Latest data shows complaint volumes remain high in the home improvement sector

Latest data shows that Citizens Advice dealt with over 32,000 consumer issues and complaints relating to the home improvement sector over the last 12 months to September 2020.

What is also disappointing for the sector is that out of all defined categories in consumer goods and services, ‘building repairs and improvements’ came second with over 8,500 issues alone. Top was practical energy efficiency advice with over 9,000 issues.

The statistics also show the most complained about issues within the building repairs and improvements category. We have put together the top 5 by volume, with complaints and redress being accountable for nearly 5,000 complaints and faulty, dangerous, and unsafe services received over 2,000 complaints from October 2019 to September 2020.

Being an accredited member of a reputable home improvement consumer protection scheme (such as HIESHICS or DGCOS) not only helps increase conversion rates but shows a commitment by the firm to providing customers with trust, confidence and peace of mind before, during and after their installation.

QASSS provides complaint handling solutions to home improvement and renewable energy companies. Due to our heritage in operating three home improvement consumer protection schemes, we have highly trained complaint handlers to conduct first-line (or frontline) complaint handling services for clients delivering either a ‘light touch’ service or fully branded on a ‘white label’ basis.

Source: https://public.tableau.com/profile/citizensadvice#!/vizhome/AdviceTrendsSeptember2020/Cover

Paint photo created by welcomia – www.freepik.com

The latest update on Business Interruption Insurance – September 2020

Back in May, it was reported that the insurance industry had been under increasing pressure for their refusal to pay out Business Interruption Insurance claims to companies that have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. By July, an updated, consolidated list of the disputed business interruption cases was included in a test case instigated by the Financial Conduct Authority. The court action was brought about in order to determine whether the pandemic should prompt payments to policyholders.

The judgement

Fast forward to September and the high court has now ruled in favour of business policyholders and that in the context of COVID-19, many are in fact eligible for insurance payments under the terms of their business interruption policies.

The court has ruled that payouts were prompted under “non-damage” clauses which included;

  • diseases and,
  • denial of access to business premises.

Policyholders will have to carefully read the 160-page judgement to see how their policy wording compares to the principles that have now been confirmed by the court.

Partner and global head of insurance disputes at the FCA’s law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, Paul Lewis, commented, “This is a really significant judgment. It brings guidance to how business interruption insurance wordings should operate in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has had such a devastating effect on businesses across the country. The decision should bring welcome news to a significant number of policyholders.”

How many policyholders will be affected?

370,000 business policyholders could be affected by this, according to FCA estimates.

What should home improvement companies do if their claim has been declined?

If your claim has been rejected by your insurer, but you believe your Business Interruption Insurance does provide cover for pandemics, please contact us for guidance. At QASSS, we can help with the claims process and can arrange access for home improvement companies to an expert Loss Adjusting service, should you need independent advice regarding complex, major or difficult claims.

To find out more about this service, contact Scott Robinson our Commercial Director via s.robinson@qasss.co.uk

 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Winter Economy Plan

New business support measures announced today in the Winter Economy Plan

Delivering a speech in Parliament, the Chancellor today announced a package of measures in his Winter Economy Plan to protect jobs and help businesses through the uncertain months ahead as we continue to tackle the spread of the virus.

The package includes:

  • A new Jobs Support Scheme to protect millions of returning workers
  • Extending the Self Employment Income Support Scheme
  • Vat and tax help
  • Help for businesses in repaying government-backed loans.

Click here to read the full Winter Economy Plan.

Support for workers

A new Job Support Scheme will be introduced from 1 November to protect viable jobs in businesses who are facing lower demand over the winter months due to coronavirus.

Under the scheme, which will run for six months and help keep employees attached to the workforce, the government will contribute towards the wages of employees who are working fewer than normal hours due to decreased demand.

Employers will continue to pay the wages of staff for the hours they work – but for the hours not worked, the government and the employer will each pay one third of their equivalent salary.

This means employees who can only go back to work on shorter time will still be paid two thirds of the hours for those hours they can’t work.

In order to support only viable jobs, employees must be working at least 33% of their usual hours. The level of grant will be calculated based on the employee’s usual salary, capped at £697.92 per month.

The Job Support Scheme will be open to businesses across the UK even if they have not previously used the furlough scheme, with further guidance being published in due course.

It is designed to sit alongside the Jobs Retention Bonus and could be worth over 60% of average wages of workers who have been furloughed – and are kept on until the start of February 2021. Businesses can benefit from both schemes in order to help protect jobs.

Extension of the Self Employment Income Scheme

In addition, the Government is continuing its support for millions of self-employed individuals by extending the Self Employment Income Support Scheme Grant (SEISS). An initial taxable grant will be provided to those who are currently eligible for SEISS and are continuing to actively trade but face reduced demand due to coronavirus. The initial lump sum will cover three months’ worth of profits for the period from November to the end of January next year. This is worth 20% of average monthly profits, up to a total of £1,875.

An additional second grant, which may be adjusted to respond to changing circumstances, will be available for self-employed individuals to cover the period from February 2021 to the end of April – ensuring our support continues right through to next year. This is in addition to the more than £13 billion of support already provided for over 2.6 million self-employed individuals through the first two stages of the Self Employment Income Support Scheme – one of the most generous in the world.

VAT and tax help

Up to half a million business who deferred their VAT bills will be given more breathing space through the New Payment Scheme, which gives them the option to pay back in smaller instalments. Rather than paying a lump sum in full at the end of March next year, they will be able to make 11 smaller interest-free payments during the 2021-22 financial year.

On top of this, around 11 million self-assessment taxpayers will be able to benefit from a separate additional 12-month extension from HMRC on the “Time to Pay” self-service facility, meaning payments deferred from July 2020, and those due in January 2021, will now not need to be paid until January 2022.

Giving businesses flexibility to pay back loans

The burden will be lifted on more than a million businesses who took out a Bounce Back Loan through a new Pay as You Grow flexible repayment system. This will provide flexibility for firms repaying a Bounce Back Loan.

This includes extending the length of the loan from six years to ten, which will cut monthly repayments by nearly half. Interest-only periods of up to six months and payment holidays will also be available to businesses. These measures will further protect jobs by helping businesses recover from the pandemic.

We also intend to give Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme lenders the ability to extend the length of loans from a maximum of six years to ten years if it will help businesses to repay the loan.

In addition, the Chancellor also announced he would be extending applications for the government’s coronavirus loan schemes that are helping over a million businesses until the end of November.

As a result, more businesses will now be able to benefit from the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme, the Bounce Back Loan Scheme and the Future Fund. This change aligns all the end dates of these schemes, ensuring that there is further support in place for those firms who need it.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said about the Winter Economy Plan:

Our approach to the next phase of support must be different to that which came before.

The primary goal of our economic policy remains unchanged – to support people’s jobs – but the way we achieve that must evolve.

 

Local councils have recorded a 40% increase in scams since the start of lockdown

Recent data reveals that local councils have recorded a 40% increase in scams since the start of the UK lockdown. This is further backed up by Citizens Advice who believe that 1 in 3 people have been targeted by a coronavirus scammer.

There are many ways that fraudsters manipulate victims from impersonating well-known subscription services to fake government emails. Sadly we have also heard reports of fraudsters posing as NHS test and trace staff to gain personal information and details from people.

According to British banks, the top 10 scams to be wary of are:

  1. Fake government emails offering grants
  2. Scam emails offering access to “Covid-19 relief funds”
  3. Council tax reduction emails that include a fake government website
  4. Emails where help is being offered to apply for universal credit
  5. Phishing emails claiming that the recipient has been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with coronavirus
  6. False adverts for coronavirus-related products (e.g. hand sanitiser)
  7. TV licensing emails claiming you are eligible for six months free
  8. Emails that ask you to update your TV subscription services payments
  9. Fake social media profiles
  10. Fake investment opportunities that are advertised on social media

All these often contain links that steal personal and financial information in some way. For example, filling out your bank details or filling in a form about yourself that contains personal and sensitive data.

Please stay vigilant and aware. If an email look suspicious, 9 times out of 10 it probably is.

Find out more on the QASSS website on how to stay safe amid phishing attacks.

Image by Muhammad Ribkhan from Pixabay

Recent research suggests continuing investment by households in home improvements

Many of us have spent more time at home this year than ever anticipated. But what does that mean for the sector? Will homeowners become more DIY savvy and do home improvements themselves? Or are they looking to hire accredited tradesmen to do larger renovations? Or instead, will homeowners move? Or will they stay put? Research reveals some interesting insights into the spending habits of homeowners and what we might be able to expect over the coming year.

Home renovations statistics

Data from Barclaycard revealed that in July home improvement and DIY rose by 27.1% as homeowners continued to carry out renovations. [1] With 32% of homeowners currently planning to undertake a renovation, statistics reveal the projects in demand are [2]:

  • 15% – cosmetic changes and general interior design
  • 15% – complete repaint (external and/or internal)
  • 63% – new kitchen
  • 53% – new bathroom
  • 69% – new external space/building an outhouse
  • 91% – loft extension
  • 51% – new office
  • 12% – ground floor extension
  • 12% – conservatory
  • 88% – new bedroom
  • 88% – side/rear extension
  • 26% – new roof
  • 95% – new home gym
  • 63% – basement conversion

Further research into the home improvement sector over the last 12 months also revealed that 6 in 10 (62%) of homeowners have already made home improvements, spending an average of £3,000 on the work. [2]

Why are homeowners looking to improve their home?

The research also investigated reasons why homeowners committed to home improvements. Of those surveyed, 58% did so in favour of moving up the housing ladder, 27% cited cheaper costs, 20% wanted to increase the value of their home. [2]

The impact of the UK lockdown on the home improvement industry

But how has the UK lockdown affected homeowners and the industry? 39% said that lockdown has been the main driver to either move or make improvements. A further 36% said that the decision was a result of spending more time at home which made them notice that their home needed home improvements. 24% said spending more time at home caused a general ‘wear and tear’. [2]

Green Homes Grant Scheme

The impending Green Homes Grant Scheme is due to go live in September which is predicted to have quite a large impact on the industry. As part of investment in a ‘green recovery’, homeowners and landlords in England will be able to apply for vouchers from a £2 billion Green Homes Grant scheme to make over 600,000 homes more energy-efficient and create local jobs. Installing energy saving measures will help homeowners with lower energy bills whilst also helping the environment.

Tradespeople who want to install under the scheme must be TrustMark accredited, and also, MCS certified for heat pump and solar thermal installations. To find out more about the requirements and the scheme in general please click here.

Protection

With all these home improvements being made and with more on the horizon, we can’t help but wonder how many homeowners look for that extra layer of protection when choosing their tradespeople. It was found that only 21% checked whether their contractor was fully insured.

Consumer protection schemes DGCOS, HIES and HICS  provide FREE insurance backed guarantees and stage payment and deposit protection to consumers that use one of their members as a basic minimum. This means that consumers have that extra peace of mind, plus all members are fully vetted and accredited.

[1] Source: Barclaycard

[2] Comparethemarket.com

Government’s Getting Building Fund

A £900 million Getting Building Fund was announced earlier this month by Government. The fund aims to support the delivery of shovel-ready infrastructure projects as well as creating more local jobs and supporting the green recovery across the UK.

The fund is being targeted in areas that are currently facing the biggest economic challenges because of the coronavirus crisis.

The funding will enable:

  • town and city centre modernisation through targeted infrastructure investments unleashing their longer-term economic potential;
  • investment in physical connectivity to improve the functioning of the local economy;
  • investment in innovation ecosystem including through improvements to research and development facilities driving up business productivity;
  • improvements to human capital; and
  • improving digital connectivity, in order to support economic performance, particularly in more isolated areas.

Over 300 successful projects in England will receive a share of the £900 million fund. The projects will be delivered through LEPs.

The Getting Building Fund is a part of a larger £1.3bn investment package.

To view the summary of allocations and details of allocations by area please click here.

People photo created by freestockcenter – www.freepik.com

cybercrime

UK’s worst areas for cybercrime

The worst hit areas for cybercrime across the UK have been revealed in a recent report. Scammers have always been prevalent in and around the country but with COVID-19, unfortunately, the volume of scams has soared and sadly, more and more scammers are also targeting the most vulnerable.

Where are the worst areas for cybercrime in the UK?

In order the top twenty worst hit areas include:

  1. Cambridgeshire
  2. North Wales
  3. Cumbria
  4. Thames Valley
  5. Norfolk
  6. Nottinghamshire
  7. Suffolk
  8. Bedfordshire
  9. Leicestershire
  10. North Yorkshire
  11. West Yorkshire
  12. Merseyside
  13. West Midlands
  14. Humberside
  15. Kent
  16. Warwickshire
  17. Greater Manchester
  18. South Yorkshire
  19. Cleveland
  20. Dorset

The data, analysed from the Office for National Statistics and police, show that Cambridgeshire has seen a 32% increase of cybercrime over the past 3 years, making it the worst area in the UK for cybercrime. The full report can be found here. On top of that, around 85% of organisations report phishing and social engineering attacks every year.

