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.

 

Customer service

Customer service planning post COVID-19

Many companies will have had to adapt quickly with a sudden shift to remote working to ensure they can still service their customers at speed whilst maintaining quality.

Companies that have remained open may also have had to adapt to increased call and live chat volumes, given that during times of crisis, customers prefer live interactions.

Providing compassionate customer service during the pandemic can help improve brand reputation and customer loyalty. Your strategy should be to win hearts and minds and embrace complainants. You should see those customers as an opportunity rather than a headache.

Effective complaint handling

Time is of the essence. Be quick to respond to customers – this should be a priority. Make sure you have planned capacity to handle all complaints as swiftly as possible and from all communication channels.

With the rise of online reviews and social media, an unhappy customer can reach huge audiences, so it is important to act quickly and protect your brand from negative reactions. Manage the wider conversation to prevent louder and more negative conversations and use your interactions with unhappy customers to turn complainants into true brand advocates.

We’ve also produced a useful guide with our top tips on complaint handling which you can read here.

Using data and analytics

This is an optimum time to use data and analytics to help predict the changing needs of customers and customer demand patterns. Call volume forecasts cannot be viewed in isolation given the unprecedented disruption during lockdown and the uncertainty of what the ‘new normal’ may look like.

Demographics, geographic data, behavioural trends, customers impacts, daily customer contact trends, social media monitoring, stakeholder data and other economic data should all be used to prepare operations to best match BAU volumes post COVID-19.

A similar approach is needed to evaluate resource. Analyse internal workforce demographics, plans for local school and childcare cover, staff wellbeing surveys and publicly available estimates on infection rates and spread to help forecast workforce availability and cover.

Capacity planning

Build on capabilities that have stood up during COVID-19 to maximise efficiencies and allow for flexibility as part of the ‘new normal’. Start planning how you will both repurpose your team in physical locations to maintain customer continuity and scale up capacity to manage volumes.

Look at capacity daily so you can adjust to meet changing customer service demand patterns, including prioritisation of critical contacts.

You may 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 complaint backlogs and overflow capability. Start talking to those companies now who will help advise you on fully branded ‘white label’ solutions.

How QASSS can help

For more information on planning for post COVID-19, read our handy guide which also looks at finance, people, marketing, IT and operations.

QASSS provides bespoke complaint handling and dispute resolution services to help improve your brand reputation, repeat business and save you time and money. We can help with overflow, interim capacity and dealing with backlogs. We also offer fully branded, ‘white label’ solutions. To find out more, contact us on 0330 335 3354 or email info@qasss.co.uk

 

Image by Zero Tolerance from pixabay

 

Business Insurance

Business interruption insurance – the devil is in the detail

Has your claim for business interruption insurance been rejected?

Insurers are coming under increasing pressure for refusing to pay out claims to companies that have been devastated by COVID-19. So much so that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has vowed to take insurance companies to court and some insurers are facing class-action lawsuits from businesses.

Despite some policies having very clear wording that a claim can be made if an infectious disease forces them to close, many insurance companies are rejecting claims en masse, with some citing that COVID-19 is not covered as it is a new disease or that the impact of lockdown is not covered by the policy.

Does your business interruption policy provide cover?

Most business interruption policies cover standard risks only, such as fire and flooding, etc. but you may have chosen to purchase additional cover or a ‘notifiable disease extension’ specifically for disruption caused by pandemics and infectious diseases.

Most notifiable disease extensions tend to cover specific diseases that will be named in the policy. If Covid-19 is not specified, then cover may not apply. Some extensions are more general and do not specify certain diseases. Business owners should, therefore, check the policy wording very carefully.

Cover may also exist if the business has purchased a ‘non-damage denial of access’ extension. Purchase of these extensions tends to be rare and not generally covered under standard policies. Generally, ‘denial of access’ cover applies to cordoned off areas and loss of trade resulting from a denial of access to premises. If a business is forced to close or is told to close by an appropriate authority or is cordoned off, this could trigger a claim under a ‘non-damage, denial of access’ extension, if the infectious disease cover is unspecified or if it includes Covid-19.

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

If you believe your policy does provide cover, but your claim has been rejected, we urge you to contact us for 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

plumbing and heating

New COVID-19 research on the plumbing and heating sector

New research from the plumbing and heating sector suggests installers are rapidly finding new ways of operating, particularly those who feel comfortable offering essential ‘emergency’ services to householders, although cashflow is the no 1. concern.

Eureka! gathered views from over 1,100 tradespeople in the plumbing and heating sector. From the research, Eureka! has calculated that the sector has been operating at just one-eighth of what it would in normal circumstances.

