Richard McFarlane, Technical Manager – Policy and Implementation, UKAS
Whenever the issue of UKAS office time assessment cost is broached, we’re asked the following questions. These answers seek to explain the rationale undertaken by UKAS for assessment activities and detail more clearly the reasons for the charges.
Why is there a charge for office time as well as site time?
There are many chargeable costs incurred during the accreditation process that are not related directly to carrying out the on-site or remote assessment. The costs related to carrying out the assessment will be shown as site time, with the other costs for activities undertaken off site shown as office time on the estimates sent to customers. The following breakdown is intended to provide greater transparency:
What does UKAS charge for in general that is part of the office time category?
Fundamentally the activities that UKAS charges for can be summarised into the following four areas:
-Assessment planning (prior to production of assessment plan)
-Assessment activity (remote or on-site)
-Internal processes (including contract review, schedule maintenance, granting and renewing, etc)
-General customer-related tasks
The levels of office time charge will vary depending on many factors such as scope of accreditation being assessed, type of assessment (surveillance, extension to scope, etc) and size of the organisation.
NOTE: billable travel is also charged for but not part of the office time breakdown and so not mentioned here
What office time costs are associated with assessment planning?
The assessment team is responsible for developing and maintaining an up-to-date assessment programme to cover the four-year accreditation cycle. This programme is used to plan for, and monitor the progress of, the coverage of UKAS assessments to demonstrate that there is appropriate evaluation of the full accredited scope of the customer over the period of each accreditation cycle. In order to maintain the assessment programme, time will be required on an ongoing basis to review the suitability of the assessment team and ensure that appropriate competence is continually deployed by UKAS. There will be regular conversations with the assessment team with respect to the logistics of, and approach to assessment work, and their ability to undertake the necessary activities.
Prior to an assessment, the team will review the previous assessment report(s)/findings and any pre-visit or annual metrics questionnaire feedback to determine the key areas of focus for that assessment. This in turn leads to the production of a detailed “assessment plan” by the team which is provided to the customer to inform them of what/who they need to assess/witness during the assessment and how the assessment will be conducted.
For customers with overseas locations, UKAS is obliged, under the EA MLA agreement, to abide by the European accreditation policy on cross-border accreditation. Under this policy it is necessary for a detailed “assessment brief” to be produced to enable interactions with the local Accreditation Body (AB). This collaboration is undertaken by UKAS’s dedicated Cross-Frontier team, who ensure that we work closely with other ABs and do not breach our MLA obligations by undertaking assessments in other geographical areas without first making the local AB aware. The assessment brief is produced by the lead assessor to provide critical information to the local AB regarding the nature of the assessment that UKAS requires them to undertake on our behalf,
Finally, preparation time will include any necessary time spent in technical discussions with customers to understand their needs with respect to applications for accreditation BMTA 11
or extensions to scope. This may include communications relating to the arrangement of specific activities to be witnessed, which may be away from the customers’ main facility/office.
In planning the assessment, UKAS does not include the cost of any time associated with making hotel or travel arrangements, nor does it pass on any charges for the specific sourcing (recruitment, induction, training) of technical assessors /experts to conduct assessments.
What costs are associated with assessment activities besides the site/remote assessment?
Areas of the assessment that would normally be expected to be chargeable include any review of information submitted by the customer prior to the visit but after provision of the assessment plan to prepare effectively for the assessment and determine the best assessment approach/techniques.
There are a number of tasks relating to the assessment which require the direct involvement of technical staff. These include the collation of the reports produced by each of the team into a final report (where this is not done on site and would therefore be included in the site time allocated for the visit) and subsequent issue to the customer.
For some assessments – generally where the assessment team has not been led by a permanent UKAS staff member, for example by a contracted in assessor or overseas accreditation body – it is necessary to review (including translation where applicable) their reports to ensure that the assessment plan was effectively followed and that a robust, comprehensive and technically valid assessment has been performed.