Michelle Stark, Sales and Marketing Director at fasthosts.co.uk, which compiled the report, commented: “It’s sad to see cybercrime increasing so rapidly across the UK. With consumers digitally connected with many local and national businesses, staying safe online is critical to protect your bank balance and keep your data secure. We urge all consumers to check the site is secure before they enter any data, and if uncertain, never proceed with inputting details.”

But with cybercrime becoming more prevalent and less obvious, how can you protect yourself online? QASSS have put together some guides on cyber security to help you stay safe online which you can find by clicking the links below:

How to avoid phishing attacks
Password protection
Mobile technology
Protection from malware
Backing up data

IT solutions for your business

We truly understand the needs of home improvement and renewable companies and offer proactive and bespoke IT solutions to help businesses with infrastructure, cyber security, end-user computing and management and web management.

QASSS is a Cyber Essentials accredited business and able to provide businesses with support and insights on how to best manage security with their organisation. If you would like advice and support, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email n.raja@qasss.co.uk.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Complaint Handling

Top tips for complaint handling

Good customer service has always been important, now more than ever given the rise of social media and review sites. Quick and effective complaint handling will help you turn customer complainers into brand advocates, helping to increase brand loyalty and your company’s reputation. Every email, call, letter or social media message and the way you handle it is crucial in the process. Here are our top tips to help you achieve this below and you can also download our handy guide here.

Complaint Handling

Time is of the essence

Be quick to respond – this should be a priority. Customers become even more frustrated by slow responses, feeling that their complaints are sat ignored in a lonely inbox. Phone customers wherever possible, even if they made contact through a different channel. Make sure you have planned capacity to handle all complaints, even during peak periods, as swiftly as possible and from all communication channels.

Make your customers feel listened to

When responding to unhappy customers, you need to get them into an agreeable frame of mind. Listen to them, do not interrupt and let them blow off steam. In many situations, it’s as important to ensure you fully listen to the problem and make sure the customer feels like they’ve been understood, as it is to resolve the problem. Make sure you not only acknowledge the facts of the situation but also how it’s made them feel.

Be genuine

Customers can often become more aggravated when complaint handlers are following a script. Empower your team to focus on the customer experience and let them use the opportunity to start a genuine conversation. This builds up trust and helps the customer feel respected and that you are taking their complaint seriously.

Exceed Expectations

Some complaints cannot be resolved easily, particularly where you cannot undo the problem, but you should always strive to make it up to the customer. This will go a long way into converting complainants into brand advocates. Going above and beyond makes customers feel important and respected. By exceeding customer expectations even by a small amount, you can make them feel like your most valued customer which leads to repeat business and true brand loyalty.

Manage the wider conversation

With the rise of online reviews and social media, an unhappy customer can reach huge audiences so it’s important to act quickly and protect your brand from negative reactions. Manage the wider conversation and use your interactions with unhappy customers to turn them around and demonstrate excellent customer service to wider audiences and prevent louder and more negative conversations.

Use the opportunity to build brand reputation

When you deal with complaints really well, unhappy customers will turn into delighted customers and become loyal brand advocates. If you exceed expectations, they are more likely to be motivated to tell friends and share their experiences with others, particularly on social media. If customers do share their positive experiences, thank them, and use the opportunity to repost.

Use analysis to continually improve

Unhappy customers will be brutally honest. By listening and taking detailed notes for analytical purposes, this will give you invaluable insights and feedback which will help your business improve and minimise future complaints. Root cause analysis will help you understand potentially wider problems and issues. Analysis of how you have handled complaints and outcomes will also help you improve your complaint handling process.

 

QASSS provides bespoke complaint handling and dispute resolution services to help improve your brand reputation, repeat business and save you time and money. To find out how we can help, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email info@qasss.co.uk

 

Image by rawpixel.com

good complaint handling

How excellent complaint handling can create brand advocates

Answering customer complaints effectively and quickly can turn unhappy customers into true brand advocates.

Even the most vocal and complex complaints handled well, will see your customer advocacy increase across the board.

Your strategy should be to win hearts and minds and embrace complainants. You should see those customers as an opportunity rather than a headache. Why?

Excellent complaint handling creates increased affinity and loyalty

By helping customers and solving their complaints, you can increase both affinity and brand loyalty which helps drive profitable brand growth. A customer whose complaint has been resolved will create more positive word of mouth than most satisfied customers, which can have 20 times the impact of normal advertising. Plus, those customers will become more loyal than they were before the problem arose.

Brand advocates are invaluable to your company

Brand advocates are not just loyal, your brand advocates will do the job of promoting your business for you and drive reputation, which in turn can help drive revenue. If you can exceed customer expectations, unhappy customers who have had a problem solved well are more likely to be motivated to tell friends and share their experience with others, particularly on social media. All at no cost to you.

Good complaint handling should be an extension of your marketing budget

Customer services should not be viewed as an operational overhead, rather as an extension of your marketing budget. With the rise of social media and review sites, it is now even easier for customers to publicly share their experiences, creating a legion of brand advocates who can save you marketing spend.

If you’d like to download our handy guide on how complaint handling can create true brand advocates, click here.

At QASSS, we have many years of experience in complaint handling and dispute resolution and we understand just how critical good complaint handling is to the home improvement sector. Our bespoke complaint handling and alternative dispute resolution services can help you save time, money and avoid reputational damage. To find out how we can help, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email info@qasss.co.uk

 

Image by rawpixel.com

complaints root cause analysis

Managing complaints and disputes – the importance of root cause analysis

According to an Ombudsman Services Report, it is estimated that UK businesses lose around £37 billion every year due to poor customer service and mismanagement of complaints. Businesses should capture information on all customer interactions for analytical purposes, particularly when it comes to complaints, to give invaluable insights and feedback to help with business improvement and minimise future complaints.

Root cause analysis, along with other analysis, will help you better understand potentially wider problems and issues.

What is root cause analysis?

Root cause analysis is simply about getting to the ‘root cause’ of the problem, complaint, or dispute to help identify potential sources of complaints so that as a business, you can tackle the root causes of problems and correct or prevent those problems recurring.

It should be used systematically and in conjunction with other analysis and management information to help improve customer satisfaction and outcomes.

The importance of using root cause analysis

Operational data usually forms part of wider management information. However, many organisations do not look at root cause analysis, primarily because information around complaints and disputes were not identified and recorded consistently.

Without that information being captured, recorded and analysed, organisations do not have a way of monitoring symptoms of complaints and their root causes. Having this analysis enables businesses to identify new or recurring problems, put in preventative action plans and monitor customer experiences and outcomes to help improve the journey and business processes supporting this.

Organisations should use root cause analysis to ensure customers are treated fairly, achieve the right customer outcomes and also consider what the right outcome should look like in each individual case.

Using root cause analysis

Root cause analysis is a great tool for continuous improvement, helping you understand customer issues in your business and what is causing them.

Once you have captured data and identified the start of a problem (do not wait until it becomes severe), the process is quite simple:

The process is quite simple:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Define the problem
  3. Understand the problem
  4. Identify the root cause (Remember a problem could have more than one root cause.
  5. Put in place an effective corrective action plan and a preventive action plan too. Communicate the plan to all involved, including the reason for the action, benefits, timelines, training, documentation and processes required.
  6. Continuously monitor the system and have a follow-up plan to modify the solution and make additional improvements where necessary.
  7. Review the results and analyse whether the solutions have been effective to ensure the problem has been eradicated.
  8. Ascertain whether you can use the solution to help with other problems.

Complaint handling solutions

QASSS provides bespoke complaint handling and dispute resolution services to help improve your brand reputation, repeat business and save you time and money. To find out how we can help, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email info@qasss.co.uk

Image by ijeab at freepik.com

green homes grant

Green Homes Grants Scheme Update

Some details of the Green Homes Grants scheme are still being defined by the government. In the meantime, here is the latest update following a briefing today.

Accredited suppliers

Quality assurance is at the heart of the Green Homes Grants scheme and the government has now clarified that tradespeople who want to install under the scheme must be TrustMark accredited, and also, MCS certified for heat pump and solar thermal installations.

HIES (The Home Insulation and Energy Systems Quality Assured Contractors Scheme), operated by QASSS, is a Trustmark scheme operator so will be able to support the Trustmark accreditation process.

The accreditation that tradespeople must acquire before installing any work under the scheme will give homeowners peace of mind that their installer is approved and accredited thus ensuring high standards and thorough consumer protection.

Why is the scheme so important?

This scheme will urge consumers to engage with TrustMark Registered Businesses to have energy efficient works carried out in and around their homes, bringing increased jobs and revenue to businesses.

Measures covered by the scheme

Homeowners and social and private landlords will need to use their voucher to install at least one of the following, which they will receive before works commence:

First line measures:

  • Solid wall, under-floor, cavity wall, loft, flat roof, room in roof or park home insulation; or
  • Air source or ground source heat pump or solar thermal (where the home is suitably insulated).

Households can also use their voucher for further energy saving measures, up to the value of 50% of the voucher (and capped at the amount of the government contribution to the primary measures). These include one or more of the following:

Second line measures:

  • Draught proofing: draught-proofing your home (for example around windows and doors) can block up unwanted gaps that let cold air in and warm air out.
  • Windows and doors: double/triple glazing (where replacing single glazing), secondary glazing (in addition to single glazing), energy efficient replacement doors.
  • Heating controls and insulation: appliance thermostats, hot water tank thermostats, hot water tank insulation, smart heating controls, zone controls, delayed start thermostat, thermostatic radiator valves.

To note, secondary measures cannot be undertaken in isolation but can be installed alongside a primary measure.

More about the grants

The government are funding up energy efficient home improvement grants for over 600,000, supporting over 100,000 jobs in the sector

  • Homeowners and landlords can apply for a voucher that funds up to two-thirds of the cost of hiring tradespeople to upgrade the energy performance of their homes – up to a maximum contribution of £5,000. It could help save families up to £600 a year on their energy bills.
  • Low income and vulnerable households, including park homeowners and those on certain benefits, will be eligible for a grant covering up to 100% of the cost, up to £10,000.
  • The scheme opens later this month and the closing date is 31st March 2021. We are awaiting final confirmation, but it is expected that homeowners and landlords could have up to 6 months thereafter to complete the work and claim the voucher.
  • Once the works are agreed, vouchers will start to be issued from the end of September so work can commence.

 Consumer website

The Simple Energy Advice (SEA) service will be the main source of information for consumers.

By the end of the month, homeowners will be able to access advice and support on how best to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and the website will have the searchable list of accredited tradespeople who are authorised to carry out works under the scheme.

People photo created by prostooleh – www.freepik.com

Dispute resolution

The impact of using dispute resolution vs court on complaint handling practices

A study* by BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) highlights the positive benefits of using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) on complaint handling practices.

Traders who have used litigation do not appear to have become more responsive to customer complaints following their experience with the courts, as compared to traders who used dispute resolution.

“While the court process appears to have led to a number of traders being more cautious and clearer regarding their offering (with little direct impact on customer service), interviews with traders who used ADR bear witness to a generally positive impact of the ADR process on business practices, especially related to increased consumer focus and the process.”

During interviews with businesses who had used ADR to resolve a consumer dispute, collaboration with the ADR was mentioned as positively influencing the consumer relationship and stopping clients who endlessly try to escalate a case. The interviewees also indicated the ADR was professional, quick, lead to fair outcomes and helped resolve deadlocks. One company indicated that both the ADR provider and the trader had mutually learned from each other as good practices were exchanged.

Impact on traders – the court process

  • Results from the survey suggest that the majority of traders generally do not change their complaints-handling processes nor their business practices after their experience with the courts.
  • The study found that 79% of traders did not change their complaints-handling processes following a court case.
  • Of those who did make changes, very few indicated that they now offer greater guidance to customers on dealing with complaints. Instead, changes revolved around minimising misunderstandings (i.e. the trader is more careful with wording on quotes/changed terms and conditions/making customers aware).
  • The study suggests that the court process tends to make traders more cautious and clearer regarding their offered goods and/or services and the terms and conditions of purchase.

Impact on traders – the ADR process

  • The survey suggests that traders who use the ADR process adopt a faster and more customer-oriented approach.
  • Collaboration with the ADR process was mentioned as positively influencing the consumer relationship and stopping clients who endlessly try to escalate a case.
  • ADR providers help traders to improve their business practices and complaints-handling procedures. Traders that have used ADR mentioned the following impacts:
    • Becoming more customer-oriented
    • Addressing issues faster
    • Contributing to increased customer focus, which ultimately drove customer satisfaction
    • Adapting processes and the training
    • Investigating the very root cause of the problem their customers are experiencing
  • The survey also showed that 43% of ADR providers offer guidance to help businesses improve their practices and complaints processes, while 30% offer workshops or training courses

It is clear that not only does ADR have a more positive impact on complaint-handling that going through the court process, but businesses also indicated that

“ADR was professional, quick, lead to fair outcomes and able to resolve deadlocks.”

And it’s not only businesses that benefit. The study also highlighted that 62% of consumers who used ADR found the process simple, quicker and cheaper than using the courts to resolve a dispute.

