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Double Winners at the UK Complaint Handling Awards 2020

QA Scheme Support Services (QASSS) took home two awards at the UK Complaint Handling Awards 2020, including a silver award for Best Complaint Handling and a bronze award for Best Complaint Handling Team of the Year – Initiative.

QASSS operates three consumer protection schemes across home improvement, including HIES, HICS, and DGCOS*. The company entered their Resolution Revolution project into the complaint handling awards, a project led by their dispute resolution team the ‘ADR superheroes’. As finalists for the two awards, QASSS presented their initiatives to an expert panel of independent judges followed by the awards ceremony in London.

The QASSS Resolution Revolution project saw QASSS reach an average dispute resolution time of just 2 days whilst still delivering high satisfaction rates to their customers. All the while the industry average sits at 80 days (CTSI Report, 2018).

Ciarán Harkin, Managing Director of QASSS, commented, “It’s great to be recognised by these prestigious awards in both categories. Our dispute resolution team work extremely hard to resolve customer complaints quickly and fairly. We have had some record-breaking statistics recently, reaching an average resolution time of just 2 days, which is amazing. We’re looking forward to implementing further initiatives as we continually look at ways of improving our services.”

*DGCOS is the Double Glazing & Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme, HIES is the Home Insulation and Energy Systems Scheme and HICS is the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Scheme.

Photo from left to right: Adrian Simpson (QASSS) and Ciarán Harkin (QASSS).

Who is the Office for Product Safety and Standards?

Office for Product Safety and Standards

The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) was established in January 2018 and forms part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

What does the Office for Product Safety and Standards do?

OPSS oversees the regulatory system for product safety and standards in the UK. They aim to improve regulatory protections and support compliant businesses by working at the front line with businesses, local and national regulators and consumers.

How do they do this?

For consumers, the Office for Product Safety and Standards provides advice and information which will help them to avoid unsafe products. For businesses, they help them to comply with product safety regulations.

Publicly Available Specification (PAS 7100) “Supporting Better Product Recalls”

The Office for Product Safety and Standards sponsored PAS 7100, a linked code to assist businesses to monitor the safety of products and put a plan in place. PAS 7100 is designed to help businesses plan to deal with any potential product safety issues that might arise with products they have placed on the market or distributed. Recent campaigns from PAS 7100 have been around washing machine recalls and the safety of e-cigarette batteries.

What HICS think

“Consumer safety is incredibly important and it’s encouraging to see that this was recognised by the Government as a priority area for consumers. It’s a large area for businesses to navigate and consumers’ lives and health and safety could be at risk due to unsafe products so to have an agency to support and oversee product safety is very positive” comments Adrian Simpson, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs at HICS.

Image by hamonazaryan1 from Pixabay

Giving to Charity and What it Means for Tax

Often, businesses hold workplace activities to raise money for a charity close to their heart. This can be anything from marathons to bake offs to dress down days. But, as a company, do you know what giving to charity means regarding tax?

What is the tax relief?

If you’re a limited company and you give a monetary donation to charity, you will pay less corporation tax by deducting the value of your donations from your business profits. The most you can deduct is the amount that reduces your company’s profits to zero. You will need to keep records of this.

Exemptions

There are some important exemptions where payment won’t qualify if:

  • It’s in the form of a loan that will be repaid by the charity; or
  • The payment is on the condition that the charity buys property from your company or anyone connected to it; or
  • The payment is a distribution of company profits.

Also, if you, your company or anyone connected to your company receive any benefits in return for your donation (for example, tickets to a dinner event) there are limits imposed on the value of such rewards.

Donations by individuals, sole traders or partnerships

Donations can be made by individuals to charity or to community amateur sports clubs (CASCs). The tax goes to you or the charity. How this works depends on whether you donate:

  • through Gift Aid
  • straight from your wages or pension
  • through a Payroll Giving scheme
  • as land, property or shares
  • or in your will

This also applies to sole traders and partnerships.

