You may have already read the new RICS Rules of Conduct. But how much thought have you given to how you will apply them?
The good thing is that the new rules can be readily integrated into your professional and personal lives, as well as helping you follow other key RICS guidance and ethical standards; this article will refer to some English laws in relation to the Rules of Conduct, but candidates in other regions may want to refer to equivalent local legislation.
RICS APC candidates submitting for assessment will now be assessed on the basis of the new Rules of Conduct. This should be reflected in any knowledge they demonstrate at level 1 and examples they share at levels 2 and 3 in their summary of experience. The rules will also be tested in an updated professionalism module and test.
The Rules of Conduct are a function of the RICS Royal Charter, which aims to maintain the usefulness of the profession for the public advantage. All members, as defined in bye-law 5.1, and RICS-regulated firms must adhere to the rules. These apply globally, although they are designed to complement national legislation and legal requirements.
The new Rules of Conduct have been effective since 2 February 2022. They replace the former RICS Rules of Conduct for firms and for members, and the five global professional and ethical standards. They were published to provide a simpler structure for members' and firms' behaviours and professional practice, supported by clear rules and with a new emphasis on diversity and inclusion, data and technology, and sustainability.
The rules provide a framework for ethical decision-making, allowing members to exercise their professional judgement when applying them in practice. This is reflected in the way that RICS Regulation is likely to deal with breaches of the rules.
Serious breaches will lead to disciplinary action; however, minor breaches should generally be dealt with through self-corrective action or firms improving the way they operate, prompted and supported by RICS Regulation. Every firm and member should be able to justify their actions and be able to explain the approach they took, even if they needed to depart from an example behaviour.
'Serious breaches will lead to disciplinary action'
Each of the five rules is supported by example behaviours, in the context of key RICS guidance and UK legislation.
Rule 1: Members and firms must be honest, act with integrity and comply with their professional obligations, including obligations to RICS.
RICS members should not mislead others by their actions or omissions.
For example, in agency work surveyors should not give false information, or fail to provide material information. This is a legal requirement under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
All surveyors need to consider how to deal with gifts, hospitality and bribery, in line with the Bribery Act 2010, as well as money laundering, under the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Amendment) Regulations 2019. The current edition of Countering bribery and corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing, RICS professional statement, also covers these issues.
Two other key ethical issues under this rule include conflicts of interest, as covered in the current edition of Conflicts of interest, RICS professional statement, and client money handling, as in the current edition of Client money handling, RICS professional statement, and the organisation's Client Money Protection scheme.
Rule 2: Members and firms must maintain their professional competence and ensure that services are provided by competent individuals who have the necessary expertise.
This relates to acting as a competent, skilled and experienced surveyor. Firms and individuals are required to ensure work is undertaken competently, and that they maintain current knowledge through structured CPD.
Surveyors should also reflect on the impact of their advice, and ensure that any subcontracted work is performed by sufficiently competent individuals or firms.
Rule 3: Members and firms must provide good-quality and diligent service.
Clients should receive a high standard of service, which members and firms should ensure by understanding their needs and objectives. These should be defined in clear terms of engagement and scopes of service.
If any terms are changed during the course of an instruction – for instance, a special assumption is agreed in a valuation after inspection – then these need to be recorded in amended terms of engagement.
Surveyors also need to ensure that they work diligently and to timescales agreed with clients, providing all material information and communicating clearly.
Most importantly, surveyors must always keep clear written records of instructions, creating an audit trail in the event of a future complaint or the need to refer back to the file. This also helps to maintain high levels of quality assurance, which can be monitored by adopting ISO 9001.
Rule 3 also concerns the use of technology and data protection under the Data Protection Act 2018. Surveyors need to minimise harm and deliver balanced benefits to clients, being aware of the risks of their actions and the technology they use. This means that while clearly surveyors have an obligation to their clients, if their clients are requesting they behave in an inappropriate way in order to get a result for their benefit, this needs to be called out and surveyors will need to be prepared to challenge this.
Rule 4: Members and firms must treat others with respect and encourage diversity and inclusion.
This rule places a new emphasis on diversity and inclusion, reflecting the provisions of and protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 in England.
Rule 5: Members and firms must act in the public interest, take responsibility for their actions, and act to prevent harm and maintain public confidence in the profession.
The final rule relates to members speaking out and taking responsibility for their own actions. This in particular includes the way they handle complaints in line with the current edition of Complaints handling, RICS guidance note, and the requirements for regulated firms to have an approved redress mechanism such as those set out by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).
Mandatory professional obligations for members and for firms are then set out in Appendix A of the rules. These include requirements for CPD, professional indemnity insurance, complaints handling, sole principal arrangements, and cooperation with and regulation by RICS.
The rules are supported by the RICS decision tree, which can be downloaded from the Rules of Conduct homepage. This connects the ethical, professional and moral requirements for RICS members, providing a decision-making framework to deal with even the most testing of ethical dilemmas.
RICS has published 12 case studies on the home page that demonstrate how to apply the new Rules of Conduct in a variety of different scenarios.
These include accidentally sending confidential client data to a competitor, acting against a charity tenant, acting for a developer on a contentious project, advising on balancing sustainability and cost for a client carrying out renovations, and accepting new types of work outside your discipline.