Wider Benefits of using ADR

  • Financial savings vs increasing litigation costs
  • Savings on time and being able to free up internal resources
  • Helping protect and improve reputation
  • Driving better outcomes for both businesses and consumers
  • Ensuring fairness and impartiality
  • Avoiding costly compensation

QASSS offers award-winning and industry-leading dispute resolution services to the home improvement and renewable energy sectors. To find out about our services, read more here, or contact Laura Holmes, Service Delivery manager on 0330 335 3354 or email l.homes@qasss.co.uk

 

*Resolving consumer disputes. Alternative dispute resolution and the court system. Final Report.

 

Image by ZeroTolerance from Pixabay

technology grant

£5,000 small business technology grant

The government has announced a new £20m IT funding package for small businesses to use to upgrade their technology, equipment and hire professional advisors.

The technology grant has been announced to help small businesses through the coronavirus crisis. These businesses can access between £1,000 and £5,000 when applying for the business technology grant.

The grant can be spent on:

  • Accountants
  • Human resources (HR)
  • Financial
  • IT and digital
  • Legal
  • Minor equipment to adapt or adopt new technology

The £20m IT funding package is being administered by the Government’s 38 regional growth hubs which can be found here.

Simon Clarke, Regional growth minister, commented, “We have always said that we would stand behind our businesses and communities as we rebuild following the coronavirus pandemic. This new funding does exactly that.

Businesses will be able to use these new grants to pay for the expertise, equipment, and technology they need to adapt, recover and rebuild.

Small and medium-sized businesses are the beating heart of communities; they provide employment and contribute significantly to local economies and we are determined to give them the support they need to continue to thrive.”

For those in the home improvement industry, QASSS provides an IT support solution that delivers a range of bespoke and innovative services including infrastructure services, web management network and security, and end-user computing and management. For further information on how this can be used to help you and your business maximise the IT support package announced by government, please contact Nisar Raja, IT Manager on 0330 335 3354, or email n.raja@qasss.co.uk

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

The Green Homes Grant and “Buy to Let” Landlords

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

Claims managament

Section 75 claims made easy

Claims made easy

It is clear that Covid-19 is negatively impacting the UK economy. Some businesses have suspended trading momentarily, some are scaling back operations and some have merged with other companies or ceased to trade completely.

Given the uncertain outlook for the economy over the coming months it is possible that a significant number of home improvement companies and building contractors could go into administration. Companies in this sector are likely to experience difficulties over the coming months, not least as government support is withdrawn, and the situation has been highlighted by companies announcing closures along with other major retailers and manufacturers.

We are now seeing businesses of all sizes being affected. With the market being adversely impacted it is highly probable that unemployment will increase. The fallout from this could impact the financial industry, where lenders and credit card companies are used to finance essential home improvement work. With an increasing number of retailers ceasing to trade, this could lead to a rise in Section 75 claims for customers that are having to rely on credit cards for financing. Coupled with the fact that some customers are already financially stressed, this could lead to bad customer experiences.

Lenders have historically managed Section 75 claims by asking consumers to obtain their own expert reports and estimates for rectifying issues. This approach can place potentially vulnerable customers in difficult situations where they are left feeling isolated and unsupported, and unsure what can be classed as an expert report. Customers may also experience distress and inconvenience when they feel they have not been supported, with complaints potentially being escalated to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Previously, lenders have been able to manage BAU claim volumes where small numbers of businesses have entered administration. However, due to the current crisis and forecasts about the economy, it is possible the industry will see a rise in claims. With many lenders currently operating home-based teams only, an increase in cases could complicate things further. If you also factor in that customers will need more assistance, the situation could cause further delays and inconvenience.

However, if cases are proactively managed, inspections completed by experts and repair work undertaken by competent and vetted suppliers, settlement costs can be significantly reduced and lifecycle times minimised. It is therefore more important than ever for lenders and credit card providers to review how these claims are managed and to consider the best approach for their businesses and customers.

How QASSS can help

At QASSS, we provide a comprehensive solution for financial institutions and insurers across the home improvement and renewable energy sectors – claims management, inspection services and remedial works.

  • When companies cease to trade, we provide a unique “one-stop shop” solution for lenders, brokers, credit card companies and IBG providers.
  • We provide a national solution for Consumer Credit Act claims and our service spans all home improvement verticals.
  • We protect the reputation of financial businesses, whilst controlling their claims spend and ensuring the right outcomes for customers.
  • We handle cases for lenders where companies are still trading and inspections or remedial works are needed.
  • We provide insurers with a unique end to end solution for claims involving renewable equipment.

Why we are different

  • Capability and knowledge spans the lending and insurance space
  • Deep understanding of Section 56 & 75 claims
  • Claims surge planning to cover major retailer collapse
  • Fixed inspection and claims management fees
  • Award-winning services
  • 2 year guarantee on completed works
  • Desktop and site validation
  • Tiered Inspection Services
  • Use of video capture technology
  • Vetted and managed supply chain
  • Embedded approach to vulnerable customers
  • Fraud management

If you’d like to learn more, contact Scott Robinson, Commercial Director, on 07341 084401 or email s.robinson@qasss.co.uk

 

Original article published on UK Finance

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

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, 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

Phishing and cyber security

Improving cyber security – avoiding phishing attacks

As part of our guides on cyber security, we’ve put together top tips on how to avoid phishing attacks based on advice from the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre).

AVOIDING PHISHING ATTACKS

In a typical phishing attack, scammers send fake emails to thousands of people, asking for sensitive information (such as bank details), or containing links to bad websites. They might try to trick you into sending money, steal your details to sell on, or they may have political or ideological motives for accessing your organisation’s information.

Phishing emails are getting harder to spot, and some will still get past even the most observant users. Whatever your business, however big or small it is, you will receive phishing attacks at some point. This section contains some easy steps to help you identify the most common phishing attacks but be aware that there is a limit to what you can expect your users to do.

Tip 1: Configure accounts to reduce the impact of successful attacks

You should configure your staff accounts in advance using the principle of ‘least privilege’. This means giving staff the lowest level of user rights required to perform their jobs, so if they are the victim of a phishing attack, the potential damage is reduced.

To further reduce the damage that can be done by malware or loss of login details, ensure that your staff do not browse the web or check emails from an account with Administrator privileges. An Administrator account is a user account that allows you to make changes that will affect other users. Administrators can change security settings, install software and hardware, and access all files on the computer. An attacker having unauthorised access to an Administrator account can be far more damaging than accessing a standard user account.

Use two factor authentication (2FA) on your important accounts such as email. This means that even if an attacker knows your passwords, they still will not be able to access that account.

Tip 2: Think about how you operate

Consider ways that someone might target your organisation, and make sure your staff all understand normal ways of working (especially regarding interaction with other organisations), so that they’re better equipped to spot requests that are out of the ordinary.

Common tricks include sending a false invoice, so when the attachment is opened, malware is automatically installed (without your knowledge) on your computer. Another is to trick staff into transferring money or information by sending emails that look authentic.

Think about your usual practices and how you can help make these tricks less likely to succeed. For example:

  • Do staff know what to do with unusual requests, and where to get help?
  • Ask yourself whether someone impersonating an important individual (a customer or manager) via email should be challenged (or have their identity verified another way) before action is taken.
  • Do you understand your regular business relationships? Scammers will often send phishing emails from large organisations (such as banks) in the hope that some of the email recipients will have a connection to that company. If you get an email from an organisation you don’t do business with, treat it with suspicion.
  • Think about how you can encourage and support your staff to question suspicious or just unusual requests, even if they appear to be from important individuals. Having the confidence to ask ‘is this genuine?’ can be the difference between staying safe or a costly mishap.

Tip 3: Check for the obvious signs of phishing

Many phishing emails still fit the mould of a traditional attack, so look for the following warning signs:

  • Many phishing scams originate overseas and often the spelling, grammar and punctuation are poor. Others will try and create official-looking emails by including logos and graphics. Is the design (and quality) what would you’d expect from a large organisation?
  • Is it addressed to you by name, or does it refer to ‘valued customer’, or ‘friend’, or ‘colleague’? This can be a sign that the sender does not actually know you, and that it is part of a phishing scam.
  • Does the email contain a veiled threat that asks you to act urgently? Be suspicious of words like ‘send these details within 24 hours’ or ‘you have been a victim of crime, click here immediately’.
  • Look out for emails that appear to come from a high-ranking person within your organisation, requesting a payment is made to a particular bank account. Look at the sender’s name. Does it sound legitimate, or is it trying to mimic someone you know?
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It is most unlikely that someone will want to give you money, or give you access to some secret part of the internet.

Tip 4: Report all attacks

Make sure that your staff are encouraged to ask for help if they think that they might have been a victim of phishing, especially if they’ve not raised it before. It’s important to take steps to scan for malware and change passwords as soon as possible if you suspect a successful attack has occurred.

Do not punish staff if they get caught out. It discourages people from reporting in the future and can make them so fearful that they spend excessive time and energy scrutinising every email they receive. Both these things cause more harm to your business in the long run.

If you believe that your organisation has been the victim of online fraud, scams or extortion, you should report this through the Action Fraud website. Action Fraud is the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre. If you are in Scotland contact Police Scotland on 101.

Tip 5: Keep up to date with attackers

Attackers are always trying different methods of attack, even when tools like automatic email protection have prevented previous attempts, therefore try and stay one step ahead and keep on top of the techniques used by attackers.

Consider signing up for the free Action Fraud Alert service to receive direct, verified, accurate information about scams and fraud in your area by email, recorded voice and text message.

Monitor the advice from your local Police Service, and Regional & Organised Crime Unit (ROCU), who will put out warnings of specific cyber crime activity in your area.

Or join CiSP32 which provides a forum for cyber security discussion from beginner through to expert level. It is also a platform where organisations can share intelligence gathered from their own network.

 

If you’d like advice on making your company cyber resilient, QASSS offers bespoke IT solutions and support for businesses in the home improvement and renewable sectors.

Customer service

Latest UKCSI research highlights the importance of customer service

The latest report* on customer service across the UK economy from the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) shows that customer satisfaction has pretty much remained flat over the last year.

The UKCSI is an independent, national benchmark of customer satisfaction published each January and July which measures customers’ experiences and relationships with organisations on 26 metrics which are based on research into customer priorities.

Key headlines

  • The July 2020 UKCSI is 77.0 (out of 100), 0.1 points lower than a year ago and 1.2 points below the highpoint recorded in July 2017.
  • In the context of the COVID-19, customers believe that doing the right thing to protect their employees (40.1%), prioritising the needs of vulnerable customers (39.8%) and keeping customers updated (39.3%) were the top 3 most important things for organisations to focus on during the crisis.
  • The research also indicated that COVID-19 has changed the way people think about customer service with 65.6% of customers valuing the role of employees who work in customer services more than before.

Impact of COVID-19

We have seen that some companies have responded more effectively than others during the crisis in terms of their agility and employee and customer engagement. As lockdown eases against a backdrop of an uncertain economy, companies will be tested even more with customer satisfaction and complaints handling capabilities at the forefront.

As lockdown eases, 4 key factors will frame the challenges for organisations:

  1. The evolving threat of COVID-19 and measures needed to reduce the threat.
  2. Changes in customer needs, preferences and behaviours.
  3. Economic legacy for communities, individuals and organisations.
  4. Organisations’ priorities: short-term sales or service and care for customers.

What the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted is that customer service is a key function and agility, innovation, commercial acumen and customer care are not created overnight but are the products of a long-term focus on culture and values.

Joanna Causon, Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service, commented:

Now is a time to reset business and customer objectives and focus on employee engagement, service productivity and innovation. I believe organisations will need to re-examine who they serve, how they provide service, the value they create and the sustainability of operating models.

The central challenges will be managing financial pressures alongside developing a culture of employee engagement, innovation and genuine care for customers: both are essential to achieve short and long-term objectives.

Key priorities identified by customers for organisations to focus on during the COVID-19 crisis

Additional research was collected from over 1,000 customers to assess what was important to their experiences with organisations during the crisis.

In the context of the COVID-19, customers believe that doing the right thing to protect their employees (40.1%), prioritising the needs of vulnerable customers (39.8%) and keeping customers updated (39.3%) were the top 3 most important things for organisations to focus on during the crisis.

customer service

Vulnerable customers

Many people have been physically, mentally and financially affected by the pandemic and may now fall into the ‘vulnerable’ category. In many cases, customers’ needs and priorities when dealing with organisations have changed significantly and will continue to evolve, often in unpredictable ways.

Organisations must understand how their customer experience is performing and how customer expectations are shifting. Customers need to know what to expect from organisations and how to access services, help and advice.

Complaint Handling

The research also compared average scores of the 50 highest rated organisations against the remaining organisations looking at customer experience, service and complaint handling. As you can see below, complaint handling and speed of resolving complaints across both the top organisations and the poorer performers is still rated as poor, scoring less than 7 out of 10 across the board.

customer service

We’ve introduced a NEW complaint cost calculator which you can download here. Input your business figures to calculate the impact on your company’s revenue and margin.

About QASSS

We provide complaint handling and dispute resolution services across the home improvement and renewable energy sectors. We recognise speed is crucial in both complaint and dispute handling and to that end, we are award-winning and industry-leading with an average dispute resolution time of just 3.59 days.