So, in summary, if you’re a limited UK company and you donate to a registered charity with no direct benefit to the donor, then a corporation tax deduction will usually be permitted. For further reading on this, we recommend the gov.uk website.

Business photo created by snowing – www.freepik.com

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

HICS Leyland Bake Off Raises £123.20 for St Catherine’s Hospice

HICS held a charity ‘Great Leyland Bake Off’ on 10th February to raise money for St Catherine’s Hospice. The Leyland-based business not only had some quality baking but also raised £123.20 for St Catherine’s Hospice.

St Catherine’s Hospice is an independent, local charity based in Preston that provides care to those who are affected by life-shortening conditions. Find out more about St Catherine’s by visiting their website here.

HICS bakers had their cake fate chosen from the pick of a hat where each colleague wrote down their favourite dessert. They had the likes of sticky toffee pudding, Victoria sponge cake, millionaire shortbread, banoffee pie, flapjack and more.

The contestants had 3 chances for victory with awards for ‘best taste’, ‘best presentation’ and ‘overall winner’. With 3 on the judging panel, the bakers were really put to the test! After much deliberation (and a lot of cake tasting), the winning cakes and bakers were:

  • Best taste – sticky toffee pudding, Tracy Dilworth, Dispute Resolution Officer
  • Best presentation – chocolate and butterscotch ‘Valentine’s cake’, Michael McGougan, Schemes Manager
  • Overall winner – chocolate cake, Tabatha Strain, Operations Officer

Jonathon Moorhouse bake off organiser and Service Delivery Executive at HICS, commented:

“St. Catherine’s Hospice is a charity very close to our hearts, so it felt like a natural choice for us to choose them to raise funds for. At HICS we’re always finding ways to boost office morale and we felt an office bake-off was the perfect activity to do it.”

Photo from left to right: Cathy O’Hara, Cathryn Wolfenden, Jonathon Moorhouse, Tabatha Strain, Charlotte Pilkington, Tracy Dilworth, Melody Ikin and Naomi Cunningham.

Asbestos – Should I Worry?

It’s 2020, should you still worry about asbestos? In short, yes. Asbestos poses extreme dangers to those who are exposed to it and even though it is no longer used in practice, it is still around, and the exposure can be lethal.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is not a single type of mineral; it is a group of six minerals made up of microscopic fibres. Asbestos was previously used in homes and buildings for insulation, roofing, flooring, and putty to seal windows or fill holes. It has been fully banned in the UK since 1999 due to the dangers it can cause to the human body.

What are the risks?

Breathing asbestos dust can cause serious damage to the lungs and cause cancer. There is no known cure for asbestos related diseases.

4 of the dangers of asbestos are:

  • Non-malignant pleural disease
  • Asbestosis
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma

Who is at risk?

Although asbestos is no longer used by installation companies, those homes that were built before 2000 still pose a risk. According to the HSE (Health & Safety Executive), asbestos still kills around 5,000 workers per year with 20 tradesmen dying each week as a result of past exposure. [1]

  • Installers are at risk if they have been exposed to asbestos for a long time whilst at work.
  • Those who live with an installer who has been exposed to asbestos may also be at risk.
  • Those living in a property with asbestos may be at risk if the materials are damaged or disturbed.

Once asbestos fibres are in the body, it is extremely difficult for the body to expel them.

Identifying asbestos

It is not sufficient to identify asbestos with a visual inspection or by comparing products you think may contain asbestos with photos that you can find online. It is advisable to have an asbestos survey conducted on a property or building to correctly identify asbestos.

Precautions to take

It is when asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed that the asbestos fibres become dangerous. This is because they can be released into the air and then breathed into someone’s lungs.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance states that if there are any asbestos materials on site, these should have been identified before any work. If any hidden materials or dust are uncovered, that you suspect may contain asbestos, you must stop work immediately and seek advice.

