Based on evidence which RICS had established during an extensive investigation, the panel found the charges of professional misconduct proven and imposed the strongest available regulatory action – expulsion from RICS membership and the removal of the firm from the Register of Regulated Firms. The Panel imposed the expulsion of the estate agency and its director with immediate effect.
RICS says this case demonstrates its commitment to taking robust regulatory action to uphold standards, to protect consumers and to maintain public confidence in the profession.
The findings of the Panel have now been published and can be found here.
Serious themes about this case have understandably drawn interest and the behaviours of this former member have raised significant concerns. To ensure a fair and just process – and to avoid a risk of potentially prejudicing the integrity of cases before the regulatory tribunal – RICS is often limited in what we can say publicly pre-hearing. However, given the nature of the case, the organisation is keen help contextualise RICS’ decisions to date and to explain the steps we are already taking to strengthen our regulatory approach in the public interest.
Overseen by the Standards and Regulation Board (SRB), the independent regulator of the profession operating within RICS, they work within a regulatory framework which is comparable with other professional regulators operating in the UK. They actively scrutinise their systems, processes and framework to ensure that they can strengthen trust in the profession alongside meeting the principles of good regulation. Relevant to this case, some areas they are already working on include:
+ continuously reviewing cases to ensure that RICS’ approach maintains the public interest, and to note any lessons that can be learned and applied to enhance our effectiveness. They are working with the new Chair of SRB, Nigel Clarke, to review in detail the issues which have arisen on this specific case
+ reviewing communications about how they regulate, being clearer about what we do as a regulator, and what they are unable to do – ensuring they can signpost individuals to the right agencies to provide support
+ actively recruiting a new consumer advisory group, which will help them mitigate the gaps within the consumer protection landscape
+ the enhanced controls that they have already implemented around those entering RICS membership
+ leading a comprehensive review of RICS’ entry and assessment processes in relation to all grades of RICS membership, including commissioning external expertise to ensure their control framework is fit for purpose
+ they continue to implement the recommendations of the review of PII led by the SRB and reminding regulated firms of the professional requirement to hold indemnity insurance
+ reviewing the depth of our working relationships with other regulators, statutory agencies and with law enforcement so that intelligence can be swiftly and effectively shared, and continuing to support law enforcement in pursuing criminal prosecutions in parallel to their own regulatory interventions
+ supporting a comprehensive review of RICS’ Home Survey Standard to ensure it continues to maintain its prominence and that those professionals applying the standard are highly competent
+ issuing regular Practice Alerts in response to cases that highlight potential issues or identify areas of regulatory risk – they did so in relation to the underlying concerns raised in this case to remind members of their obligations to ensure only qualified and registered surveyors carry out Home Surveys
RICS’ regulatory design emphasises the use of ‘proactive assurance’ through which we work closely with those external agencies in the UK with specific statutory powers – such as Companies House, the Insolvency Service, Action Fraud, the Police, HM Courts and Tribunals Service and Trading Standards. They also work very closely with the regulators of other professions to share information and understand areas of key regulatory development and risk. During the investigation of this case, they worked with relevant agencies, and have shared the Disciplinary Panel’s decision to ensure they have up to date information on the regulatory action they have taken.
The vast majority of RICS members are professional and the number of RICS members who are subject to disciplinary proceedings is very small. Many members share intelligence with them which helps RICS take a range of proportionate regulatory actions – such as contacting members to provide advice, providing training and guidance, sharing information with other regulators, undertaking practice visits to registered firms, reviewing client money protection activities and ensuring compliance with Continuing Professional Development requirements.
All consumers who have been impacted, in this case and others, by those small number of members who fail to uphold RICS professional standards do, of course, have their profound sympathy.
As for most UK professional regulators, they do not have the power to award compensation to consumers or other parties who may be impacted by a member’s misconduct, incompetence or where a Court has decided that they have acted negligently. Legal avenues are available through the Courts, ADR providers, a range of tribunals and Ombudsman services by which consumers can seek redress. In a number of situations, as RICS did extensively on this specific case, they provide detailed guidance and advice to complainants and consumers helping to identify and signpost the appropriate avenues and agencies to pursue redress and gain support.
The strategy and operational work of the RICS Standards and Regulation Directorates is overseen by the Standards and Regulation Board. This Board is and will be instrumental in developing those areas where they are looking to improve their entire regulatory framework. Recruitment to the SRB is currently underway.