Here we highlight some of the key findings.

Key concerns

97% report a significant or worse impact on their normal workload. Almost 6 in 10 cited cashflow as a key concern facing their business today with the ability to pay themselves a close second. For those still working, getting hold of materials was also a key issue.

Nearly 4 in 10 also stated that going out of business was a serious concern.

For the self-employed, the main financial measures being accessed were the self-employed income support scheme and deferring self-assessment tax payments. For limited companies, reliance has been on furloughing staff and deferring vat payments, with only 23% using the Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). 14% of businesses were potentially not accessing any support.

Just 33% thought the range of financial measures announced so far were sufficient to support their business.

Emergency work

Just 4 in 10 are offering a ‘normal’ emergency service. The jobs considered as ‘emergencies’ included:

  • 88% Boiler/ heating
  • 76% Leaks/ burst pipes
  • 39% Quick & easy repairs
  • 37% Toilet issues

Fixing householder’s DIY mistakes was not seen as an emergency.

Changes in working practices

Of those taking part, around 16% of businesses were still working and had undergone a rapid change in working practices, in line with government guidelines, including:

  • maintaining a 2-metre social distance from other people around me on a job
  • ensuring homeowners stay in a different part of the property
  • only using click and collect merchant services (or phone ahead)
  • wearing gloves at all times (when previously I didn’t)
  • wiping down where I have worked with anti-bac spray/ wipes
  • wearing a mask

24% of businesses asked were also starting to use technology to diagnose issues remotely (mobile app, video, photos), and nearly 4 in 10 installers said that they would now consider quoting for jobs using remote technology.

To read more and access the full report from Eureka! click here.

 

Image by 5317367 from Pixabay.

 

 

 

finance business grants

Top-up to local business grant funds scheme

A discretionary fund has been set up to accommodate certain small businesses previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme.

Yesterday, the government announced that up to £617 million would be made available, which is an additional 5% uplift to the £12.33 billion funding previously announced for the Small Business Grants Fund (SBGF) and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants Fund (RHLGF), so up to £617 million. The exact amount for each local authority is yet to be confirmed.

This additional fund is aimed at small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs. The government is asking local authorities to prioritise businesses in shared spaces, regular market traders, small charity properties that would meet the criteria for Small Business Rates Relief, and bed and breakfasts that pay council tax rather than business rates. But local authorities may choose to make payments to other businesses based on local economic need. The allocation of funding will be at the discretion of local authorities.

To be eligible:

  • businesses must have under 50 employees, and
  • they must also be able to demonstrate that they have seen a significant drop in income due to Coronavirus restriction measures.

There will be three levels of grant payments. The maximum will be £25,000. Local authorities will have the discretion to make payments of any amount under £10,000. It will be for councils to adapt this approach to local circumstances.

Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay

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

 

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IT solutions

IT solutions and planning post COVID-19

Never before have IT professionals had to oversee the wholesale movement of entire teams to remote working, whilst ensuring continued productivity, continuous data back-up, utilising new technologies and maintaining system resilience and security.

What COVID-19 has highlighted is that many companies still do not understand what their digital and cybersecurity risk is. Businesses need to be developing and implementing policies to manage risk now and in preparation to adapt to shifting changes post COVID-19.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity has been a major issue during COVID-19 with an ever-increasing number of scams by cybercriminals (read out top tips on cybersecurity here). Businesses should not drop their guard as these risks will continue to increase post COVID-19.

Do not ignore what may seem small or micro-level threats, as these can often have an outsized impact on systems.

If you do not already have cyber incident management as part of your business continuity plans, prepare a policy now. This should include penetration tests, network security, data encryption, secure configuration, malware prevention, and, most importantly, a cyber crisis or incident response plan. Particularly important is education and ongoing awareness amongst staff, suppliers and customers.

Enabling your workforce

By now, many companies will have set up temporary solutions for remote working. However, the ‘new normal’ is most likely to include social distancing for some time and potentially additional waves of the pandemic. Continue to build and evolve your remote-work policy during and post COVID-19.

Take this time to plan for an agile workforce, to include infrastructure needs, telephony, broadband reliability, training, security, hardware and software solutions to support potentially more permanent longer-term remote working, staggered shift patterns and/or the mobilisation of some or all teams back to office locations.

Creating a truly agile workforce is where those employees included, can effectively work from anywhere at any time, allowing for optimum productivity and efficiency.

Using technology to disrupt and innovate

Digital transformation is one of the key themes of COVID-19. In the ‘new normal’, companies that embrace innovative technology will both survive and prosper.