To find out how we can help, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email Laura, our Service Delivery Manager at l.holmes@qasss.co.uk

 

 

*The UKCSI is an independent, national benchmark of customer satisfaction published each January and July. The UKCSI measures customers’ experiences and relationships with organisations on 26 metrics which are based on research into customer priorities. This UKCSI covers 271 organisations across 13 sectors. The research for this UKCSI is based on 45,000 customer responses conducted in 2 waves of research: the first wave was conducted between 10 September and 7 October 2019; the second wave was conducted between 16 March and 13 April 2020.
CTSI resolution

CCAS celebrates five years of Alternative Dispute Resolution

The Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS), of which QASSS is an approved member, celebrates five years of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) consumer regulations and its achievements during this period.

The scheme aims to promote consumer interests by setting out the principles of effective customer service and protection. It goes above and beyond consumer law obligations and sets a higher standard, showing consumers clearly – through the right to display the CTSI approved code logo – that code members can be trusted.

Over the past five years, over 68,000 UK businesses joined the scheme and over £12.7M was recovered for consumers.

In April, a report revealed that CCAS now protects almost £135bn of consumer transactions, a 62% year-on-year increase.

By assisting consumers and businesses, ADR within CCAS helps both avoid costly court proceedings and enables them to reach an agreement quicker. Consumers gain access to a clear complaint and ADR procedure. Businesses are regularly audited and monitored to ensure they comply with the high standards set by their approved code of practice. By using an approved trader, consumers have protection above and beyond regular consumer law rights.

CTSI Chief Executive and Interim Chair of the CCAS Board, Leon Livermore, said:

“ADR has proved vital for strengthening the relationship between UK consumers and businesses. I am proud of CCAS’ achievements over the past five years, and I look forward to its continuing growth and development as we come out of the coronavirus lockdown, and over the next five years.”

QASSS is an approved provider of ADR helping both businesses and consumers to resolve disputes through mediation and avoid the stress and cost of going to court. Our award-winning service is industry leading with an average resolution time of just 3.59 days and 98.4% of disputes are resolved without need for referral to the Ombudsman.

construction talent retention scheme

QASSS welcomes Chancellor’s announcement supporting the Construction Talent Retention Scheme

QASSS who manages the HICS, HIES and DGCOS consumer protection schemes welcomes today’s announcement from the Chancellor confirming support for the Construction Talent Retention Scheme. 

Formally launching later this month, the Construction Talent Retention Scheme is a partnership between industry and Government to secure essential talent in the UK’s construction sector. 

Announced by the Chancellor in today’s statement, the scheme is run by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) which is made up of trade and business associations from across the supply chain.

The online portal supports redeployment of staff at risk of redundancy from across the sector, while also enabling temporary employee loans between businesses. It also gives displaced workers from other sectors a route to find new employment in construction, while offering businesses a platform to find the skills they need.  

The not-for-profit programme has funding secured until the end of April 2021, providing a free online platform for any business or organisation looking to hire, while ensuring that candidates’ skills and experience are given a prominent platform within the wider industry. 

The CTR Scheme:

  • Retains talent
  • Retains skills
  • Supports families
  • Supports businesses

Businesses and employers interested in finding out more are encouraged to register their interest at:  www.trs-system.co.uk/construction

carbon emissions green recovery

Government to boost job retention and a ‘green recovery’

The Chancellor today announced a package of measures to support jobs and invest in a ‘green recovery’. The ‘Plan for Jobs’ includes job creation by bringing forward work on £8.8 billion of new infrastructure, decarbonisation and maintenance projects.

Green Homes Grant

As part of investment in a ‘green recovery’, homeowners and landlords in England will be able to apply for vouchers from a £2 billion Green Homes Grant scheme to make their homes more energy-efficient and create local jobs.

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

Public Sector, Infrastructure Investment & Social Housing Polit

  • A £1 billion programme is being introduced to make public buildings, including schools and hospitals, greener, helping the country meet its ambitions of achieving Net Zero by 2050.
  • As announced, £5.8 billion will be spent on shovel-ready construction projects to get Britain building, including hospital maintenance and upgrades, local roads network and rebuilding schools.
  • The Chancellor has also announced £50 million to pilot the right approach towards decarbonised social housing.

Construction Talent Retention Scheme

The Construction Talent Retention Scheme is a partnership between the Government and industry to secure essential talent in the UK construction sector.

  • Construction Talent Retention Scheme will keep skills in the sector, matching displaced workers with employers seeking new staff
  • Scheme is based on proven model to safeguard talent in the aerospace and automotive sectors
  • Supported by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) and all leading sector trade bodies

The Construction Talent Retention Scheme, to formally launch later this month, will be an online portal that supports redeployment of staff at risk of redundancy across the sector, while also enabling temporary employee loans between businesses. The Scheme gives displaced workers from other sectors a route to find new employment in construction. The not-for-profit programme has funding secured until the end of April 2021.Businesses and employers interested in finding out more are encouraged to register their interest at: www.trs-system.co.uk/construction

Job Retention Bonus

As part of the plan to support jobs, a Job Retention Bonus will be introduced to help firms keep furloughed workers.

  • UK Employers will receive a one-off bonus of £1,000 for each furloughed employee who is still employed as of 31 January 2021.
  • They must be paid at least £520 each month from November to January.

Kickstart Scheme

A new £2 billion Kickstart Scheme is being launched to create hundreds of thousands of new, fully subsidised jobs for young people across the country.

  • Those aged 16-24, claiming Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment, will be eligible.
  • Funding available for each six-month job placement will cover 100% of the National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week plus an amount to cover overheads, and employers will be able to top up the wage.
  • Employees must provide ‘good quality’ jobs with training and support.
  • There is no cap on the number of places available.

Apprenticeship and traineeships

A total of £1.6 billion will be invested in scaling up employment support schemes, training and apprenticeships to help people looking for a job. Young people, who are amongst the worst hit by the crisis, will benefit from this. This includes:

  • Businesses will be given £2,000 for each new apprentice they hire under the age of 25. This is in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the Government already provides for new 16-18-year-old apprentices and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan.
  • A £111 million investment to triple the scale of traineeships in 2020-21 ensuring more young people have access to high quality training.
  • £17 million of funding to triple the number of sector-based work academy placements in 2020-21
Work Safe campaign

Work Safe – Safe Work Campaign

The ‘Work Safe – Safe Work’ campaign has been launched to help guide and reassure homeowners who are looking to employ tradespeople in and around their homes in a post-COVID lockdown world.

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease across the country, more homeowners will be having work carried out in their homes. The new campaign from Trustmark and the Construction Leadership Council aims to give homeowners confidence in employing tradespeople in this new reality we are finding ourselves in.

There are lots of great resources available to DGCOS, HICS and HIES members and our clients including a consumer-facing microsite, video and guidebook to help homeowners navigate through safety considerations when inviting tradespeople into their home to complete work.

Downloaded the free assets here to help give confidence to your customers.

In case you missed it, you can also download our guide to protecting customers and your workforce and free posters here.

sustainable innovation fund

£200 million Sustainable Innovation Fund unveiled

  • The Sustainable Innovation Fund at almost £200 million is designed to help businesses across the UK drive forward cutting-edge new tech and recover from the impacts of coronavirus.
  • Government investment to support innovations ranging from AI systems managing city traffic flows to the latest reusable packaging materials.
  • Research and development (R&D) intensive businesses urged to apply for funding to turn ingenious ideas into new technologies.

Innovative ideas and projects led by companies recovering from the impact of coronavirus will not be lost, thanks to a new £200 million fund launched on 27th June.

The government’s Sustainable Innovation Fund will be open to companies across all parts of the UK who need urgent financial support to keep their cutting-edge projects and ideas alive.

Funding totalling almost £200 million could go towards developing new technologies focused on making homes and offices more energy efficient to cut bills, creating ground-breaking medical technologies to treat infections and diseases, or reducing the carbon footprint of public transport in our towns and cities.

In a move to support people across the country to establish more ‘climate-positive’ behaviours, businesses and start-ups could also make use of the fund to develop smart sustainability-focused projects – from apps encouraging people to cut down their food waste to sustainable biodegradable packaging.

The Sustainable Innovation Fund will help power the UK’s economic recovery and develop new sustainable opportunities for businesses in any sector following the coronavirus pandemic, while helping the UK meet its ambitions to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said:

Our country is home to some of the world’s most cutting-edge businesses that turn ingenious ideas into new technologies every day. That’s why we’re backing our innovators and risk-takers with new investment so they can recover and grow out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Today I am urging businesses in all parts of the UK to come forward and pitch their state-of-the-art ideas to us, so we can work together to power the UK’s economic recovery.

This funding, delivered through Innovate UK, forms part of a wider £750 million package of grants and loans announced in April to support innovative firms. This sits alongside the new £500 million Future Fund, which provides match-funding to private investors, and has already received over 500 applications since its launch on 20 May.

Businesses can apply for support through the Sustainable Innovation Fund by visiting the Innovate UK website from Monday 29 June.

carbon emissions green recovery

£80m government boost to cut carbon emissions from homes and industry

  • Nearly £80 million investment from government to reduce carbon emissions from industry and homes.
  • First phase to help heavy industry go green, helping to cut energy costs, protect jobs, and cut carbon emissions.
  • New green homes programme will retrofit homes with latest green tech, helping people save money on their energy bills.

Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng has announced nearly £80 million of government investment to help cut carbon emissions from homes and energy intensive businesses.

The funding will be invested in a wide range of programmes, including pioneering heat networks and an innovative new programme to bring down the cost of retrofitting residential properties with the latest energy efficiency technologies.

Funds announced today include:

  • £30 million towards the first phase of the Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF), which supports energy intensive manufacturers, like car factories and steel plants, to cut their carbon footprint
  • £25 million for heat networks, which reduce carbon and cut heating bills for customers, including one which will harness geothermal water sitting in disused mines to heat 1,250 homes
  • £24 million for innovative projects to help develop energy efficient homes by installing green tech and insulation in houses

Phase 1 of the IETF, for which guidance is published today, is worth an initial £30 million in support of the manufacturing sector. The fund allows companies with high energy use to apply for grants to install technology that reduces their energy bills and cuts carbon emissions.

Worth an eventual £289 million in England, Wales and Northern Ireland up until 2024, the IETF also seeks to help bring down the costs of technologies that reduce energy consumption and emissions in heavy industrial processes.

£25 million will go towards heat networks, including one in Gateshead, which will harness geothermal water sitting in disused mines to heat 1,250 homes. With thousands of redundant mine shafts criss-crossing the country, experts say that if the mine shaft technology proves successful and economically viable, it could be scaled up to power around 6 million homes around Britain.

The final £24 million green homes investment will comprise of:

  • £7.7 million to install green technology and insulation in over 300 council houses, to bring down the cost of retrofitting homes – with pilot projects in Cornwall, Nottingham, and Sutton
  • £14.6 million to pilot the roll-out of innovative heat pumps to 750 homes in the South East of Scotland, the South East of England and Newcastle
  • £1.8 million to support the development of innovative green home finance products by lenders

The announcements today form part of the wider efforts to ensure the UK meets its legally binding target to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said:

We want to invest now to ensure we continue to propel the UK towards a stronger, greener future.

This new £80 million investment will help to reduce emissions across our economy, which will save people money on energy bills and protect jobs in heavy industry.

password protection cyber security

Improving cyber security – password protection

As part of our cyber security guides based on NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) advice, today we look at password protection.

PASSWORD PROTECTION

Your laptops, computers, tablets and smartphones will contain a lot of your own business-critical data, the personal information of your customers, and also details of the online accounts that you access. It is essential that this data is available to you, but not available to unauthorised users.

Passwords, when implemented correctly, are a free, easy and effective way to prevent unauthorised users accessing your devices.

Here are 5 top tips when using passwords:

Tip 1: Make sure you switch on password protection

Set a screen lock password, PIN, or other authentication method (such as fingerprint or face unlock). If you are mostly using fingerprint or face unlock, you’ll be entering a password less often, so consider setting up a long password that’s difficult to guess.

Password protection is not just for smartphones and tablets. Make sure that your office equipment all use an encryption product (such as BitLocker for Windows) using a Trusted Platform Module (TPM)21 with a PIN, or FileVault (on macOS) in order to start up. Most modern devices have encryption built in, but encryption may still need to be turned on and configured, so check you have it set up.

Tip 2: Use two factor authentication for ‘important’ accounts

If you are given the option to use two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) for any of your accounts, you should do; it adds a large amount of security for not much extra effort.

2FA requires two different methods to ‘prove’ your identity before you can use a service, generally a password plus one other method. This could be a code that’s sent to your smartphone (or a code that’s generated from a bank’s card reader) that enter in addition to your password.

Tip 3: Avoid using predictable passwords

Make sure staff are given actionable information on setting passwords. Passwords should be easy to remember, but hard for somebody else to guess. A good rule is ‘make sure that somebody who knows you well, couldn’t guess your password in 20 attempts’.

Staff should also avoid using the most common passwords, which criminals can easily guess.

Tip 4: Help staff cope with ‘password overload’

If you manage how passwords are used in your organisation, there are several things you can do that will improve security. Most importantly, your staff will have dozens of non-work related passwords to remember as well, so only enforce password access to a service if you really need to.

