Dispute resolution

Kate Taylor asks what skills are needed to deal with, and avoid, conflict?

APC-SeriesConflict avoidance and dispute resolution is a mandatory competency to level 1. This means that all surveyors wishing to become chartered surveyors – no matter what their area of practice – will be declaring competence to level 1. 

This is because this area is a general professional skill but it also has more specific application within the property pathways of valuation, commercial property and residential.

As a result, it is not unusual to see a candidate with relevant experience declaring conflict avoidance competency to level 2 or level 3. This is one reason the competency is included in both the commercial and residential APC Quick Start Revision Guides I have written.

This is an important area for a surveyor, with crossover into any competencies where negotiations may fail – as well as rules, ethics and professional practice.

The avoidance of conflicts of interest is also often included by both candidates and assessors in this competency and this has recently become a red-hot topic thanks to the publication of the new global RICS Professional Statement (mandatory application) Conflicts of Interest (March 2017). This ethical approach has become more explicit and is a key part of the RICS brand. As such, assessors will be keen to ensure that candidates understand its importance.

Level 1

All RICS APC candidates declare conflict avoidance to level 1. The RICS APC Requirements and Competencies Guide in the generic description focuses on the avoidance of conflict between parties and dispute resolution.

Most candidate experience records will also refer to complaints-handling procedures and avoiding conflicts of interest. Candidates must ensure familiarity with the RICS rules on complaints handling as well as their employer’s policy and, of course, the new Professional Statement – Conflicts of Interest – mentioned above. This is central to one of the five global ethical standards: acting with integrity. Identifying and managing conflicts of interest is a key part of the risk management of professional property functions.

At level 1, candidates must ensure that they have researched all the appropriate methods of dispute resolution relevant to their area of practice, be able to provide a quick overview of all of them and be able to list them confidently.

I would expect a candidate declaring landlord and tenant to have a good understanding of arbitration, independent expert determination and PACT (professional arbitration on court terms). I would expect a candidate declaring local taxation to have a good understanding of the difference between advocate and expert witness; and a residential candidate to have a good understanding of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, service charge dispute mechanisms, tenancy deposit dispute resolution and the RICS’ Neighbour Dispute Service.

Don’t forget the common-sense approach of good negotiation and communication techniques to help avoid conflict. Questions are often asked about early‑stage dispute resolution approaches – such as mediation – as success at an early stage can save your client a lot of time and money.

Unfortunately, as the proliferation of property case law demonstrates, this area can evolve into litigation with high stakes and it is important to show an understanding of basic legal principles, such as the hierarchy of the courts and the difference between primary and secondary legislation.

Level 2

A candidate declaring level 2 competence in conflict avoidance needs to have moved beyond knowledge and have evidence of applying that knowledge in specific experience examples.

This will be in an area relevant to their area of practice and usually involves the early stages of dispute resolution, such as creating a statement of case in local taxation or gathering together the evidence to support their client’s case in other forms of dispute resolution.

Level 2 has been applied to handling complaints at the first and second stages of a complaints handling policy.

It is relatively rare to see a candidate managing a declared conflict of interest as this is an important ethical area, with many potential pitfalls at assessment.

I do like to check that any candidates involved in loan security valuation have carried out the conflict of interest checks described by Valuation Practice Global Application (VPGA) 2 – Valuation for Secured Lending.

Level 3

I have had the pleasure of assessing a few candidates at level 3 conflict avoidance on residential pathway. These candidates declared substantive experience detailing complex reasoned advice to client on Leasehold Valuation Tribunal cases relating to leasehold enfranchisement, boundary disputes and a Party Wall etc. Act dispute.

Level 3 is difficult in this competency as it will involve some legal duties and complex technical arguments not often trusted to graduate surveyors. The diversity of routes to APC has meant that we see more experienced candidates, some of whom have the required depth and breadth in conflict avoidance. This has led to an increase in the competency being declared at the higher levels by public sector and residential candidates. As an ex-public sector assessor/chairperson who spent much time in tribunal, I welcome the challenge…


Level 1

  • What is alternative dispute resolution?
  • What is the RICS guidance in this area?
  • Describe the most regularly used conflict-avoidance mechanism in your area of practice.

Level 2
(in relation to specific examples)

  • Talk me through the information-gathering process for tribunal.
  • How did you minimise areas of disagreement at the meeting?

Level 3

  • Why did you advise your client that the selected dispute resolution mechanism was the best choice?
  • Describe your advice to the tribunal acting as an expert witness.

*Don’t assume that the questions given here will be asked at an APC assessment. Assessors will focus on and pose questions on the basis of the candidate’s declared competencies, pathway guide requirements, up-to-date developed knowledge base and the examples provided in their summary of experience, etc.


Be brave and trust your candidate (under appropriate supervision) to confront and deal with any complaints. Make sure they are aware of the employers’ complaints-handling policy.

Ask them questions during day-to-day casework about how they would handle the case if it ended up in court. Ensure that they understand the importance of the evidence base and audit trail.


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Kate Taylor FRICS is an APC chair and a DeLever APC consultant trainer. Follow Kate Taylor and Jon Lever on Twitter: @katetay73593006 and @deleverapc

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