Buyer Beware: The Importance of UKAS


If you’re looking to select and trust a Certification Body to audit your organisation, wouldn’t you want to make sure they have the proper credentials to do so?

It seems like common sense, but when it comes to ISO certification, many assume a ‘Certification Body’ must have demonstrated they are experts or qualified in some way in order to adopt that title. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

The financial industry has the FCA and holiday companies have ABTA, but there is no such mandated regulatory body for Certification Bodies. As a result, there is no protection for those who mistakenly choose the wrong path.  It’s therefore critically important to make the right choice before signing on the dotted line.

By reading this article, you may not know who UKAS are, but have been made aware that it’s an important acronym in the world of certification. UKAS, which stands for the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, are appointed by government to be the UK’s sole National Accreditation Body (NAB).

UKAS’ role is to ensure Certification Bodies like ourselves meet the ISO 17021 standard for conformity assessment. Achieving accreditation from UKAS involves a rigorous head office review of management, policies and procedures. Certification Bodies must also pass a test of their competence via Witnessed Assessments undertaken by UKAS to ensure we perform to the levels expected.  This process is repeated if a Certification Body wishes to demonstrate competence in additional industry sectors, and is repeated annually.

Whilst this is an expensive and lengthily process for the Certification Body, it provides assurance to end users that organisations holding certification to the likes of ISO 9001, truly are meeting best practice and can be relied upon.

So why aren’t all Certification Bodies UKAS accredited?

Some Certification Bodies claim to be a ‘one stop shop’ for consultancy and certification in an effort to market themselves the most convenient option. However, this is in direct violation of ISO 17021’s requirements – Certification Bodies must remain impartial and, as such, can only provide certification.

Sadly, some organisations have sought to profiteer from the UK’s healthy appetite for ISO certificates. When it comes to ISO 9001, the UK is the world’s 5th largest adopter of the standard, which has been driven by many government contracts requiring certification to the standard as an eligibility requirement during the procurement process.

The long-term issue with this is that, once spotted, non-UKAS certificates are often rejected and – just as importantly – the credibility of ISO standards as a whole is diminished by those not implementing them in the intended spirit.

“A lot of the big procurement portals insist that your certification is from a UKAS accredited body.”

David Burton, ISO consultant

As an example, procurement departments across multiple industries (both public and private sectors) use a Publicly Available Specification called PAS 91. This document was created to ensure consistency in the requirements set for would-be suppliers. In it, UKAS accredited certification is the only form recognised. As an added benefit, those with accredited certification will also find lengthy questions within Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) can be skipped.

What are the clues to a Certification Body not being UKAS accredited?

The clearest sign that a Certification Body is not UKAS accredited is that they will offer to put your management system together for you in combination with certification.  In other words, as credible as your driving instructor giving you a driving license!

The combination of roles clearly undermines impartiality, and is forbidden if a Certification Body wants UKAS accreditation.

With many organisations under pressure via tenders and supply chains to get ISO certification as quickly as possible, look out for those seeking to take advantage of a hurried decision with surprisingly low prices and certification promised in a matter of days.

Paying a little more for a UKAS accredited certification gives peace of mind; your ISO certificate will be recognised by anyone, anywhere in the world. It ensures maximum credibility in competitive situations and, just as importantly, qualified assessors are able to provide time-served knowledge transfer so you can benefit internally through improved efficiency, leading to savings which outweigh the initial cost of obtaining certification.

“Make sure that they are UKAS accredited. You could go with a non-UKAS accredited body, but it wouldn’t be the same. It’s not recognised by certain clients and you will find the process more arduous, more difficult.”

Sally Pearson, KKB Group


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