Asbestos is still prevalent in homes and buildings and so it is advisable to carry out refresher training every year. There is a legal duty for employers in the industry to provide information and training for any of their employees that could be exposed to asbestos when carrying out work.

[1] https://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/dangerous.htm

For further information and advice on asbestos, we recommend the HSE website.
Image by MetsikGarden from Pixabay

Are You Working at Height?

Working at height refers to work that holds a risk of a person becoming injured by falling, whether that is from a height or from ground level into an opening. However, it should be noted that this does not include a slip or trip on the level itself. Within the home improvement industry working at height is often unavoidable for installers, so, what do you need to know?

The Work at Height Regulations

The Work at Height Regulations were introduced in 2005 and apply to you if you are an employer or you control work at height. The regulations were put in place in order to prevent death and injury caused by a fall from height.

Should an accident occur, the individuals above would be liable if the equipment was faulty or uncertified. Therefore, employers and those in control of any work at height must ensure that all work is thoroughly planned and supervised and those undertaking the work are competent. The equipment used for jobs must also be properly inspected and maintained. To learn more about control measures to take, please see the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) official guidance here.

Working at Height Myths

There are many common ‘work at height’ myths [1]:

  • HSE has banned the use of ladders on building sites – no, this isn’t the case
  • You need to be formally ‘qualified’ before using a ladder at work – no, you don’t
  • I am working at height if I’m walking up and down a staircase at work – no, you are not
  • You need to have two feet and one hand on a stepladder at all times when carrying out a task – no, this isn’t true
  • HSE has banned the use of ladders to access scaffolds and you will be fined if you ignore this ban – no, this isn’t true

From 2014/15-2018/19 25% of fatal injuries to workers were from falls from a height [2], averaging at 36 fatal injuries per year. An average of 18 of these per year were in the construction sector.

Your Checklist:

  • Ensure you are aware and up to date with The Work at Height Regulations
  • Avoid making workers work at height where possible
  • Create awareness around the dangers of working at height and how to stay as safe as possible
  • Ensure that yourself and your employees have been on a working at height health and safety course
  • Check your insurance policy covers working at height

Working at height comes with many risks, so we advise that all installation companies ensure that jobs at height are undertaken as safely as possible. When it comes to safety, you can never be too careful or have too much information. HSE’s Working at Height website is recommended for further reading.

[1] https://www.hse.gov.uk/work-at-height/myths.htm

[2] Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), 2014/15-2018/19

Image by Mario Ohibsky from Pixabay

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

Behind the Scenes: A Day in the Life of a Mediator

Impartiality is the fundamental requirement of a mediator; whose role consists of resolving a conflict between two parties who disagree. Their role is not to take sides but to reach a fair conclusion that both parties are happy with. Mediation and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) involve much more than appears on the surface so we’ve put together an outline of a typical day in the life of a mediator to show what happens behind the scenes.

A Typical Day as a Mediator

For a mediator working in the home improvement sector, their typical day begins early at 8.30 am and their daily schedule will usually include the following activities:

  • Setting realistic expectations – if a consumer has been left disadvantaged, their first point of call is often asking for compensation. Although this might provide an instant benefit to the consumer, it is not always the most appropriate solution. A mediator needs to find out the details from both parties and dig deeper to find out what the real problem is, not just what would provide instant gratification.
  • Communicating with opposing parties – communication is key in mediation and ultimately what the service is based upon. Mediators will spend many hours per day speaking with consumers that have made a complaint and the trader they are complaining about. Often a trader might not realise the stress that they have caused one of their customers and so mediators can communicate about the complaint calmly and factually.
  • Investigation – mediators need to investigate the claims being made to ensure that they fully understand the situation the consumer and the tradesperson are in so that they can begin the mediation process courteously, professionally and above all, quickly.
  • Resolving – the purpose of mediation is to resolve conflict and agree on a resolution with both parties and therefore a mediator will spend a lot of time reaching the right resolution. This is arguably one of the most satisfying parts of the role of a mediator, as they are often able to present a resolution that will satisfy both parties and eradicate the stress and strong emotions they may have been feeling before and during the process.