Where you do use passwords to access a service, do not enforce regular password changes.

Passwords really only need to be changed when you suspect a compromise of the login credentials.

Staff will forget passwords, so make sure they can reset their own passwords easily. Consider using password managers, which are tools that can create and store passwords for you that you access via a ‘master’ password. Since the master password is protecting all your other passwords, make sure it’s a strong one, for example by using three random words.

Tip 5: Change all default passwords

One of the most common mistakes is not changing the manufacturers’ default passwords that smartphones, laptops, and other types of equipment are issued with. Change all default passwords before devices are distributed to staff. You should also regularly check devices (and software) specifically to detect unchanged default passwords.

IT support and solutions

If you need help with business continuity, cyber security and other IT solutions to help your business stay safe, innovative and reduce IT costs, we can help.

We understand the home improvement and renewable sectors and offer a host of bespoke IT solutions whether on a project, temporary or permanent basis.

To find out more, call Nisar Raja, QASSS IT Infrastructure Manager, on 0330 335 3354 or email n.raja@qasss.co.uk

 

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

home improvement

Positive signs for home improvement spending

Recent research from Insight DIY commissioned by Safestyle brings good news to the home improvement sector with 55%% of Brits prioritising plans to update their home as the Covid-19 restrictions continue to be eased.

The survey showed that 62% of Brits feel better off having saved money during the lockdown on things such as commuting, socialising, shopping and going on holiday. One in three (31%) are likely to spend this extra money on home improvements – with 1 in 8 expecting to invest in home improvements within the next six months.

Projects vary and include both interior and exterior home improvements:

  • 23% are looking to redecorate inside
  • 25% are looking at garden improvements
  • 13% are focusing on improving their home exteriors

In terms of safety, 34% felt comfortable letting contractors and tradespeople into their home to carry out work, with another 26 per cent having no strong feelings either way.

Many contractors and tradespeople have been working hard to put in place strict COVID-19 safety plans to protect their customers and employees. QASSS alongside HIES, DGCOS and HICS who represent businesses in the home improvement and renewable energy sectors, issued full safety guidance and advice based on government guidelines back in May to support a safe return to work.

To help protect from COVID-19, the top five requirements from those surveyed included:

1) Keeping at least 2 metres away (71%)
2) Washing/sanitising hands before entering (67%)
3) Wearing a protective face mask (63%)
4) Confirming they have no Covid-19 symptoms (56%)
5) Wearing protective gloves (56%)

COVID-19 has transformed how we live and work, with remote working now becoming a more permanent way of life and home considered the safest place to be. And with economic uncertainty, people are choosing to improve or extend their homes rather than move.

If you’re planning a new project, make sure you only instruct skilled tradesmen who are members of a consumer protection scheme or other trade scheme demonstrating adherence to quality standards and service.

HIESHICS and DGCOS are consumer protection schemes that cover the whole of the home improvement and renewable energy sectors. Trade members undergo full compliance checks and all consumers get access to free ADR (alternative dispute resolution) should something go wrong.

Image by tookapic from Pixabay

construction

New support for the construction industry to get Britain building again

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced new measures to be introduced this week to help the construction industry boost building and return to work safely, including the extension of planning permission deadlines, flexible working hours on construction sites and changes to the planning appeal process.

Planning permission deadlines extended

Planning permission deadlines will be extended, planning appeals will be sped up and builders will be allowed more flexible working hours following agreement with their local council.

Planning permission usually expires after three years if work has not started onsite. Sites with consent that have an expiry date between the start of lockdown and the end of this year will now see their consent extended to 1 April 2021. This will prevent work that has been temporarily disrupted by the pandemic from stopping altogether.

The government estimates that by the end of this month alone, more than 400 residential permissions providing more than 24,000 new homes would have expired. The new measures will help these developments and more resume as the economy recovers.

Planning appeal process

New measures will also permanently grant the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) the ability to use more than one procedure – written representations, hearings and inquiries – at the same time when dealing with a planning appeal, enabling appeals to happen much faster.

Last year a pilot programme tested this approach and implemented recommendations of the Rosewell Review, which more than halved the time taken for appeal inquiries, from 47 weeks to 23 weeks.

Flexible working hours

Builders will be able to quickly agree more flexible construction site working hours with their local council for a temporary period. This will make it easier to follow public health guidance onsite and by staggering builders’ arrival times, public transport will be less busy, and the risk of infection will be reduced.

Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, said:

Building the homes the country needs is central to the mission of this government and is an important part of our plans to recover from the impact of the coronavirus.

New laws will enable us to speed up the pace of planning appeals and save hundreds of construction sites from being cancelled before they have a chance to get spades in the ground, helping to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs and create many others.

Taken together, these measures will help to keep workers safe and our economy moving as we work together to bounce back from the pandemic.

 

 

Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

mediation

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?

Alternative Dispute Resolution Process   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.

QASSS Remedial Works Management   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).

QASSS Partnerships   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.

mediation fairness   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.

customer satisfaction   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.

confidential mediation   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.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Process   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

 

Mobile technology cyber safe

Improving cyber security – mobile technology

As part of our cyber security guides, QASSS has put together a quick guide based on NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) advice to help businesses become more cyber resilient. In this article, we look at mobile technology.

MOBILE TECHNOLOGY – STAYING CYBER SAFE

Mobile technology is now an essential part of modern business, with more of our data being stored on tablets and smartphones.

Here are 5 quick tips that can help keep your mobile devices, and the information stored on them, secure.

Tip 1: Switch on password protection

A suitably complex PIN or password (opposed to a simple one that can be easily guessed or gleaned from your social media profiles) will prevent the average criminal from accessing your phone.

Many devices now include fingerprint recognition to lock your device, without the need for a password. However, these features are not always enabled ‘out of the box’, so you should always check they have been switched on.

Tip 2: Make sure lost or stolen devices can be tracked, locked or wiped

Staff are more likely to have their tablets or phones stolen (or lose them) when they are away from the office or home. Fortunately, most devices include free web-based tools that are invaluable should you lose your device.

You can use them to:

  • track the location of a device
  • remotely lock access to the device (to prevent anyone else using it)
  • remotely erase the data stored on the device
  • retrieve a backup of data stored on the device

Setting up these tools on all your organisation’s devices may seem a huge job, but by using mobile device management software, you can set up your devices to a standard configuration with a single click.

Tip 3: Keep your devices up to date

All manufacturers (for example Windows, Android, iOS) release regular updates that contain critical security updates to keep the device protected. This process is quick, easy, and free; devices should be set to automatically update, where possible.

Make sure everyone knows how important these updates are, and explain how to do it, if necessary. At some point, these updates will no longer be available (as the device reaches the end of its supported life), at which point you should consider replacing it with a modern alternative.

Tip 4: Keep your apps up to date

Just like the operating systems on your organisation’s devices, all the applications that you have installed should also be updated regularly with patches from the software developers.

These updates will not only add new features, but they will also patch any security holes that have been discovered. Make sure staff know when updates are ready, how to install them, and how important it is to do so straight away.

Tip 5: Don’t connect to unknown Wi-Fi Hotspots

Ensure staff understand why they should not connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots (for example in hotels or coffee shops), as there is no way to easily find out who controls the hotspot, or to prove that it belongs to who you think it does.

If you connect to these hotspots, somebody else could access:

  • what you are working on whilst connected
  • your private login details that many apps and web services maintain whilst you’re logged on

The simplest precaution is to not connect to the internet using unknown hotspots, and instead use your mobile 3G or 4G mobile network, which will have built-in security.

You can also use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), a technique that encrypts your data before it is sent across the Internet. If you are using third party VPNs, you’ll need the technical ability to configure it yourself, and should only use VPNs provided by reputable service providers.

IT Solutions

QASSS is a Cyber Essentials accredited business and able to provide businesses with support and insights on how to best manage security with their organisation.

We understand the needs of home improvement and renewable companies and offer a wide range of bespoke IT solutions. If you’d like advice and support, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email n.raja@qasss.co.uk

 

 

Image by rawpixel.com

Malware cyber security

Improving cyber security – protection from malware

As part of our cyber security guides, today we look at quick tips to help protect your business from malware or malicious software.

PROTECTION FROM MALWARE

Malicious software, or ‘malware’, is software or web content that can harm your organisation.

The most well-known form of malware is viruses, which are self-copying programs that infect legitimate software. This section contains 5 free and easy-to-implement tips that can help prevent malware from damaging your organisation.

Here are 5 easy-to-implement tips that can help prevent malware damaging your organisation:

Tip 1: Install and turn on antivirus software

This is often included for free within popular operating systems and should be used on all computers and laptops. For your office equipment, you can pretty much click ‘enable’, and you are instantly safer. Smartphones and tablets will require a different approach.

Tip 2: Have a policy on downloading apps

You should only download apps for mobile phones and tablets from manufacturer-approved stores (like Google Play or Apple App Store). These apps are checked to provide a certain level of protection from malware that might cause harm.

You should review your staff policy on downloading apps, particularly to prevent staff from downloading third-party apps from unknown vendors/sources, as these will not have been checked.

Staff accounts should only have enough access required to perform their role, with extra permissions (i.e. for administrators) only given to those who need it. When administrative accounts are created, they should only be used for that specific task, with standard user accounts used for general work.

Tip 3: Keep all your IT equipment up to date

Make sure that the software and firmware is always kept up to date with the latest versions from software developers, hardware suppliers and vendors. Applying these updates, a process known as ‘patching’, is one of the most important things you can do to improve security.

Operating systems, programmes, phones and apps should all be set to ‘automatically update’ wherever this is an option.

At some point, these updates will no longer be available (as the product reaches the end of its supported life), at which point you should consider replacing it with a modern alternative.

Tip 4: Control how USB drives and memory cards can be used

Ensure you have a staff policy on the use of USB drives or memory cards to transfer files between organisations and people. It only takes a single user to inadvertently plug-in an infected stick (such as a USB drive containing malware) to devastate your infrastructure.

When drives and cards are openly shared, it becomes hard to track what they contain, where they have been, and who has used them.

You can reduce the likelihood of infection by:

  • blocking access to physical ports for most users
  • using antivirus tools
  • only allowing approved drives and cards to be used within your organisation – and nowhere else

Making these directives part of your company policy will help prevent your organisation being exposed to unnecessary risks. You can also ask staff to transfer files using alternate means (such as by email or cloud storage), rather than via USB.

Tip 5: Switch on your firewall

Firewalls create a ‘buffer zone’ between your own network and external networks (such as the Internet). Most popular operating systems now include a firewall, so it may simply be a case of switching this on.

If you’d like advice on making your company cyber resilient, QASSS offers specialist IT solutions and support for businesses in the home improvement and renewable sectors.

 

Image by 200 Degrees from Pixabay

cyber security data back up

Improving cyber security – backing up data

QASSS has put together a quick guide based on NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) advice to help businesses protect themselves and improve their cyber security. In this article, we look at backing up data.

BACKING UP YOUR DATA

Think about how much you rely on your business-critical data, including your customer database, leads, quotes, orders, payments and more.

All businesses, regardless of size, should take regular backups of their important data, and make sure that these backups are recent and can be restored. By doing this, you are not only ensuring your business can still function following the impact of flood, fire, physical damage, or theft, but this will also protect you against data loss after a cyber attack.

Here are some top tips to consider from the National Cyber Security Centre:

Tip 1: Identify what data you need to back up

Your first step is to identify your essential data – the information that your business could not function without. Normally this will comprise documents, photos, emails, contacts, and calendars, most of which are kept in just a few common folders on your computer, phone, or tablet or network.

Tip 2: Keep your backup separate from your computer

Whether it’s on a USB stick, on a separate drive or a separate computer, access to data backups should be restricted so that they:

  • are not accessible by staff
  • are not permanently connected (either physically or over a local network) to the device holding the original copy. Ransomware and other malware can often move to attached storage automatically, which means any such backup could also be infected, leaving you with no backup to recover from.

For more resilience, you should consider storing your backups in a different location, so fire or theft will not result in you losing both copies. Cloud storage solutions are a cost-effective and efficient way of achieving this.

Tip 3: Consider the cloud

You have probably already used cloud storage during your everyday work and personal life without even knowing (unless you are running your own email server).

Using cloud storage (where a service provider stores your data on their infrastructure) means your data is physically separate from your location.

You will also benefit from a high level of availability. Service providers can supply your organisation with data storage and web services without you needing to invest in expensive hardware up front. Most providers offer a limited amount of storage space for free, and larger storage capacity for minimal costs to small businesses.

Tip 4: Make backing up part of your everyday business

We know that backing up is not a very interesting thing to do but the majority of network or cloud storage solutions now allow you to make backups automatically. For instance, when new files of a certain type are saved to specified folders. Using automated backups not only saves time but also ensures that you have the latest version of your files should you need them.

Many off-the-shelf backup solutions are easy to set up and are affordable considering the business-critical protection they offer. When choosing a solution, consider how much data you need to back up, and how quickly you need to be able to access the data following an incident.

More cyber security tips and advice

For further guidance, we’ve also provided advice and tips on a range of cyber issues, including:

IT solutions for your business

At QASSS, we truly understand the needs of home improvement and renewable companies and offer proactive and bespoke IT solutions to help businesses with infrastructure, cyber security, end-user computing and management and web management.

