Category Archives: Industry News

COVID-19 lockdown guide for installers

We have produced this guide to help installers navigate their way through the current lockdown.

The guide includes information on:

  • If tradespeople in England and Wales can work
  • How to protect yourself, your staff, and your customers
  • Working in consumer’s homes
  • Social distancing
  • Keeping work areas clean
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and face coverings
  • Useful links

To download your copy today, please click here.

New regulator for construction products

new regulator construction

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has announced the launch of a new regulator that ensures materials used to build homes will be safer.

The launch follows the Hackitt review which came after the Grenfell tragedy and the Building Safety Bill that was published in Summer 2020. The Bill “set out the biggest reforms to building safety regulation for a generation, and included provisions to strengthen and extend the scope of the powers available to government to regulate construction products.”

This new regulator will have the power to remove any product from the market that presents a significant safety risk and prosecute any companies who do not follow the rules on product safety.

Currently, market surveillance and enforcement of construction products safety is the responsibility of under-funded local authority trading standards services. Trading standards services saw budget cuts of around 60% between 2010 and 2018 meaning that construction products are unlikely to be a priority in each of the 200 plus trading standards services. Although general product safety is a priority within trading standards, it is a wide portfolio consisting of toys, electrical products, and cosmetics amongst other areas.

Regulated construction products

All installers will use regulated construction products.

These regulated construction products are defined in law as “any product or kit which is produced and placed on the market for incorporation in a permanent manner in construction works or parts thereof and the performance of which has an effect on the performance of the construction works with respect to the basic requirements for construction works”.

Examples of construction products include doors, windows, shutters and gates, membranes, and thermal insulation products.

Does the new regulator for construction products impact installers?

Installers have always had to supply goods that are safe and comply with the existing rules and regulations around construction products. This means that there is unlikely to be any change to the way installers currently need to operate.

However, later this year new rules will come in around CE marking with the move towards a new UK Conformity Assessment (UKCA) mark in place of the CE mark.

HIES, DGCOS and HICS have secured expert training on the UKCA which will be offered to members of all schemes later this year.

Adrian Simpson, Director of Policy and Affairs at HIES, HICS, and DGCOS, comments:

“In these times of Government austerity and de-regulation, a new regulator is a surprising, but a welcome addition to the building and construction safety family. With £10m allocated towards this new regulator it will be interesting to see how this new regulator will work alongside trading standards services.

The regulator comes at a time when product safety is in focus. With the vast majority of product safety derived from European Union legislation, the move towards the UK deciding its own product safety priorities has begun and with Grenfell still in our thoughts, construction products seem to be the right place to start.”

Photo by Steffen Coonan from Pexels

Could a strong online presence generate leads just as well as word of mouth?

strong online presence

Word of mouth marketing has been around since the beginning of time and we all know that it’s a great way to generate leads for free. Research proves it. 72% of people get news from friends and family, making word of mouth the most popular channel for sharing [1].

Word of mouth marketing has evolved over time and now it doesn’t rely solely on having a conversation with your peers, but also on social media and review sites. In the new digital age, there are influencers recommending businesses on Instagram, people who you may follow whose tweets go viral about their experience with a company, and people giving company recommendations in Facebook groups.

However, how does word of mouth marketing compare to having a strong online presence? By online presence we mean a modern, user-friendly website, active social media channels (from Facebook through to LinkedIn), videos, user generated content (UGC) and actively generating authentic and positive reviews, for example.

With a wealth of digital marketing tools at our fingertips, is word of mouth still the #1 contender, or has digital marketing replaced it? It’s a tricky question to answer and that’s why we advise maximising both to increase awareness, attract and secure new leads and increase retention and repeat purchases.

By utilising the right digital marketing channels for your sector, you can get ahead of your competitors. Most companies will receive some form of word of mouth marketing but not all companies have a strong online presence to back it up. You can reach more customers online and collect visible online reviews and testimonials to help build trust and personal recommendations on groups and chat which will lead to increased enquiries and conversions.

