Paul Greenwood, Operations Director, UKAS clarifies the activities included in the UKAS ‘Office time’ invoice category.
Further to a BMTA request for clarification on what activities are included in the UKAS ‘Office time’ invoice category, the UKAS pricing model is constructed around the following guiding principle:
“Any work undertaken by assessment personnel that can be directly attributed to servicing the accreditation of a particular customer is directly chargeable”.
Fundamentally, the accreditation work that UKAS charges for can be summarised into the following four overarching areas:
- Assessment Planning
- Assessment Activity
- Internal processes
- General Customer Related Tasks
Provided below are summaries of the aspects that are considered when deciding whether an activity is chargeable or not. Please note that the summaries are not meant to be exhaustive and are provided purely as a guide as to the types of activities that might fall into each category.
The assessment team is responsible for devising a programme to cover the four-year assessment cycle and this includes the preparation and maintenance of a documented Four Year “Forward Plan”. This document is used to plan for, and monitor the progress of, the coverage of UKAS assessments to demonstrate that there is an appropriate evaluation of the accredited scope of the customer.
In order to maintain the forward plan, 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 in respect of the logistics of, and approach to, assessment work, and their ability to undertake the necessary activities.
Prior to an assessment, the team will review any pre-visit or annual metrics questionnaire feedback to determine the key areas of focus for that visit/evaluation. 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 the scope of what will be reviewed during the assessment and how the evaluation will be conducted.
For customers with locations based overseas, it is necessary for a detailed “assessment brief” to be produced to enable interactions with the local Accreditation Body (AB) - even when the assessment is not subcontracted to them. UKAS works closely with other ABs and does not undertake assessments in other geographical areas without first making the local AB aware. Assessment briefs provide critical information to the local AB regarding the nature of the assessment that UKAS requires them to undertake on our behalf or justification as to why UKAS is conducting the assessment.
Finally, any time spent in technical discussions with customers about applications for accreditation or extensions to scope which may include communications relating to arranging witnessed assessments.
In planning the assessment, UKAS does not include the cost of any time associated with making hotel or travel arrangements, nor does it make any allowance for the specific sourcing (recruitment, induction, training) of Technical Assessors / Experts to conduct assessments.
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 outlined above, to determine the best assessment approach and prepare for the assessment.
There are a number of administrative 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 time allocated for the visit) and subsequent issue to the customer.
For some assessments – generally where the work has been conducted outside the direct supervision of a permanent member of UKAS staff, either by a subcontracted assessor or overseas NAB – it is necessary to review (including translation where applicable) reports from assessors or local ABs to ensure that a robust, comprehensive and technically valid evaluation has been performed.
Following the issue of reports, it is often necessary for an independent decision to be made to ratify the recommendation of the team. It is, therefore, necessary for the assessment team to summarise and justify their recommendation by means of provisional and final decision requests. 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 satisfactory conclusion.
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 if all findings have been appropriately and satisfactorily addressed. Where further evidence is required from the customer, the assessment manager is responsible for processing these requests. They are also responsible for chasing overdue evidence from customers and appropriate escalation to ensure timely clearance of improvement actions.
As part of the assessment, UKAS would not pass on any charges associated with assessors or local ABs in relation to unsuitable or unclear assessment or feedback reports.
NB: Charges for assessments themselves will not 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.
Many of the day-to-day administrative functions of maintaining the details of customers in UKAS systems can be undertaken by non-technical staff, but there are a number of activities that rely on the knowledge, experience and relationships of the technical staff and are therefore considered when UKAS establishes the overall office time required to service an accreditation.
Production, and more importantly maintenance, of project structures that provide the mechanism by which the assessment will proceed over the four-year 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 of the assessment activities – obviously, a large, complex multi-site, multi-accreditation customer requires 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 visit requires some form of contract review to be undertaken and this process is the responsibility of the assessment manager. On occasion, other decision packs need to be created (e.g. sanctions, extra or unannounced visits) which would also require the technical input of the assessment team.
Schedules of accreditation need to be produced, maintained and revised, and letters reflecting new grants of accreditation, maintenance of accreditation or renewal following reassessment also need to be prepared for the customer and other relevant stakeholders.
The maintenance of technical details and specific contact details for customers in UKAS electronic systems also falls to the technical team as they are most familiar with the most 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 and so on).
UKAS would not consider including general administrative activities such as uploading documentation into SharePoint, creation and distribution of estimates to customers, providing 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 because they are part of UKAS’ own process.
General Customer Related Tasks
There are relatively few chargeable areas in this category, but these would include the communication of assessor feedback on improvement actions to customers and the provision of customer requested details (for example assessor CVs).
Most significantly in this category, however, is consideration of the time spent in general support discussions with customers, which can vary widely from customer to customer. Some customers require frequent and comprehensive discussions, and we would encourage these customers to arrange specific account management meetings. Others make no demands at all 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.
Examples of general customer-related tasks that are not chargeable activities include discussions required with customers regarding outstanding invoices, including the processing of financial suspensions. Additionally, discussions with customers with reference to misunderstood findings is re-work and therefore not chargeable. Our aim is to leave an assessment with everyone understanding what has been raised and the reasons for it, as well as agreement on how to proceed.
To summarise, it is intended that by providing more detail in relation to back office activities, it should be evident that UKAS assessment managers are responsible for a great deal more than just conducting assessments of our customers – they are account managers who are constantly challenged to juggle numerous and various different tasks, often for many customers, to ensure they provide the best possible service for all stakeholders.
It would also be worth bearing in mind that the amount of “office time” levied to include all of the above activities is reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis by an independent decision-maker.