The Difference Between UKAS and Non-UKAS Certification

Difference between UKAS and Non-UKAS Certification

We have recently seen an increase in organisations claiming they have achieved “certification” to various International or ISO Standards such as ISO9001 Quality, ISO14001 Environmental, ISO 27001 Information Security or ISO45001 Occupational Health & Safety amongst others. At RKMS we regularly receive calls from companies that have genuinely thought they had achieved a certification but to find their new certification has been rejected by a client during the tendering process. We know how devastating and costly this can be for businesses and as such are releasing this information in an attempt to try and protect UK businesses.

Difference Between UKAS and Non-UKAS Certification

While the low cost of obtaining non-UKAS ISO certification may seem tempting to some businesses, it isn’t long after that many discover the certification is effectively useless. The difference between UKAS and non-UKAS certification often results in the latter having a lack of recognition outside of certain situations. The low cost of non-UKAS certification can very quickly translate to lost revenue for a business.

It is important that those seeking to obtain ISO certification understand the key differences between UKAS and non-UKAS certification. it is also important to understand how these differences can have an impact on your bottom line. 

What is also becoming more prevalent is longer contractual tie in periods, a UKAS accredited Certification Body HAS to allow you to move to another CB providing you have paid your subscriptions to date, many non UKAS organisations are charging a higher day rate for assessment and putting 10 year contracts in place meaning your “certification” may not only be worthless but could cost far more than a bone fide certification!

Accreditation Bodies

The UK Accreditation Service, or UKAS for short, is the only accreditation body officially recognised by the British Government. Operating under the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, UKAS is responsible for ensuring that any organisation offering ISO certification in their name conforms to strict standards. Any organisation that offers UKAS certification must have its processes regularly vetted to ensure that they meet ISO requirements.

There is no accrediting body for non-UKAS certification. Many of the businesses offering non-UKAS certification design their own certification processes, and the lack of oversight quite often results in them being slow to change their processes when ISO standards change. This is because there is often very little incentive for them to do so. The lack of accrediting body can also mean that many of these businesses are not really checking to see whether a company meets ISO standards, and thus the certification will hold no value.

Guidance from https://www.gov.uk/guidance/conformity-assessment-and-accreditation

BEIS is aware that UK certification bodies and representative associations are concerned at the increase in the number of organisations offering certification when they are not accredited to do so.

BEIS has advised certification representative organisations in the UK that:

  • the only ‘authoritative statement’ of competence, that has public authority status – providing the last level of control in the conformity assessment chain – is from the UK’s sole national accreditation body, UKAS
  • any organisation that suggests it is accredited in the sense of the Regulation on accreditation and market surveillance (765/2008) as it has effect in Great Britain or Regulation (EC) 765/2008 in Northern Ireland when they are not, may be guilty of an offence under the Busines Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 (Statutory Instrument 2008/1276)
  • certification bodies or representative organisations should refer these cases to trading standards or UKAS in the first instance

Differences in the Certification Process

Any organisation that offers certification in the name of UKAS must have its processes regularly vetted. Obtaining initial UKAS accreditation is a lengthy and arduous process. Keeping hold of UKAS accreditation is even tougher. This is because UKAS wants to ensure that any assessment bodies that operate in their name are competent enough to assess businesses to ensure that they meet ISO standards.

Any UKAS accredited organisation must employ competent assessors and have technical experts ‘on hand’. This is to help ensure that any certification provided by these bodies means something. It guarantees that an industry professional has determined that a company does, indeed, meet ISO standards.

Non-UKAS certification providers will come up with their own certification processes. They are under absolutely no obligation to ensure that they are genuinely assessing businesses to ISO standards. In fact, many are not. Constant changes in ISO standards can make it tough for non-UKAS certification providers to adapt their processes quickly. In many cases, there is no financial incentive to do so. Therefore, many of these certification providers may be offering ISO certification to old standards. This means the certificate is worthless.

Non-UKAS certification providers do not have any obligation to employ competent assessors or technical experts. In fact, many do not. Their certification process may often be nothing more than a few checkboxes. This is how these certification providers are able to offer their services so cheaply and quickly. There have been several cases where these organisations have been successfully prosecuted by Trading Standards.

Impartiality

A key provision for obtaining UKAS accreditation is impartiality. Any accredited ISO 9001 consulting organisation must adhere to strict guidelines on the advice that they are able to offer to their clients. UKAS prohibits any assessment organisation from receiving accreditation if they also offer consultancy services. As a result, any accredited body is solely an assessor. While they may be able to provide transparent advice for companies wishing to meet ISO standards, these organisations are not permitted to offer any paid advice outside of the assessment services that they offer.

Non-UKAS certification providers do not have to meet the same standards. In fact, offering consultation is often a key part of their business model. This can create a conflict of interest where the certification provider is unwilling to offer their certification unless the business they are working with is willing to pay for their expensive consultation services. While the initial cost of obtaining the certification may be cheap, the long-term costs may end up becoming rather extravagant.

Recognition of the Certification

Many businesses obtain certification because their industry requires it. Demonstrating that a business conforms to ISO standards may often form a key part of the tendering or sales process. We often come across organisations that inadvertently engaged with a non UKAS body and have been rejected form the tendering process.

If businesses hold a non-UKAS certification instead, they will often find themselves struggling to make sales. Quite often, these businesses may be excluded from any tendering process. When they contact potential clients directly, they may struggle to receive a response. This is because businesses that work with non-UKAS certification holders are taking a huge risk. If the businesses that they work with do not meet ISO standards, then it could mean huge financial penalties and a massive reputation hit if something goes wrong. 

It should also be noted that many businesses that seek non-UKAS certification do so in order to save money. Other companies recognise this. They often feel that businesses cutting costs in such an important area are likely to be going through strict cost-cutting elsewhere too. This means that they may not be receiving the best service possible. 

Any business holding non-UKAS certification that is able to make headway in the sales or tendering process may be required to demonstrate that their business meets ISO standards in other ways. This, quite often, means a costly process. In fact, this process can quite often cost more than applying for UKAS certification in the first place.

UKAS Certification Can Increase Business Profitability

While the lower upfront costs of applying for non-UKAS certification may be tempting, in the long run, it could end up costing businesses a significant amount of money.

In the long run, businesses that obtain UKAS certification are more profitable, and they grow far quicker. This is because they have demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that their business operations meet international standards. Clients enjoy this and, in many cases, will pay more for services that have been backed by UKAS.

If you are looking to obtain certification that your business meets ISO standards, make the right decision. Only work with UKAS-accredited certificate providers. It will only benefit your company in the long term. It is one of the best investments you can make in your business.

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