QASSS are a Cyber Essentials accredited business and able to provide businesses with support and insights on how to best manage security with their organisation. If you’d like advice and support, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email n.raja@qasss.co.uk

 

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

home improvement

Latest data shows high complaint volumes in the home improvement sector

Latest data shows that the Citizens Advice service dealt with over 47,000 consumer issues and complaints relating to the home improvement sector over the last 12 months to April 2020.

What is also disappointing for the sector is that out of all defined categories in consumer goods and services, ‘home maintenance and improvements’ issues came second highest (the number one spot was used vehicles).

 

home improvement issues

The statistics also show the most complained about products and services within the home improvement sector. We’ve put together the top 10 by volume, with roofing and chimney repairs being accountable for nearly 7,000 complaints and window frames and doors receiving over 6,000 complaints from May 2109 to April 2020.

 

home improvement complaints

 

Being an accredited member of a reputable home improvement consumer protection scheme (such as HIES, HICS or DGCOS) not only helps increase conversion rates but shows a commitment by the firm to providing customers with trust, confidence and peace of mind before, during and after their installation.

QASSS provides alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services for the three consumer protection schemes. The service is free to consumers and offers industry-leading mediation services. The benefits of using ADR for businesses and consumers alike include cost savings, savings on time, reduced stress, speed, flexibility and fairness.

Number of complaints per product

QASSS Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Complaints History

QA Scheme Support Services (QASSS) have revealed their latest dispute resolution statistics, giving additional insight into the different types of complaints that their home improvement consumer protection schemes DGCOS, HIES and HICS received over the last year. Their Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service resolves complaints between customers and tradespeople, preventing the need to go to court if a dispute does arise.

Complaints can be very stressful for both traders and customers alike, whereas having an independent, professional third party to mediate the matter, can really help defuse the situation and ensure a resolution can be reached that satisfies both parties.

In 2019, QASSS’s Alternative Dispute Resolution department received over 1,000 home improvement consumer complaints.

The top 5 categories of complaint across all consumer protection schemes during this year were as follows:

  • Products (24%)
  • Customer Service (23%)
  • Workmanship (23%)
  • Mis-selling (7%)
  • Performance/Estimates (5%)

The key takeaway from the data is that Customer Service, Mis-selling and Performance/Estimates together total 35% of all complaints. These types of complaints are where an independent mediator can really support the resolution. Often these types of complaints can evoke high emotion, and by having an independent ‘third party’ to look at the facts, without emotion, this can really enhance moving the complaint to an appropriate resolution for all parties.

Delving deeper into the highest complaints’ category, ‘Products’, the top 5 most complained about are:

  • Solar Products (30%)
  • Windows (14%)
  • Doors (14%)
  • Air Source Heat Pumps (12%)
  • Batteries (4%)

Charlotte Pilkington, Dispute Resolution Manager at QASSS, commented,

“The most common solar product problems are with inverters. The team at QASSS not only work with resolving these common complaints, but also provide support and one-to-one advice to companies to enable better overall customer satisfaction.”

This is backed up by research from Solar Guide which reports on the most common solar panel problems:

  1. Solar inverter will need replacing
  2. Low efficiency rating
  3. Birds nesting under solar panels
  4. Damage to the roof
  5. Initial costs

However, whilst solar products complaints make up the highest volume, it is important to note this doesn’t reflect the installations to complaint ratio for these products.  So, whilst solar products have the highest volume of complaints per installation, Air Source Heat Pumps have the highest complaint ratio per installation.

  • Air Source Heat Pumps (5%)
  • Solar Products (2%)
  • Windows (1%)
  • Doors (1%)
  • Batteries (1%)

QASSS is leading the home improvement industry with average dispute resolution times of just 3.59(1) days and with 98.4%(1) of complaints being resolved without the need for referral to the Ombudsman. The key benefits of using fast and efficient ADR services for both consumers and scheme members include significant savings in terms of both time and cost.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) also drives better and fairer outcomes. For companies, in particular, using ADR demonstrates a clear commitment to high-quality consumer protection and helps improve reputation and customer loyalty.

According to the third annual Consumer Action Monitor, only 1 in 10 customers are willing to ‘forgive and forget’ when it comes to a badly handled complaint as opposed to 75% who would make a repeat purchase after a well-handled complaint.(2)

Customer service doesn’t just improve customer retention and lifetime value; having an effective ADR service can significantly improve a brand’s reputation.

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

(2) From research from Ombudsman Services https://engagecustomer.com/new-research-highlights-complaint-handling-can-drive-brand-loyalty/

business interruption insurance

Business Interruption Insurance – FCA update

As reported in May, the insurance industry has been coming under increasing pressure (from both class-action lawsuits and court action by the Financial Conduct Authority) for their refusal in many instances to pay out Business Interruption Insurance claims to companies that have been devastated by COVID-19.

As part of its review, the FCA reviewed over 500 relevant policies and has now provided an update on the progress of its court action on business interruption (BI) insurance policies.

The FCA has now published a (non-exhaustive) preliminary list of affected insurers and policies. In July, they expect to publish an updated, consolidated list of the disputed business interruption insurance policies that will be affected by the test case.

Draft guidance has also been published which sets out the regulator’s expectations for insurers and insurance intermediaries when handling claims and complaints about business interruption policies during this test case.

The guidance highlights the particular steps that insurers should be taking to:

  • identify the potential implications of the test case on their decisions to reject claims
  • keep policyholders informed about the test case and its implications for policies, claims and any settlement offers
  • treat policyholders fairly when the test case is resolved

The FCA has stated that in their view is that most SME insurance policies are focused on property damage and in those cases, insurers are not obliged to pay out in relation to COVID-19. The court case focuses on the remainder of policies that could be argued to include cover.

Interim Chief Executive of the FCA, Christopher Woolard, has said that,

“The court action we are taking is aimed at providing clarity and certainty for everyone involved in these BI disputes, policyholder and insurer alike. We feel it is also the quickest route to this clarity and by covering multiple policies and insurers, it will also be of most use across the market. The identification of a representative sample of policies and the agreement of insurers who underwrite them to participate in these proceedings is a major step forward in progressing the matter to court.”

What should home improvement companies do if their claim is rejected?

If you believe your Business Interruption Insurance does cover for pandemics, but your claim has been rejected, we urge you to contact us for advice and guidance. At QASSS, we can help with the claims process and can arrange access for home improvement companies to a Loss Adjusting service, should you need independent advice regarding complex, major or difficult claims.

To find out more about this specialist service, contact Scott Robinson our Commercial Director via s.robinson@qasss.co.uk

 

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Dispute Resolution Overview

Not many businesses are aware that they have an obligation to signpost consumers to a competent ADR provider and tell them whether or not they are prepared to use them to deal with the dispute. We’ve put together a handy guide to ADR (alternative dispute resolution) looking at why businesses need ADR, how ADR works and the benefits of using ADR.

About Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

What is ADR?

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a service that is used to resolve escalated complaints, or disputes, between customers and businesses, using mediation with the intention to resolve before the need for court proceedings.

The service helps the customer and business resolve a dispute by finding a fair resolution that satisfies both parties.

Why do companies need ADR?

We know from experience that complaints handling is critical to the home improvement sector.

With the emergence of online platforms that support a consumer’s ability to comment on a company’s reputation, it is increasingly important for businesses to deal and correct a complaint, quickly and effectively.

At QASSS we understand that complaints, if not dealt with, can lead to costly and lengthy litigation and court proceedings as well as being a drain on internal resources. Read more on the soaring costs of litigation vs mediation here.

Using an ADR service also takes the emotion out of the situation where disputes are resolved impartially based on facts.

It also helps prevent louder negative conversations on social media and protects brand reputation.

The benefits of using ADR

Good handling of complaints and disputes is critical to companies and brand reputations in the modern world given the emergence of review sites and social media.

Crucially, ADR services also help save time and money by avoiding litigation.

  • Save time and resource

Referring disputes to an experienced ADR provider will realise operational efficiencies, free up customer care services and other internal resources.

  • Save costs and avoid going to court

Consumers will be less likely to bring court actions that are not only time-intensive and costly but in the public domain.

  • Drive better outcomes

Improved outcomes for customers and avoid deadlocks and potential reputational damage.

  • Ensure fairness and independence

ADR officials act with impartiality when resolving disputes.

  • Improve conversion and retention

Stand out from the competition by demonstrating a clear commitment to high-quality customer service.

  • Avoid costly compensation

ADR seeks to strike the right compromise based on the evidence.

Award-winning ADR services

QASSS provides award-winning and CTSI (Chartered Trading Standards Institute) approved alternative dispute resolution services for the home improvement and renewable sectors.

We provide ADR services for members and companies directly, as well as a ‘white label’ complaint and dispute management solution, fully packaged and branded.

We are no. 1 in the industry with an average speed of resolution of just 3.59 days and we resolve 98.4% of disputes in-house without referral to the Ombudsman or the need for court proceedings.

If you’d like to find out how we can help with complaint handling and dispute resolution, contact us today on 0330 335 3354 or email info@qasss.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

cyber-attack

Are you prepared for a cyber-attack?

The National Cyber Security Centre has produced guidance for SMEs on how to prepare a response and plan recovery after a cyber-attack. In this article, we look at how to prepare for cyber incidents.

1. Prepare for the most common threats by developing plans around those incidents or cyber-attacks most likely to occur.

2. Identify what electronic information is essential to keep your business running, such as databases, emails, calendars and essential documents. Find out where it is stored and ensure you have daily/weekly backups, and regularly test the backups are working.

3. Identify what business processes and systems are critical and record where they are stored and how they are accessed. Assign shared responsibility to ensure cover and ensure key documents are available and up to date.

4. Think about how you could minimise reputational damage in the event of an incident. Make a list of which key partners (customers, suppliers, third parties, etc) that you would need to contact as a result of different types of incident.

5. Prioritise the risk, where you need the most protection and manage it. Consider what would happen if you no longer had access to the critical systems or assets you’ve identified above. List what’s important to your business, why it’s important, and what you are doing to protect them.

6. Make sure the risk of cyber security threats is high on the agenda.

7. Consider cyber insurance to provide you with additional resources during and after an incident. Not all cyber insurance is the same and as ever, the devil is in the detail in terms of the scope and scale of cover provided and whether you are able to meet any operational requirements placed on you by the insurer.

If you have cyber insurance, have your insurer’s details documented including policy number and any specific information your provider asks for. Understand any legal or regulatory compliance you must adhere to and implement any guidelines/policies/rules they set out for you. Also check if your trade association has any help or advice lines that you can contact to help you in this situation.

8. Make an incident plan and store in a safe place.

9. Ensure you know how to restore a backup in the event of any type of data loss, such as a ransomware attack, and train the relevant people in your organisation so they can do the same. Assign roles to members of staff, and document who owns each responsibility in the event of an incident, and how can they be contacted.

10. Create a list of external people you need to contact who can help you identify an incident. For example, your web hosting provider, IT support services or cloud service provider. Document the details of the contract, including what is covered, how they can help you, and at what point do you need to engage with them. Being prepared and having relevant up to date will save you time post incident.

And finally, remember to test your plan and your company’s resilience and preparedness.

If you’d like advice on making your company cyber resilient and planning for a cyber-attack, QASSS offers bespoke IT solutions for the home improvement and renewable sectors.

 

Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay

 

covid-19

Flexible furloughing and self-employed COVID-19 update

On 29th May, the Chancellor announced that the government’s COVID-19 Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will be extended as well as confirming the next stages of the furlough scheme.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said, “Our top priority has always been to support people, protect jobs and businesses through this crisis. The furlough and self-employment schemes have been a lifeline for millions of people and businesses.”

Self-employment income Support Scheme

Rishi Sunak announced that the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will be extended – with those eligible able to claim a second and final grant capped at £6,570.

  • Individuals can continue to apply for the first SEISS grant until 13 July. Under the first grant, eligible individuals can claim a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering three months’ worth of profits, and capped at £7,500 in total. Those eligible have the money paid into their bank account within six working days of completing a claim.
  • Applications for the second grant will open in August. Individuals will be able to claim a second taxable grant worth 70% of their average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering three months’ worth of profits, and capped at £6,570 in total.
  • The eligibility criteria are the same for both grants, and individuals will need to confirm that their business has been adversely affected by coronavirus. An individual does not need to have claimed the first grant to receive the second grant: for example, they may only have been adversely affected by COVID-19 in this later phase. Further guidance on the second grant will be published on Friday 12 June.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme Update

The Chancellor also outlined further details on the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, including improved flexibility to bring furloughed employees back part-time in July, and a new taper requiring employers to contribute to furloughed salaries from August.