A Human Approach

Much like in other job roles, incorporating a human element into your work remains an important element. Although mediation isn’t based on relationship building between the mediator and the separate parties, it does help those involved to know they are being listened to, heard and respected in a human manner. If mediators approached conflicts robotically, mediation wouldn’t be as successful as it is.

A human element in conflict helps to create a safe environment for those involved and allows them to feel at ease, knowing that their complaint will be handled fairly and with compassion. Approaches like these are what help to create a speedy and successful resolution.

The proof is in the pudding – QASSS, who operate HIES, HICS and DGCOS, recent statistics boast a 98.4% complaint resolution rate with these being resolved in a matter of 3.59 days. [1]

HICS’s Mediators

The mediation team at HICS is made up of three dispute resolution officers who work hard to reach a fair resolution for all parties involved. They are a reliable, friendly and positive team. When asked what they love the most about being a mediator:

“The resolution stage is my favourite. Both parties can move on with their lives and forget about the issues that once caused them a huge burden. We never stop until we resolve their complaints (unless they go to the Ombudsman) but resolving them ourselves really is a great feeling.” – Cathryn Wolfenden, Dispute Resolution Officer.

“When you work in mediation, every day brings a new and exciting challenge. I love the satisfaction that I feel when I have resolved a complaint. It makes me ecstatic and want to do a little dance around the office!” – Tracy Dilworth, Dispute Resolution Officer.

“Resolving complaints is so rewarding because you know that you have lifted that huge burden from someone, allowing them to move forward with their life. We know that every case we receive is resolvable, so we aim to instil our passion and positivity into both parties and give them the peace of mind knowing that there is no stone left unturned.” – Charlotte Pilkington, Dispute Resolution Manager.

Find out more

If you want to find out more about mediation or HICS’s expert mediators, please get in touch by calling us on 0344 324 5242 or by filling out our contact form.

[1] Based on data from July 2019 – September 2019 for the DGCOS, HIES and HICS consumer protection schemes.

Technology photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Winners At The Top 50 Companies For Customer Service Awards!

Winner Top Companies for Customer Service

We’re excited to announce that QASSS (QA Scheme Support Services) that operate DGCOS, HIES and HICS has been announced as 2020 winners of the ‘Contact Centre Special Moment’ award at The Top Companies for Customer Service Awards. This is a fantastic result highlighting our industry-leading complaint handling and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services.

Our ‘Resolution Revolution’ entry outlined a key project undertaken in 2019 by our ADR team to reduce our average dispute resolution time. We felt that an industry average of over 2.5 months was far too long to resolve a dispute (CTSI reported average resolution time is 80 days(1)). We knew that we could drastically improve both member and consumer experiences by making the journey for consumer complaints hassle-free and super quick.

We set a target to achieve an average of 5 days to resolve disputes before December 2019. Our ‘Resolution Revolution’ project was really successful, reducing our average dispute resolution time to 4.2 days in May and reducing further down to 3.59 days last summer.

What does this mean for members and installers?
Where there has been a dispute between a member and a consumer, they can both expect their complaint to be dealt with 40x quicker than the UK average of 80 days (CTSI Report, 2018). This represents the focus of the ‘resolution revolution’ project which was to radically speed up the dispute process.

Ciarán Harkin, Managing Director at QASSS, commented, “I am over the moon to win this award from the Top 50 Companies for Customer Service. I’m also pleased with the fact consumers and members across our home improvement, renewables and glazing schemes can benefit from super quick dispute resolution times. Well done to Charlotte Pilkington (Dispute Resolution Manager) and her team. They have all worked so incredibly hard.”

We’d also like to say well done to other winners on the night including ITV, Compare the Market, Hitachi and the World Wildlife Fund.

(1) CTSI report, 2018