How you can best use digital marketing to increase your online presence

There are many ways to increase your brand reputation online and attract potential customers but here are our top 5 tips:

  1. People generally trust other people more than they trust a brand themselves
    This is where the importance of good customer reviews comes in. If you know a customer is really pleased with the service you have provided, ask them to leave an online review, whether on Facebook, Google My Business listing, or on reviews sites such as TrustPilot. 91% of consumers say that reading a positive review makes them more likely to use a business. [2] Facebook also has a specific tool that lets its users ask for recommendations.

 

  1. Make sure your website is searchable and user friendly (particularly for mobile search)
    Many customers search online for local and reputable companies and will check out your website before contacting you and/or giving you the job. Your website needs to be SEO friendly so people can find you and also user-friendly in terms of navigation, information and calls to action to help you stand out from the competition.

 

  1. Create extra value for your customers
    Having a website is great and although most tradespeople have websites, not all tradespeople have a website blog. You can create extra value for your customers by having a blog and writing informative and educational content that will help your customers.

 

  1. Ensure you have a social media presence
    Having a website is a good start however having social media is now a necessity in the digital age, given that there are over 3.2 billion people on social media globally. [3] Social media not only enhances your reach, but it is also great for showcasing individual jobs, your brand, your personality as well as enhancing credibility and connecting with the wider industry.

 

  1. Stay active online and stay on your customers’ radar
    If you have set up social media profiles, it is important to stay active on these. People value consistent communication so make sure you’re posting a variety of content formats at least every few days to keep your audience engaged. It also helps you increase your business reputation online as well as driving traffic to your website.

There are also many other ways to help build your brand online, but these are our top five starting points. If you have any questions about any of this, or would simply like some advice or assistance, please contact us either by phone on 0333 323 2655 or by email at info@hicsscheme.org.uk where our team will be happy to help you.

[1] Pew Research Center

[2] https://www.brightlocal.com/research/local-consumer-review-survey/#influence-of-reviews

[3] https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics  

7 Reasons to Use Mediation

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and is a process to settle disputes without the need for litigation. Mediation can help resolve issues after a consumer and business has reached a deadlock.

So why use mediation to resolve a dispute?

1) It can save you money

Going to court can be an extremely costly process when you consider court fees and legal fees. Depending on the outcome of the case, you may also be ordered to pay the legal costs of the other party if you have unreasonably refused mediation in the process.

2) It’s quick

ADR is quick, particularly where mediation is involved. ADR providers do have varying average resolution times, so it’s important to inquire about this beforehand.

Our average dispute resolution time is industry-leading at 3.59 days, whereas the UK average ADR resolution time is currently 80 days. (CTSI ADR Report, 2018).

3) It will save you time and resource

Court proceedings can take up a huge amount of time and resource in both preparation and attendance. Businesses can also realise operational efficiencies using ADR services, freeing up considerable management time.

4) It’s fair

Mediators are trained to factually assess the dispute and resolve the dispute with an outcome that satisfies both parties. Mediators do not have full control of the outcome and therefore enable the parties to reach a mutually agreed and fair outcome together.

5) It helps preserve customer relationships and drive better outcomes

ADR can be a less adversarial and hostile way to resolve a dispute. It allows both parties to be heard and have the opportunity to understand each other’s point of view. ADR is less confrontational which can not only reduce stress for both parties, it can also be an important consideration for a more positive ongoing relationship.

6) It’s confidential

Court proceedings are in the public domain whereas ADR can be kept confidential by agreement, safeguarding your reputation. Confidentiality usually extends to what happens in the mediation and any settlement arising out of it.

7) It’s flexible

Alternative dispute resolution can be much more flexible in terms of outcomes. It can achieve outcomes that a court could not order, or to get a result that both parties think is fairer than that dictated by law.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Green Homes Grant and “Buy to Let” Landlords

buy to let

With the announcement of the impending Green Homes Grant in September, many homeowners and installers are gearing up ready for installations. However, it’s not only homeowners that should be assessing the energy efficiency of their properties but Buy to Let landlords are included and should be planning now to see if their properties need to be improved too.