The scheme updates mean that the following will apply for the period people are furloughed:

  • June and July: The government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 as well as employer National Insurance (ER NICS) and pension contributions. Employers are not required to pay anything.
  • August: The government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions – for the average claim, this represents 5% of the gross employment costs the employer would have incurred had the employee not been furloughed.
  • September: The government will pay 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions and 10% of wages to make up 80% total up to a cap of £2,500. For the average claim, this represents 14% of the gross employment costs the employer would have incurred had the employee not been furloughed.
  • October: The government will pay 60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions and 20% of wages to make up 80% total up to a cap of £2,500. For the average claim, this represents 23% of the gross employment costs the employer would have incurred had the employee not been furloughed.
  • Around 40% of employers have not made a claim for employer NICs costs or employer pension contributions and so will be unaffected by the change in August if their employee’s employment patterns do not change.
  • Many smaller employers have some or all of their employer NIC bills covered by the Employment Allowance so will not be significantly impacted.
  • Around 25% of CJRS monthly claims are below the thresholds where employer NICs and automatic enrolment pension contributions are due, and so no employer contribution would be expected for these payments to furloughed employees in August.
  • To enable the introduction of part-time furloughing, and support those already furloughed back to work, claims from July onwards will be restricted to employers currently using the scheme and previously furloughed employees. The scheme will close to new entrants on 30 June, with the last three-week furloughs before that point commencing on 10 June.
  • From 1 July, employers will be able to agree any working arrangements with previously furloughed employees.
  • When claiming the CJRS grant for furloughed hours; employers will need to report and claim for a minimum period of a week, for grants to be calculated accurately across working patterns.
home improvement

Optimistic signs for the home improvement sector

Recent research reveals that two-thirds of consumers have revised their travel plans for 2020, with over 40% planning to divert that money to carry out home improvement work. Additional research also reveals that the UK is planning to spend around £61.8bn on home improvements as lockdown restrictions lift.

The pandemic has transformed how we live and work, with home being not only the new office for the foreseeable future but considered the safest place to be.

Many people are also worried about the property market which usually means more people staying put and opting to improve or extend their homes rather than move.

Key projects include:

  • General home improvement and repairs
  • Extensions and conservatories to add additional space
  • Garden improvements and landscaping
  • Remodelling rooms for gyms, home offices and additional family space
  • Kitchen and bathroom upgrades
  • Investment in more sustainable energy including solar panels, air source heat pumps, electric vehicle charging.
  • Decorating and updating home furnishings
  • Garage and loft conversions
  • Home offices sheds and log cabins

If you’re planning for a new home improvement project, make sure you instruct skilled tradesmen. Ensure they are a member of a consumer protection scheme demonstrating adherence to quality standards and service. HIES, HICS and DGCOS are consumer protection schemes that cover the whole of the home improvement and renewable energy sectors. Trade members undergo full compliance checks and all consumers get access to free ADR (alternative dispute resolution) should something go wrong.

 

Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels

cyber resilient

Is your business cyber resilient?

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has launched further online advice to support SMEs to ensure their companies are cyber resilient, particularly given the increasing risks of cyber attacks and fraud during and post COVID-19.

Businesses are being urged to consider key questions to help them understand their business needs, particularly around adapting to more online and remote working. Even if you have a business that has been used to operating online, the nature of your IT services and support you require may well have changed with increased numbers of remote workers, increases in online quotes and transactions, and increases in video conferencing software and other meeting tools and apps.

To use the latest advice, businesses should consider the following 6 key questions to help identify current and potential risks and areas for improvement:

 

    1. What technology do you use already?

What IT assets do you own, operate and manage yourself? It’s difficult to secure technology if you can’t identify who’s responsible. Clarity is the important thing here.

 

    1. Are you using cloud services?

If you are, you need to assess the security of cloud-hosted software products.

 

    1. Do you have access to IT Support?

Are you becoming more reliant on digital services to do business? Think about how you would cope if these services were unavailable. Detailing the services you use, identifying support levels and escalation routes, will help you understand and prepare for any issues.

 

    1. What cyber security measures do you have in place?

The NCSC’s Small Business Guide can help you to establish a baseline set of security policies for your IT.

 

    1. Are there any regulations you need to follow?

If your business is now processing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) online, you will need to GDPR compliant. If you are processing card payment information, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard will apply.

 

    1. Do you have cyber insurance?

If you do, check the cover. Are any elements of it affected by your change in circumstances, such as working from home, running a predominately ‘online’ business, or by outsourcing key business functionality?

 

Even more so now given COVID-19, businesses must have effective cyber security systems in place. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), cyber-attacks before COVID-19 were costing UK businesses £34 billion annually.

If your answers to the 6 key questions have left you concerned about your company’s cyber resilience, we can help. At QASSS, we have breadth and depth of expertise within the home improvement and renewable energy sectors. We offer bespoke and IT solutions, helping you ensure security is at the core of your strategy.

For further guidance, we’ve also produced guidance on cyber security and the latest scams, as well as guidance on technology and the agile workforce.

 

Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay

 

Effective complaints handling

Complaint handling – consumer patience starts to wear thin

In the early days of lockdown, consumers displayed a great amount of patience and were sympathetic to delays in the handling of complaints given the serious practicalities that many firms faced at the start of the pandemic.

However, as time passes, consumers are no longer prepared to wait and expect firms to be responsive and prompt in dealing with their complaints. Effective complaint handling is therefore paramount at this time. Expectations are extremely high as consumers also face mounting financial and other serious pressures themselves, many of which may now mean they fall into the vulnerable category.

Earlier this month, the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) published guidance stressing that complaint handling remains an “important function” and that they “do not expect any reduction in the quality of firms’ complaint handling.”

Even before COVID-19, the gap between customer expectations and what they experienced, in reality, was far too high. According to research by Huntswood, pre-COVID-19, quick resolution was highlighted as one of the most important factors in the complaints process, with 76% expecting a complaint to be resolved at the first point of contact. Yet, only 20% of consumers in the survey received this level of service. And, where the complaint was not resolved initially, the research showed that companies were taking on average 33 days to close the complaint.

Companies need to have a core strategy for effective complaint handling, and as part of that, their aim should be to win hearts and minds and embrace complainants. Delivering the right outcome quickly creates increased affinity and loyalty, as supported by the research which showed 96% of companies believed that complainants can be turned into brand advocates.

As lockdown restrictions are starting to ease, companies must respond to consumer complaints in a quick, fair, and holistic manner. Capacity may need to be adjusted to tackle backlogs and meet changing customer service demand patterns, including prioritisation of vulnerable contacts.

Companies may also need to consider interim measures to manage growing BAU volumes such as leveraging self-serve options, collaborative tools and using external support from specialist companies to help with backlogs and overflow capability.

We can help advise you on fully branded ‘white label’ complaint handling solutions on an interim or longer-term basis. QASSS are award-winning and industry-leading for speed of resolution, with in-depth technical expertise in the home improvement and renewable energy sectors.

Our bespoke complaint handling and alternative dispute resolution services can help you save time, money and avoid reputational damage. To find out how we can help, contact Laura Holmes, Service Delivery Manager on 0330 335 3354 or email l.holmes@qasss.co.uk

 

People strategy

People strategy and the ‘new normal’ post COVID-19

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we are all human beings who still need to socialise and feel part of something greater than ourselves. It is inspiring to see how the world’s population has come together in support of our local and global communities.

For employers, this has set apart those businesses that have a true balance between the operational, legal, financial and ethical challenges. It will also show how ready businesses are for the opportunities a ‘new normal’ will bring post COVID-19.

Employee Wellbeing

During the pandemic, people have been isolated giving rise to concerns about their health and that of their loved ones. Moreover, with the uncertainty of the global economy, as well as financial and job security, businesses must find a true balance when making difficult decisions, handling these situations with genuine honesty, empathy, and respect. How businesses handle these will be remembered by their people and it is an opportunity for businesses to earn the trust of their employees even when facing adversity.

Taking a genuine interest in staff wellbeing will go a long way, now and post COVID-19. This can include small steps such as regular line manager check-ins, welfare conversations, advice on self-care, or ensuring regular breaks.

Some larger businesses may have Mental Health First Aiders, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), or access to an Occupational Health Practitioner. However, there are free services such as Able Futures and resources from groups such as Mind which can also help with proactive care and advice on wellbeing to help reduce or prevent future issues and absences.

Flexible Working

COVID-19 has been a fast-track way for businesses to trial new flexible and homeworking practices, with many finding innovative ways for collaboration and communication, making use of the latest technology to replace the face to face human contact we all have come to miss.

Flexible working and homeworking are not new concepts, however, businesses have had to adapt quickly, alongside employees who may have found themselves caring for children and relatives whilst maintaining their employment commitments, some outside of the typical 9 to 5 working day.

Flexible working has since proved to be a great way to maintain and retain an agile workforce. Allowing employees to sustain a work-life-balance whilst becoming more productive during their working hours, will ensure businesses keep hold of key talent and key roles during and post COVID-19.

 Back to the ‘New Normal’

Going back to the ‘new normal’ will be a challenge for some businesses. It could mean a smaller or larger workforce, changes to how work is conducted and where work is carried out. There is also the potential of business growth and talent acquisition within the global market which has been enhanced by our ability to evolve and adopt new ways of working during COVID-19.

Businesses must start to consider their people strategy now. They must consider their leadership teams and reflect on their management through the crisis, using these insights as a catalyst to review leadership, recruitment and working practices.

Employers have shown their resilience and ability to adapt to the quickly changing circumstances, whilst remaining connected, supportive and collaborative. They must now keep up this momentum and use this experience to foster and improve processes and practices to develop an agile, supported and trusting workforce for the future.

Post COVID-19 planning

To read more insights and our full guide on preparing for post COVID-19, click here.

 

Complaint impact cost

New – complaint impact cost calculator

It goes without saying that effective handling of complaints and good customer service has always been important. Given the rise of social media and review sites, we now have a wide choice of tools and channels to immediately call out poor service and ineffective complaint handling and share that message wide and far. But what is the complaint impact cost?

Do you know the true cost of unhappy customers?

We’ve introduced a NEW complaint cost calculator which you can download here. Input your business figures to calculate the impact on your company’s revenue and margin.

You also need to consider the cost of churn.

Here are a few headline stats:

  • Attracting a new customer is 6-7 times more expensive than retaining a current one (Salesforce).
  • Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95% (Harvard Business School).
  • One-third of consumers say they would consider switching companies after just one instance of bad customer service (American Express).
  • A customer experience promoter has a lifetime value to a company that’s 600 to 1,400% that of a detractor (Bain).

Effective complaint handling

Quick and effective complaint handling will help you turn customer complainers into brand advocates, helping to increase brand loyalty and your company’s reputation.

Even the most vocal and complex complaints handled well, will see your customer advocacy increase across the board. By helping customers and solving their complaints, you will increase affinity which helps drive profitable brand growth.

Brand advocates are not just loyal, your brand advocates will do the job of promoting your business for you and drive reputation, which in turn can help drive revenue.

For more advice and tips, click here to download our top tips on complaint handling.

How we can help

At QASSS, we have many years of experience in complaint handling and dispute resolution and we understand just how critical good complaint handling is to the home improvement sector.

Our bespoke complaint handling and alternative dispute resolution services can help you save time, money and avoid reputational damage.

To find out how we can help, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email Laura Holmes, our Service Delivery Manager – l.holmes@qasss.co.uk

the samaritans

QASSS colleague Adrian Simpson highlights his work with the Samaritans

At QASSS, we are very proud of our very own good Samaritan, Adrian Simpson, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs. Adrian devotes his spare time to the Samaritans as a listening volunteer at the Medway, Gravesham and Swale branch.

Adrian Simpson is a listening volunteer at Medway, Gravesham and Swale Samaritans. He is also Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs at QASSS Ltd who won a silver and bronze award at the UK Complaint Handling Awards 2020.

Here he highlights the very worthy work of the Samaritans.

About the Samaritans

The COVID-19 crisis has affected every part of everyday life, especially it seems the nation’s mental health and well-being. At Samaritans, we have noticed that many people are not just worried about their health but also their future and their emotional well-being. People who have never heard of us before the outbreak are coming to us to share how they are feeling at the moment.

Although branches are closed for face to face visits at the moment, volunteers are still on hand to provide support by email and by phone. We are still continuing to train new Samaritans remotely to ensure that we can still answer the calls and emails.

Started by the Reverend Chad Varah in 1953 Samaritans provide callers with a safe place to explore their feelings without judgement and we now receive over 5 million contacts a year. It’s a sad fact that over 6,500 a year die by suicide in the UK with men aged 45-49 at the highest risk. Our vision is to reduce that number by giving those in distress someone to listen to them.

For the last two years I’ve been part of this organisation and before I joined there were so many things I never knew about Samaritans that I’d like to share:

  • We are not just there for people who are feeling suicidal. We are there to listen to anyone who is in distress.
  • We receive calls from every walk of society.
  • Samaritans is not a religious organization.
  • We believe in self-determination and that everyone has the right to choose what to do with their life. Our role is to listen and explore options with the caller.
  • We won’t judge any callers or tell them what we think they should be doing.
  • Calls to us are confidential and free and we are available 24 hours a day, each and every day

 

the samaritans

How you can help

  •  We are a charity and rely on donations to keep our service going so donations are gratefully received https://www.samaritans.org/donate-now/
  • If you know someone who is in emotional distress, or you yourself feel like you need support please contact us using the details below
  • We really need more new volunteers to help support our callers. All that we ask is for a commitment of your time. You will receive full training and will be supported every step of the way https://www.samaritans.org/support-us/volunteer/

How to contact the Samaritans

Call 116 123

Email jo@samaritans.org

 

Finance

COVID-19 FInance: CLBILS Coronavirus Loan Scheme Update

The government has announced changes to the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) today including an increase of the borrowing limit from £50m to £200m.

