Choosing a Certification Body

By FredrickHobbs

Some organisations believe that all certification bodies are the same. However, the Federation of Small Business (FSB) members, as well as countless other businesses across the country, have realised this isn’t true, finding out at their peril.

The FSB reported that members were being targeted by a certification body which said all the right things; they were cheap, and could provide certification quickly. Sadly, organisations that went ahead with this certification body subsequently found their certificates worthless, as the certification body in question wasn’t UKAS accredited, despite previous warnings:

“If a small business chooses to take the certification route we are strongly in favour that they select a certification body carrying UKAS accreditation. I commit the Federation to make known the importance of UKAS accreditation and the value, security and confidence it brings to small business.”
Ian Handford, Chairman, FSB, February 2001

What is unaccredited certification?

The reality is that any organisation can set itself up as a Certification Body. The question is, are they properly regulated? The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the only Government recognised body in the UK for the regulation of ISO certification services. UKAS accredited bodies can demonstrate that they meet standards too! It’s also your assurance of their objectivity and impartiality.

You get what you pay for…

Using an unaccredited firm can be tempting because they will typically cost much less. However, this is where the ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ adage rings true. The lack of regulation means you’ll receive the bare minimum, often having everything done for you. This might seem helpful but ask yourself this simple question; who knows more about your business than you? In reality, you’ll simply be paying for a certificate which is worth about as much as the paper it’s printed on.

Because our Government backs UKAS as the UK’s sole National Accreditation Body (NAB), it also means that anyone with certification to standards like ISO 9001 or ISO 14001 must be certified via a UKAS accredited certification body to be valid for public sector tenders.

It’s not just Government that recognises UKAS accreditation either, most large supply chains will insist upon it in order to ensure continuity. Sadly, many small businesses have tendered for work only to find that their certification wasn’t recognised. Unfortunately, there is no legal requirement to become accredited by UKAS, so organisations could end up with worthless certification and no recourse for compensation.

Many professional bodies, including the Chartered Quality Institute (CQI) warn that using an unaccredited Certification Body could prove costly:

“Certificates issued by such a certification body may well not be recognised by your customers as valid for the purpose of qualifying you as a supplier.”
Chartered Quality Institute website, August 2010

How do I know I’m using a UKAS Accredited Body?

It’s surprisingly easy to check if the organisation you are thinking of using is UKAS accredited. Firstly, check to see if they are authorised to use the coveted ‘Crown and Tick’ logo to demonstrate their status. You can also check by asking for their accreditation number and checking it on the UKAS website.

Finally, when comparing certification bodies, as well as checking their status, it’s also important to make sure you’re getting the right deal. For example, be sure to check their policy on the following:

Do they provide consultancy?

Accredited certification bodies cannot provide consultation, as this would affect their impartiality. The good news is, in our experience, true consultancy isn’t required for most organisations. By having a champion co-ordinating the implementation of an ISO standard within your organisation, a little time is all that’s needed to successfully achieve certification and influence the rest of the workforce.

Do they provide quality manuals?

Again, accredited certification bodies cannot write your manuals. By doing everything for you, this vastly decreases the benefit of implementing the standard, as there is no buy-in from yourself. No outsider knows your business as well as you do, which is why you should be responsible for it.

Are there hidden costs?

The deal from an unaccredited certification body may seem good at first, but be sure to check any hidden and ongoing costs. This can include travel fees, edits to your documentation and registration fees. And remember, by not using a UKAS accredited certification body, it could cost you more in the long run.

What are the timescales?

Do the timescales sound too good to be true? With some unaccredited certification bodies promising certification within 30 days, it’s worth questioning how this can be achieved. Are you simply given a template that they give all of their other clients? Does the 30 days include time invested by you?