With only just over one month until the application process opens for the Green Homes Grant scheme, Buy to Let landlords need to be assessing their properties now, or in the very near future, as the application process is expected to receive high volumes.

Landlords are urged to focus on the works that can be done with the grant funding.

Online applications made by landlords can only be passed to accredited suppliers or “registered local tradesmen” to carry out the works under the scheme.

The grant scheme will fund at least two-thirds of the cost for energy efficient measures up to a maximum of £5,000 for landlords who need to improve the energy efficiency of their properties. Currently, landlords cannot let their properties out if they have an energy performance rating of F or G (unless they qualify for an exemption).

The Chancellor stated that he hopes 600,000 homes will be improved with the grant. The full details of the grants have not yet been published however the information provided so far suggests that the grants will only last for one year so landlords are urged to review their properties as soon as possible to take advantage of the scheme.

The government also hopes that this will create a further 100,000 jobs in the “Green Sector” – one of the important reasons behind the grant, to boost a ‘green recovery’ as we come out of lockdown.

Image by falco from Pixabay

Over 50% Of Homeowners Want to Apply for the Green Homes Grant

green home grants

Latest research suggests that more than half of homeowners in the UK are planning to apply for the Green Homes Grant, the government’s latest scheme.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the grant in July’s budget as a part of the government’s plans to get the economy moving again. The grant will allow homeowners and landlords to apply for vouchers from a £2 billion scheme to make their homes more energy-efficient and create local jobs.

MoneySuperMarket surveyed 2,000 people about the Green Homes Grant which revealed that;

  • 51% of homeowners are planning to apply for the scheme and,
  • 26% of homeowners are seriously considering applying for the scheme

The grant will cover at least two-thirds of the cost for energy efficient measures such as insulation and glazing up to £5k. For low income households, the vouchers will cover the full cost up to £10k.

The scheme opens in September and we are awaiting further clarity from the government on what type of energy efficient measures are covered under the scheme and also their definition of ‘accredited suppliers’ to ensure consumers are protected.

The Green Homes Grant scheme is just one part of a wider “green” recovery plan proposed by the Government including £1bn towards making public buildings more energy efficient.

Ciarán Harkin, Managing Director of QASSS, who manages the schemes, comments:

“It’s great to see the government putting a focus on energy efficient homes and putting money into the industry to help homeowners and installers at this difficult time. However, more detail on the scheme is urgently needed.”

House photo created by creativeart – www.freepik.com

Brand Ambassador George Clarke joins us in saying a fond farewell to Nick Ross

Brand Ambassador George Clarke

Alongside HICS Brand Ambassador George Clarke, after 12 years representing HICS and the DGCOS and HIES schemes, Nick Ross has decided to retire this July and I’m sure you’ll join us in wishing him a fond farewell and best wishes for the future.

Our founder, Tony Pickup, first approached Nick back in 2008 because he was a leading consumer advocate and supporter of consumer protection. Nick joined the schemes because he believed that our complete protection was not only necessary for consumers, members and the wider industry but also a reflection of what he himself has always championed.

“Nick Ross, back in 2008 put his name and reputation on the line to support DGCOS and subsequently HIES and HICS. He didn’t do this lightly and without significant due diligence. He always wants to be sure we are doing the right things to advance consumer protection in the home improvement sector and actually look after people that need help. Since then our group has protected over 900,000 consumer contracts and Nick’s unwavering support will never be forgotten. Thank you so much Nick.”

Tony Pickup, Founder

Nick wanted to update members personally and also share a message of support.

“In my opinion DGCOS, HIES & HICS are the gold standard in consumer protection for home improvements. I’m proud that in the 12 years I’ve worked with them they have protected hundreds of thousands of customers. In all that time I’ve had fewer than two dozen complaints, and all but one of those was happily resolved.

Any industry would be proud of such a record. I’m leaving on the best of terms and only do so because my link with consumer journalism is now too far in the past to have real relevance. I wish you, the members, and the schemes, well for the future.”

Nick Ross

Brand Ambassador George Clarke – A Passionate Advocate Of HICS

George Clarke, architect, TV presenter and home improvement champion, continues to be a passionate consumer advocate and Brand Ambassador of HICS.

