?

Generally, Head of Regulation will refer serious cases to a Disciplinary Panel hearing and refer more minor cases to a Single Member of the Tribunal where the Member has:

  • Failed to comply with CPD requirements for a third or subsequent time
  • Has committed a criminal offence which means they may be liable to disciplinary action
  • Has expressed a wish to withdraw from RICS membership but the Head of Regulation considers that the case is sufficiently serious to merit expulsion or de-registration or
  • Where there is no substantial dispute of fact and the public interest does not require a hearing and the case is unlikely to result in expulsion or removal of registration. 

Under RICS Regulatory Tribunal Rules, it is presumed that cases referred to a Single Member of the Tribunal will take place on the papers, but members can request an oral hearing.

 

Is it possible to avoid a hearing?

Some members seek to withdraw from RICS membership once a disciplinary investigation has commenced, particularly if they are close to retirement.  It is unusual for RICS to allow a member to resign their membership once disciplinary proceedings have commenced. However, the Head of Regulation does have discretion under the Bye Laws to permit this., but it will only be considered in exceptional cases. Firms on the other hand remain liable to disciplinary action even where one or more Partners or Directions have joined or left the Firm since the time of any alleged default which is the subject of disciplinary action.

Alternatively, it may be possible to agree to a Regulatory Compliance Order which is like a consent order agreed by both parties, which sets out the details of the complaint and results in either a caution, reprimand, undertakings as to future conduct, conditions of membership or registration with an agreement to pay RICS’ costs.

 

Do I need to attend the hearing?

Those subject to the Disciplinary Process are not required to attend the hearing. However, a decision can be made in their absence and it is rare for the outcome not to be improved by attending to put forward an explanation even where wrongdoing is admitted. Members have the right to appear in person and have representation from a lawyer or a representative of a professional organisation. Other people may be able to assist, but this is at the discretion of the Panel.  

 

What sanctions can be imposed?

The following sanctions are available to the Disciplinary Panel where a Member of Firm is liable to disciplinary action and the facts of the complaint are well founded:

  • A caution
  • Reprimand
  • Undertakings as to future conduct
  • Fines
  • Conditions on the Firm’s continued registration or Member’s continued membership of RICS
  • Expulsion of the member or removal of the Firm’s registration from RICS

 

Will I be liable to costs?

The Rules provide that a Panel can make an order for costs against the regulated member as it considers fair and reasonable but costs orders can also be made against RICS. The prospect of paying RICS’ costs if they are successful in bringing a disciplinary case is something that ought to be considered throughout the case, particularly alongside the merits of successfully defending the case and what strategy to adopt.   

 

Is there a right of appeal?

It may be possible to appeal. Applications to appeal a decision or sanction of the Disciplinary Panel must be made within 28 days of RICS serving the decision on the Member or Firm.

 

Is the decision of the Disciplinary Panel made public?

The Disciplinary Panel’s record of decision will be published following the expiry of the appeal.

 

Nicola Hill

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