Following the issue of reports, it is necessary, with the exception of straightforward surveillances, for an independent decision to be made to ratify the recommendation of the team. This requires the assessment team to prepare a submission for provisional decision, followed by final decision once all nonconformities have been adequately addressed and the corrective action accepted by the team. This can sometimes be a time-consuming step to ensure that the decision-maker is provided with all the pertinent information for them to reach a technical valid conclusion, this may require additional dialogue between the decision-maker and assessment team to clarify certain points.
Not only do the assessment managers need to review the evidence for findings that they have raised during the assessment and document the outcomes, but they also review the Improvement Action Feedback reports from assessors to establish that all findings have been appropriately and satisfactorily addressed in a consistent manner. Where further evidence is required from the customer, the assessment manager is responsible for processing these requests. They are also responsible for appropriate escalation to ensure timely clearance of improvement actions should this be required.
As part of the assessment, UKAS would not pass on any charges associated with time to resolve unsuitable or unclear assessment or feedback reports received from external assessors or foreign ABs.
NB: No charges for assessment activity will be included within the “office time” category but will instead be identified as being either site time or remote assessment time, depending on whether the evaluation was performed at a customer location or using remote techniques.
What internal process activity impacts on the cost of assessment?
Many of the day-to-day administrative functions of maintaining customer details in UKAS systems can be undertaken by non-technical staff, but there are a number of activities which rely on the knowledge and experience of the technical staff and are therefore considered when UKAS establishes the overall office time required to service a customer.
Production, and more importantly maintenance, of project structures which provide the mechanism by which the assessment will proceed over the four-year accreditation cycle are the responsibility of the assessment team. They will base the frequency of the assessment and locations to be visited on their knowledge and experience of the customer and the scope of accreditation held. This also includes determining the effort for every member of the team, associated with all the assessment activities – as one would expect, a large, complex multi-site, multi-accreditation standard customer will require significantly more time for preparation of such supporting mechanisms than a small scope, single site customer and this is considered when determining office effort.
Each assessment requires some form of contract review to be undertaken and this process is the responsibility of the assessment manager to submit as a decision pack. On occasion, other decision packs will need to be created (such as for sanctions, extra or unannounced visits) which require the technical input of the assessment team.
Documentation to confirm the conclusion of an assessment, such as letters confirming grant of accreditation/extensions to scope, maintenance of accreditation or renewal following reassessment, need to be prepared for the customer (and potentially relevant stakeholders such as regulators or scheme owners) as well as schedules of accreditation which need to be produced, maintained, reviewed and revised to ensure they remain up-to-date.
The maintenance of technical details and specific contact 12 BMTA
details for customers in UKAS electronic systems also falls to the technical team as they are most familiar with the appropriate points of contact and need to be kept aware of changes of circumstances that might be communicated to UKAS (for example new premises, changes of name, etc).
UKAS would not consider including general administrative activities such as uploading documentation into SharePoint, creation and distribution of estimates to customers, providing pre-visit information to assessors, decisions relating to close-out effort or invoicing, delivery noting of assessments. These activities are not directly related to servicing the customer’s accreditation and do not fall within the chargeable criteria as they are part of UKAS’ internal process and hence fall within the overhead.
Why are there charges related to general customer related tasks in the office time category?
Most significantly in this category is the consideration of time spent in general support and discussions with customers, which can vary widely from customer to customer. Some customers require frequent and comprehensive discussions (we would encourage such customers to arrange regular account management meetings with their assessment manager) whilst others make minimal demands on the team between assessments. The time spent in general discussion with customers is monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure that it is considered appropriately when establishing the office effort required.
One other aspect that would be included in this category would be general communication of technical assessor suitability, for example requests of CV details. Examples of general customer related tasks that are not chargeable activities include any discussions with customers regarding outstanding invoices, including the processing of financial suspensions and discussions with customers to clarify misunderstood findings. Our aim is to leave an assessment with clarity by all parties on what has been raised and the reasons for it, as well as agreement on how to proceed.
How is office time calculated for each CAB?
It is extremely difficult to provide a single answer to this as each CAB is different. The amount of “office time” has to consider all the activities to be covered for the particular CAB, which is reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis by an independent decision-maker to ensure that it is appropriate, consistent and includes factors such as size, scope, locations, etc, in the calculation.