Widely known for his recent work on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, Amazing Spaces Shed of the Year and Old House New Home, George joined the schemes in 2019 as an ardent supporter of consumer protection and high standards in the home improvement industry, including promoting the use of accredited installers and tradespeople.

George has made a huge impact appearing at shows and events (pre-COVID) with the team to meet members and installers, including, among others, the FIT show in 2019.

“It has been a pleasure working alongside Nick and I wish him well in his retirement. As the Brand Ambassador for HICS, I truly believe it offers the ‘real deal’ in providing robust consumer protection but, even better, they provide the same level of protection and support for the installer.

I know that HICS is serious about raising standards and ensuring that everybody is treated fairly. HICS offers free protection to consumers meaning they can confidently choose a reputable installer knowing they have the right protection in place.

This is also a major asset in the installer’s tool kit. By offering this complete protection, the schemes have seen installers’ cancellation rates fall meaning it’s a win-win for everyone.”

George Clarke, Brand Ambassador

Grants Available for Home Improvement Companies

As an established home improvement business, have you ever thought about which grants are available to you? Government grants are great for small businesses, as that extra bit of cash can really help to help to grow your business.

What are business grants?

A business government grant is money that is given to a business that doesn’t need to be repaid, unless in the form of a loan grant.

Types of government grants:

  • Equity finance grants

These grants offer reductions on income tax and investments to start-up and young businesses (less than 2 years old and have fewer than 25 employees).

  • Soft loan grants

These grants are often government-backed and can offer repayment terms and conditions that are softer than those you would receive through banks and building societies. Your business could receive longer repayment terms or lower interest rates.

  • Direct grants

These grants are typically for start-ups as they cover start-up essentials such as equipment and staff training.

Which business grants are available to small businesses?

There are many business grants available to small installation businesses. If you are interested in applying for any of the grants, we advise you to do further research before beginning the application process to be sure that your business is eligible. Here are just 4 examples of grants available and where else you can look for relevant grants.

  • Government grants

As of 12th February 2020, the UK government have 75 grants that are available to small businesses. To view all of these grants, please go over to the Gov.Uk website. These grants range from offering free business development support to equipment to cash.

  • Apprenticeship grants

Apprenticeship grants are designed to support companies employing those aged 16-24 who are on an apprenticeship programme. If you don’t pay the apprenticeship levy, then funding could cover 95% of the cost of training and assessing apprentices.

  • Energy entrepreneurs fund

The energy entrepreneurs fund is a grant funding scheme to support the advancement and development of technologies, products and processes in energy efficiency, power generation and storage. Phase 6 has recently been launched and is over £10,000,000.

  • New Anglia small grants scheme

Applicable to specific parts of Norfolk and Suffolk, this grant is set up and ran by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership in order to support businesses wanting to grow, build services or gain greater efficiencies.

Are small business grants taxable?

In general, yes. Grants are typically taxable income. However, schemes that help with no cash reward aren’t usually liable to tax. We would always advise you to check with your accountant or the grant provider themselves.

Final thoughts – What to keep in mind?

Applying for business grants can be a long, and sometimes stressful, process. Before beginning the process ask yourself:

  • Do I have enough time and resource to dedicate to the application and process of applying for a grant?
  • Is this the right grant for me?
  • Do I meet the eligibility criteria?
  • Do I know what I want this grant for and is it suitable for my business objectives?
  • Can I cover the rest of the financials that the grant won’t cover?

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

BREXIT – What does it mean for installers?

After three and a half years of political debate, we have now officially left the European Union. Over that time there’s been huge speculation of what might happen, particularly around the economy and what it means for consumer protection.

With many pieces of consumer protection legislation coming from the European Union you might be thinking that BREXIT would have a massive impact on consumer protection. In reality, Brexit is unlikely to have much of an impact, if any. The European Union, its predecessors and the European Commission (that implements the decisions of the EU) has shaped and directed many pieces of consumer protection legislation over nearly 50 years including:

  • Travel and transportation
  • Safety of goods
  • Unfair commercial practices
  • Consumers right to change their mind
  • Unfair terms and conditions

For installers, there are unlikely to be any changes needed to the way you work and interact with consumers. Once BREXIT happens, however, the Government is likely to produce guidance on product safety, especially with regards to CE marking and consumer rights. This can of course change as we approach Brexit.