However, firms who want to borrow more than £50m will face certain restrictions until the loan is repaid.

  • The Bank of England will implement the restrictions on the scheme it runs as well as seeking a letter from firms who wish to borrow for more than a year, “addressed to HM Treasury that commits to showing restraint on the payment of dividends and other capital distributions and on senior pay”.
  • Limiting dividends and cash bonuses to senior management (unless they were announced before applying for the government loan) and companies will be prohibited from share buybacks.
  • From 4th June, a weekly list will be published of the companies who have accessed the Covid Corporate Financing Facility and how much they have borrowed.
  • Companies will be able to borrow 25% of their turnover to a limit of £200m.

The Bank of England said, “These commitments are intended to create incentives for, and promote the ability of, businesses to repay their borrowings.”

The government also announced:

  • 464,393 loans worth £14.18bn have been approved under the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, which allows small to medium-sized businesses to borrow up to £50,000.
  • 40,564 loans worth £7.25bn have been approved through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, where small to medium-sized companies can access funding up to £5m.

 

Image by Сергей Игнацевич from Pixabay

Protect workforce

Safety in the workplace

Safety in the workplace

As the government as of 11th May has now issued an update for a safe return to work and as soon as is practicable, workplaces in England should follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines.

Our summary guide, “Protecting your workforce and customers” covers the key government guidance to help protect employees, customers, suppliers and others.

To help members further, we have also sourced a supplier of PPE equipment, with products ranging from face covers, visors and gloves, sanitiser stations, floor vinyls and more.

The full list of products and prices from Media Village can be downloaded here. For more information or to place an order, call 01254 300000 or email info@media-village.co.uk quoting QASSS.

We’ve also produced free ‘stay safe’ posters and notices for your workplace which you can download by clicking on the images below.

Washing hands guide     cleaning poster     touching face poster     shaking hands

coughing poster         social distancing     general covid-19 poster

 

Business Operations

Business operations post COVID-19

Company operations have been pushed to limits at both extremes, with businesses either not having enough capacity and stock to meet new levels of e-commerce demands or businesses who are having to scale production or services right down in a bid to effectively ‘mothball’ operations during lockdown.

In both scenarios, new ways of working have been initiated to certain levels of success and it’s worth considering some of these new ways in your post COVID-19 operational plans:

Agile Workforce

We have seen some of the UK’s largest institutions struggle to maintain minimum customer service levels due to inadequate processes being in place for large parts of their workforce to be able to work remotely, with full access to shared drives, SharePoint, or other file storage measures.

If you have customers, then you still need to be contactable, so having a process in place where all of your calls can be diverted to company mobiles or landlines, in the homes of key personnel is vital. Your employees will need VPN (Virtual Private Network) software on their laptops at home as standard.

Creating a truly agile workforce is where those employees included, can effectively work from anywhere at any time.

It allows for optimum productivity and efficiency, where the ability to react quickly and concisely to requests, either internally or externally, is essential.

We’ve written a useful guide of what technology your core workforce should have in place to allow for agile working. Click here to view the full guide.

Business Continuity Planning

Having an agile workforce is one element of your business continuity plan (BCP), but this plan will cover a lot more such as:

  • IT (telephony, network access, data)
  • Agreed minimum service levels
  • Key roles of personnel should there be a reduced workforce
  • Supplier management (have they their own BCP in place)
  • Contingency funds
  • Human resources (processes in place for changing the status of the workforce)
  • Other operational elements.

If you didn’t have a plan like this before COVID-19, then you certainly need one going forwards.

Operational Efficiency

When coming out of the lockdown phase, companies need to look at the lessons learned during the period.

It’s often in crisis that red tape is removed, and people can operate with a lot more flexibility.

What did your company STOP doing during the lockdown period? Was it missed, or did it actually improve your operational performance?

Holding regular sessions on this with your teams and documenting this during the lockdown, allows you to swiftly put in place a plan to make these changes more permanent, thus improving your operational performance as you come out of the lockdown.

Post COVID-19 planning

To read more insights and our full guide on preparing for post COVID-19, click here.

 

Rising cost litigation vs mediation

Mediation vs soaring litigation costs to resolve a dispute

In the UK we are avid users of litigation. Going to court and suing someone has often been the method of choice when trying to resolve a dispute. This continues to be the case when it comes to the purchasing of services and goods.

In October 2015, The Consumer Rights Act came into force, making Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) available to all businesses to help when a dispute with a consumer cannot be settled directly. Before the Consumer Rights Act became law, this service had only been available in certain sectors. A business which is involved in a dispute will now need to make the consumer aware of a relevant certified ADR provider. The business should also let the consumer know whether or not they are prepared to use the ADR provider to deal with the dispute. However, a business does not have to use ADR unless it operates in a sector where existing legislation makes it mandatory (for example, financial services).

Despite this change in law, it is no surprise that due to the emotion involved in disputes, litigation continues to prosper, without both parties realising the potential cost differences.

Much of the cost will depend on the actions and decisions of the other party to the dispute, the mediator chosen, the judge you are assigned and also which solicitor you use.

Another very important point is how one defines “cost”. We should rightly assign a ‘cost’ to our time even if it is not a financial outlay. It is similar to what economists might call the “opportunity cost”: “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen”. Typically, a good metric is the approximate amount you earn for an hour of work; although another metric might be more suitable for your personal circumstances.

Below we set out the cost of mediation vs litigation, using QASSS as an example of mediation provider costs:

Cost of Mediation

The cost of mediation with QASSS is fixed, either on a per case basis, or via a subscription. The costs can be broken up into 3 categories:

  1. Dispute Management Fee – this is the fee charged by QASSS to handle the case, mediate between both parties and coordinate any independent expert advice if required. This will normally be £350 exc VAT per case.
  2. Basic Inspection Fee – this is the fee charged by an independent inspection company to come out to site and capture any evidence required as part of the case. This will normally be around £175 exc VAT.
  3. Expert Witness Report – this is an enhanced inspection that is written in line with court procedural rules and normally used in cases where the dispute value is high, and potentially likely to go to court. This will normally be around £750 exc VAT.

Based on the above, a business or consumer using Alternative Dispute Resolution, is likely to pay somewhere between £350 – £1,275 exc VAT per dispute. At QASSS, consumers who use members of our schemes receive mediation for free.

Cost of Litigation

Court Fees

Court Issue Fees depend on the potential value of any claim being brought to court. For any claims up to £10,000, you can expect to pay in between £25 and £410 if paying online. This is up to £455 if paying via a paper form.

For claims between £10,000 and £100,000, the court fee is 5% of the claim value if the application is in paper form, or 4.5% if done online. For claims between £100,000 and £200,000 it is 5% and above £200,000, it is a fixed fee of £10,000.

If the claim is defended, then a Claims Hearing Fee will need to be paid, which is £170 for claims up to £3,000 and £335 for anything above that up to £10,000. Above this and it moves to a percentage fee again.

Solicitor’s/Barrister’s Fees

If you choose to use a barrister in court, a junior barrister will cost somewhere between £250 – £750 If you choose to use a solicitor instead, the cost of this ranges from a % of the final claim payment won to fees charged based on time. Sending a formal notice to the other party that you are suing them will cost between £15 – £80.

Your time

As a way of working out your own time cost and helping calculate how much time you may need with your solicitor, below is what an average timeline could look like, based on an average hourly wage of £14.80:

To calculate based on our annual salary, use our handy cost calculator here.

There are other costs that could potentially arise if further expert inspections are required, or other witnesses are required.

Based on the above, a business or consumer using litigation is likely to pay somewhere between £2,500 – £10,000 excluding your solicitor’s fees as well, likely to be a % of the claim value. Depending on the case outcome, you may be ordered to pay the legal costs of the other party if you have unreasonably refused mediation as part of the process. The court is likely to regard the following reasons as unacceptable when refusing mediation:

  • Believing there is no middle ground to be had.
  • Believing that only your side had a case, with the other having no merit.
  • Refusing to mediate due to hatred or malice between the two parties.
  • Stating the other side had not presented documentation in a certain way, or that you had not seen all the relevant documentation.
  • It is a matter of interpretation that can only be solved by a court.
  • Believing that both parties’ opinion is too opposite for there to be any chance of agreement.

On the other side of this, the general rule is that the winner recovers its legal costs from the loser. But the recovery is never 100% and generally falls between 60% – 80% of the total legal costs.

Therefore, as a result of the above, there is enough evidence to suggest that taking part in mediation ahead of litigation very much has its merits from a time, cost and emotional distress saving perspective.

How QASSS can help

QASSS offers mediation, specifically to the home improvement and renewable energy sectors, where we have vast experience of dispute resolution. We offer independent, experienced advice and mediation to businesses and consumers, in a bid to get to a fair resolution for both parties. We are an approved Alternative Dispute Resolution Provider, under the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI). We also provide free of charge to both parties, in the event of us not reaching a successful resolution, access to the Ombudsman, whose fees we will pay on behalf of the parties.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

 

Post COVID-19 finance planning

Post COVID-19 finance planning

Despite government measures to support businesses, the impact of COVID-19 is intensifying with the potential for a significant economic downtown of uncertain magnitude and duration.

Immediate focus now for most businesses will be on securing finance and grants and managing cashflow overall to keep the business going. In our article and insights section, you can find out more information on government support measures, including the newly announced bounce back loans for SMEs.

But what happens after lockdown and what should you be thinking about now?

Liquidity

Many companies will be constantly evaluating short-term liquidity at this time. During the recovery period, maintain the discipline of short-term cash flow monitoring, particularly around receivables, debt, inventory build-up and operating costs reductions.

Continue to accelerate cash conversion. Take proactive steps to lighten the working capital and continue to stress-test financial plans for multiple scenarios. Even in the recovery stage, no decisions should be made without due consideration to cash management.

Maintain work with suppliers to renegotiate new terms and conditions and proactively manage communication with creditors.

Don’t forget to also look externally for vulnerabilities that could affect your liquidity. Monitor the ongoing pressures that may be impacting your customers, shareholders and suppliers.

Income Stream Analysis

Try to distinguish revenue between temporarily delayed, accelerated, or disrupted consumption, and new, and more permanent patterns of consumption.

Many companies have had no choice but to adapt quickly to protect income streams and open up new opportunities.

Analyse both the turnover and profitability of your current and new alternative income streams which may well be from a mix of new markets and customers. Lessons learned from this period will help shape further income opportunities.

Investment

COVID-19 is not a reason to postpone innovation and investment. The most optimum time to grow differentially is when aggregate growth is low.

Making the decision to develop and invest in a new product line, category or service should not be taken lightly, although there are many companies who have been successful in opening up new income streams during COVID-19.

Successful companies in downturns do reduce expenditure to maintain viability, but they also capture opportunity and innovate and reinvest in growth avenues and opportunities.

Post COVID-19 planning

To read more insights and our full guide on preparing for post COVID-19, click here.

 

Image from rawpixel.com

Protect workforce

Protecting your workforce and customers

Back to work – safety in the workplace

In England, the government as of 11th May has now issued an update for a safe return to work, which includes tradespeople and the home improvement and renewable energy sectors. As soon as is practicable, workplaces in England should follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines.

Our summary guide, “Protecting your workforce and customers” covers the key government guidance to help protect employees, customers, suppliers and others. Click the image below to download.

Protecting your workforce

The 14-page guide includes general workplace guidance, hygiene and cleaning, wellbeing, PPE, working in people’s homes, vulnerable people, communication, moving round sites and more. You can also download our free ‘stay safe’ posters and notices for your workplace by clicking on the images below.

Washing hands guide     cleaning poster     touching face poster     shaking hands

coughing poster         social distancing     general covid-19 poster

We have also produced guides on financial support measures, post COVID-19 business planning, cybersecurity, available on our website here along with other useful articles to help businesses during the pandemic.

 

Complaint handling awards

QASSS complaint handling winner’s webinar

Earlier this year, before lockdown, we were delighted to take home two awards at the UK Complaint Handling Awards 2020 held in London for the Best Complaint Handling and Best Complaint Handling Team of the Year – Initiative.

Hosted by Awards International, we recently took part in a winner’s webinar where you can find out more about our ‘Resolution Revolution’ winning entry and see our full presentation from our Managing Director, Ciarán Harkin.  

Ciaran talks about how we reduced dispute resolution times to just 2 days during the project whilst maintaining high satisfaction rates, our fantastic team of ADR (alternative dispute resolution) superheroes, our work with stakeholders and what’s next.

To watch the full recording, click here to register and view.

Our complaint management services

At QASSS, we offer both complaint handling and alternative dispute resolution solutions for the home improvement and renewable energy sectors.

We offer both bespoke solutions and fully branded ‘white-label’ solutions to help businesses reduce costs, operational resources and protect brand reputation, all with industry-leading speed of service. To find out more email Laura Holmes, Service Delivery Manager at l.holmes@qasss.co.uk or call 0330 335 3354.

 

 

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