Many businesses get ISO certified only to regret it. Why? Because they got certified by a certification body that wasn’t UKAS accredited.
Many organisations enter onto their ISO certification journey with just a little knowledge of what ISO certification is but with big hopes that it will open doors otherwise closed to them, for example in tendering for work. Sadly, many of those businesses find those doors remain shut because they didn’t think to check that their certification is UKAS accredited.
In this article we’ll explain what UKAS is and why it’s so important.
It’s also worth noting that the UK government has recently updated its policy on conformity assessment and accreditation in the UK. They are throwing their weight behind promoting the significance of UKAS. Businesses seeking ISO certification should be mindful of the importance of UKAS accredited certification.
Who is UKAS?
UKAS is the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. They have been appointed by the government as the only body authorised to assess the capability and competence of organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services.
In other words, UKAS audits certification bodies like Alcumus ISOQAR to ensure we are competent and meeting the highest standards. Indeed, we are thoroughly audited for several weeks every year by UKAS inspectors who check to ensure we are maintaining compliance. They check us to ensure that the audits we conduct on other organisations meet the necessary standard. (In fact, UKAS accredited certification bodies must meet the ISO 17021 standard for conformity assessment). It’s extremely rigorous and it’s why UKAS accredited bodies like ISOQAR have large technical compliance teams checking on the work of other colleagues in the audit team and even the sales teams.
So, if you choose a UKAS accredited certification body to audit your business, you know you will undergo a rigorous and competent audit process that meets the highest international standards.
No regulatory body
Many industries have regulatory bodies. But there is no such entity for certification bodies. In other words, anyone can set themselves up as a so-called ‘certification body’ and issue their own ISO certificates. Consequently, there are many self-styled certification bodies who promote their ISO certification service but which are not UKAS accredited.
How do I know if they are UKAS accredited?
When you go onto your favourite search engine and look for certification bodies, you’ll get many results. It is of course illegal for a certification body to claim to be UKAS accredited when they aren’t and to be fair, very few do, but it’s easy to be misled. Fortunately, it’s easy to check. Go to the UKAS website and enter the name to see if they are accredited.
Why is UKAS so important?
If you ask a certification body whether they are UKAS accredited or not and find out that they aren’t, they may tell you that it’s not important. But it is. Here’s why:
Many of the bodies that give you unaccredited certificates will also advise you on the implementation of the management system. They are acting as consultants. In essence, when they come to certify you, they are marking their own homework - there is clearly a conflict of interest and they could be predisposed to giving you an easy ride on the audit.
It helps you improve
You may think that getting an easy ride at an audit is a good thing. But when auditors from UKAS accredited certification bodies find non-conformances, raise improvement requests and generally point out areas for improvement, they are helping you to improve your business. It’s one of the great benefits of independent audits.
It’s for this reason that UKAS accredited certification bodies are not allowed to provide ISO consultancy services to businesses. With a UKAS accredited certification body you will undergo a fair and impartial audit - which really matters to the outside world when they judge the validity of your certificate.
You qualify for more tender opportunities
Many businesses get ISO certification because they need it to tender for work, or to help them tender for work in the future. In nearly all tendering exercises where ISO certification is required, it needs to be UKAS accredited. Purchasing departments in the public and private sector often use a publicly available specification known as PAS-91 in construction-related procurement. It stipulates UKAS accredited certification as a requirement.
UKAS is recognised around the world, and so are certificates from UKAS accredited certification bodies. So not only does this open up international opportunities for you, it’s also a prestigious accolade and recognition of your organisation’s excellence.
The UK government is increasingly emphasising the role of UKAS and the importance of UKAS accreditation. They are promoting the value of UKAS accredited certification as being in the public interest, benefiting both UK business and society. We can expect the demand for UKAS accredited certification to be the norm in the near future.
You can compare like with like
UKAS accredited certification bodies all have to abide by certain rules which makes it easier for you when you’re shopping around. For example, there’s a standardised way of calculating how many days it should take to do an audit and the audit cycle (i.e. what audits you undergo, and when, over three years) are all broadly the same. With non-UKAS accredited bodies, they have total freedom to design the service for their own benefit - not for yours.
You won’t get trapped into long term contracts
Many unaccredited certification bodies offer you the world. UKAS accredited certification bodies are restricted in the way they can market and sell their services. In short, we can’t make outlandish claims. We also cannot lock you into long term contracts. As long as you’re not within the cancellation period of an upcoming audit (usually a matter of weeks), you’re free to walk away and perhaps transfer to another UKAS accredited certification body.
You should check the details of the contracts with unaccredited certification bodies. You may find yourself locked in for a long time - many years in some cases - with no get-out clause. Even worse, they often automatically renew well in advance of the expiration of the contract.
The low cost, quick and easy, one stop shop approach of unaccredited certification bodies offering an off the shelf solution including consultation and certification may sound appealing. But it could prove to be a very poor decision if the certificate you end up with does not unlock the opportunities you had hoped for.
We speak to far too many businesses who have come to realise too late just how important UKAS accredited certification is - by the time they’ve realised the error of their ways, the business opportunity may have gone.
So please, don’t get caught out. Make sure the certification body you choose is UKAS accredited