Adrian Simpson, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs at QASSS, commented “There will be change over time but nothing to worry about immediately. I will continue to update you with consumer protection information as soon as I find out any news. But for now, keep doing what you’re doing and be sure to keep an eye out on our websites for further updates.”

Image by Elionas2 from Pixabay

What Changed in 2019?

As one year ends and another begins we look at the home improvement marketplace in 2019 and reflect on a tremendously exciting and busy year for QASSS and its schemes HICS, HIES and DGCOS.

Our Achievements

  • We have transformed our complaint handling and ADR service offering industry-leading speed of resolution, reducing the average time to 3.59 days as compared to the industry average of 80 days.
  • Our alternative dispute resolution service (ADR) has been recognised by the 2020 Complaint Handling Awards and we have been shortlisted as finalists in 2 categories – ‘Best Complaint Handling’ and ‘Best Complaint Handling Team of the Year – Initiative’. Plus, we’ve also been nominated for another award with the Top Companies for Customer Service.
  • We continued the process in 2019 of really getting to know our customers much better, either being on the road and meeting them face-to-face chatting to them over the phone.
  • We rebranded and relaunched our HICS, DGCOS and HIES consumer protection websites and marketing material, including the introduction of a new brand ambassador, George Clarke, a passionate advocate for high standards in the home improvement industry.
  • Towards the end of 2019, we also launched our new e-commerce shop to make it easier to order marketing material and register your jobs all in one place.
  • In 2019, we refreshed the QASSS site to showcase our remedial management, alternative dispute resolution and complaints handling services for the home improvement sector.
  • In 2019 we invested internally to support our network. We have brought in senior specialists in the areas of IT, marketing, service delivery, and quality assurance to set up the business for the future as well as supporting our members.
  • We announced new partnerships with finance lenders, finance brokers, manufacturers, investors and West Yorkshire Trading Standards, to provide our customers with new model documentation for 2020 that will help cover you across all bases, from a legal perspective.

Similarly, as we have done, home improvement installers may be reflecting and evaluating the past 12 months to set some goals for the year ahead. As well as personal goals, home improvement installers might be looking at the home improvement industry and setting themselves work-related goals based on the changing marketplace. So, what changed in the home improvement industry in 2019?

Smart Technology

2019 saw big advancements in smart technology. From smart doors to smart sound systems and even smart doorbells, there are now many ways that customers can ‘smartify’ their homes. A survey carried out by OnePoll has revealed that 57% of homes have a smart device of some sort to control their appliances with 45% of those surveyed planning to make their home even smarter. [1]  To find out more about smart homes, check out our blog here.

Sustainability

It is no surprise that 2019 saw a huge increase in homeowners focusing on reducing their energy consumption, not just to save money but also to help the environment.

For example, for glaziers, as the world takes on a more anti-plastic approach in their daily lives, installers may have experienced more questions from customers when considering uPVC for their home and/or an increase in recycled materials being used within the market.

With this trend over 2019, we can expect to see more homeowners looking to incorporate sustainable products within their homes over the next few years, as well as incorporating renewable energy. Market analysis by IAE has forecasted that the surge in renewables is likely to be led by solar PV in the years 2019 – 2024. [2]

DIY Generation

Over the years the DIY generation has steadily gained pace and is predicted to continue in 2020. Due to more homeowners improving their home rather than moving it is no surprise that the rate of DIYers is increasing. A survey carried out by Hiscox shows that just 3% of homeowners opted to improve their existing home instead of moving in 2013 but by 2018 the figure increased to 15%. [3]

[1] https://www.smarthomeweek.co.uk/smart-homes/

[2] iea.org/reports/renewables-2019

[3] https://www.hiscox.co.uk/sites/uk/files/documents/2018-03/Hiscox_renovations_extensions_report_2018.pdf

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay