How to Choose a Certification Body for Your ISO Management System

Choosing a UKAS accredited Certification Body to certify your carefully developed ISO management system need not be difficult. And it’s not just about the price. Learn what to look for, and the pitfalls to avoid.

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Written by: alcumus
23rd November

So, you’re thinking about implementing a management system? Maybe you’ve already done it or are going through the process and you’ve decided you’re going to get it certified. You’ve made a good decision there.

If you’ve been thinking about implementing a system but not getting it certified – stop and think about this. A system is meaningless to the outside world if you don’t get it certified so you’re missing out on a huge marketing advantage. And without the promise (or threat) of a third party coming into audit you, I guarantee someone will take their eye off the ball! An audit is the only way to properly test your system. You also won’t benefit from the impartial observations of a seasoned auditor who can share with you their insights from auditing hundreds of other organisations. So whatever you do, if you’ve gone to the effort of implementing a system, get it certified.

One other thing before we get into this - when some people start out, they don’t realise that there are dozens of independent certification bodies (CBs) out there. They expect a government inspector to turn up. That’s not the case of course: it’s entirely done by the private sector. However, if you’re seeking certification that’s accredited by UKAS (the United Kingdom Accreditation Service), those privately run CBs are accredited and extremely closely monitored by the government-appointed UKAS to ensure standards and impartiality are maintained. So in effect, your certificate has official status and is recognised worldwide.

Your next big question is who to choose as your Certification Body (CB). Here are some tips.

Make sure it’s 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 they are competent and meeting the highest standards.

Far too many businesses get certified by bodies that are not UKAS accredited. They then find that their certification is not accepted when bidding for work. Don’t fall into this trap – it often seems cheaper on the face of it but it’s a false economy. Often these deals also come with long term contracts you can’t get out of – this doesn’t happen with UKAS accredited bodies. Make sure the CB you choose is accredited.

How to compare prices

All UKAS accredited bodies use the same formula for calculating how many days the audit will take. It’s based on factors like your sector, the scope of your certification, and the size of your organisation. Once the number of days is known, a simple multiplication of numbers of days by the ‘day rate’ (what the CB charges per day for auditing) results in the base total.

Take a look at the number of days quoted, and if you get a different number of days proposed by competing bodies, ask them why.

But that’s not all there is to calculating the cost…

Check the small print

On top of the fees for the audit, check the other charges. If you’re physically remote, there may well be additional travel expenses for the auditor. That’s quite common.

Also look for other, sometimes hidden charges, like management fees, subscriptions to access online portals, charges for certificates and stickers. Also consider the penalties if you have to reschedule audits at short notice.

Integrated audits

Obviously, the CB that you choose has to be able, and accredited, to audit the standard you want certifying. Nearly all CBs and auditors are qualified to do ISO 9001 Quality Management for example. But what if you also want ISO 27001 Information Security or ISO 22301 Business Continuity certifying? Can they do that?

It’s not unheard of that organisations have their various systems certified by different CBs, especially in the case of specialised niche certifications. That’s not a problem. However, if you have an ‘integrated management system’, essentially overlapping systems which share common elements (like ISO 9001 and ISO 14001), you can get them audited together which will save time and money.

Even if you only want one system certified now, you may want to add more standards at a future date – so future proof yourself.

Customer service and reputation

It’s not always easy to objectively assess the level of service you might receive. Your closest and most significant relationship will be with the auditor but you’ll also be dealing with head office regarding scheduling, audit reports, invoicing etc. If you’re working with a consultant, take their opinions. The consultant may even be managing the relationship for you but you will still be footing the bill and dealing with the Certification Body at the audits, so do take an active interest!

When you’re getting quotes, ask the CB for case studies and testimonials. They should be happy to oblige and if not, you should ask yourself why.

“But, but, but … aren’t all UKAS certificates equal?”

It’s true to say that if you’re certified by a UKAS accredited body, then technically speaking it demonstrates you’re no more or less compliant than you would be with a certificate from a different UKAS accredited CB. They all work to the same standard, quite literally.

However in the real world, there’s no denying that some people subjectively view some certification bodies as being more equal than others. That’s largely due to the reputation of the issuing body earned through years of providing a high level of service.

It’s OK to change your mind

If you’re certified with a UKAS accredited body then you are permitted to transfer to another CB at any time. You are not locked in under any long term contract with any UKAS accredited CB. That’s the rules. So, if you don’t like the experience you’re getting, you should think about switching.

However, if you have an audit scheduled, you may find that there’s a financial penalty. And remember it’s not so straightforward if you are certified by a non-UKAS accredited body. In those cases, their clients are often locked in for the long term and contracts auto renew. Buyer beware!

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If you have any questions about ISO certification, auditing and the level of service you can expect from Alcumus ISOQAR, we’re always happy to speak with you. Call us on 0161 865 3699 or use the live chat on the website.