At QASSS, we will soon be launching ‘VCAP’. VCAP is patented transformative video capture (VCAP) technology for the home improvement and renewable sectors.

VCAP will enable companies to have their eyes on the ground with both live and remote evidential video reporting to help deliver faster case resolutions, cost savings, significant operational efficiencies and better outcomes. Plus, with social distancing likely to continue, our VCAP technology will allow for companies to perform remote site visits and surveys and conduct live 2-way face to face calls and screen sharing for instant evaluation of problems, in effect seeing what customers see for real-time advice and guided video capture.

Our VCAP suite is secure, verifiable and time-stamped, and, with site visits and site surveys minimised, companies will quickly realise huge operational efficiencies and cost savings, helping with cash management in the post COVID-19 period.

We’ll be releasing more details on VCAP soon so keep an eye out for updates.

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 it.solutions@qasss.co.uk

Post COVID-19 planning

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

 

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covid-19 business loans

New ‘bounce back’ loans for small businesses

The government has announced new measures for small and medium-sized businesses affected by COVID-19. The coronavirus ‘bounce back’ loan is 100% guaranteed by the government and will be available from Monday 4th May.

The details

  • The Bounce Back Loan scheme will help small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000.
  • The government will guarantee 100% of the loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months.
  • Loan terms will be up to 6 years. No repayments will be due during the first 12 months. The government will work with lenders to agree a low rate of interest for the remaining period of the loan.
  • The scheme will be delivered through a network of accredited lenders.

Eligibility

You can apply for a loan if your business:

  • is based in the UK
  • has been negatively affected by coronavirus
  • was not an ‘undertaking in difficulty’ on 31 December 2019

The following businesses are not eligible to apply:

  • banks, insurers and reinsurers (but not insurance brokers)
  • public-sector bodies
  • further-education establishments, if they are grant-funded
  • state-funded primary and secondary schools

If you’re already claiming funding

You cannot apply if you’re already claiming under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBLIS).

If you’ve already received a loan of up to £50,000 under CBILS and would like to transfer it into the Bounce Back Loan scheme, you can arrange this with your lender until 4 November 2020.

More information about the scheme will be published shortly – keep an eye out for more details on www.gov.uk

qasss post covid 19 planning

Post COVID-19 planning

COVID-19 has changed the way we work, socialise, consume and communicate. It has created uncertainty and changed behaviours and beliefs. But what will happen in the home improvement and renewable sectors post COVID-19 in the recovery period and what will be the ‘new normal’?

As well as being proactive to preserve business continuity, it is at this critical stage that you need to start planning for post COVID-19. The key questions become, what next, and with what consequences and opportunities?

One thing is for sure, companies that are preparing for the recovery period now, rather than hoping for a quick reset to pre-COVID-19 days, will undoubtedly not only survive but grow and prosper in the longer-term.

So, what should your post COVID-19 plan include? We’ve looked at six key areas to help with the planning process, including finance, people, marketing, IT, operations and customer service.

Click here or on the image below to view our latest guide.

QASSS post covid 19 planning

And remember, keep focused on the positives. COVID-19 has generated steep learning curves for many, including innovative and smart working, upskilling, digital transformation, quicker to market revenue streams, promoting a culture of trust, increased sustainability, real corporate social responsibility and true collaboration, both across teams and externally with like-minded companies.

These learnings are invaluable and will help to make your company more sustainable, resilient and supportive to your employees, customers, suppliers and wider society in the recovery period and beyond.

Technology Keyboard

Giving the agile workforce the right technology

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.

If you are planning for an agile workforce, we’ve put together a quick guide on the technology you should be considering as a company in supplying to key personnel. Also available to download here or by clicking on the image below.

Technology Guide

Desktops

If you are planning to base employees from home on a permanent basis, then they will need a device. Their choice will normally be either a desktop or laptop. Desktops are clearly not as mobile as a laptop, but they are typically cheaper, they can be upgraded easily and cheaply, and they often tend to age better than their fellow laptop.

Laptops

Due to laptops becoming more affordable, this can be a great tool for the agile workforce. The two main downsides for an employer when it comes to laptops.

  1. Poor ergonomics – meaning employees are potentially hunching to work on them leading to medical issues around the neck, back, shoulders and wrists.
  2. Additional costs – as a result of the above, an employer has a responsibility to mitigate this by providing other accessories such as keyboards, a mouse, wrist supports and a bigger monitor.

Monitors

Mainly only required if you are providing laptops. Office workers to a greater extent these days are working from either two or three screens or working with much bigger screens than before. Such as in the pandemic scenario, where the time period of working from home is unknown, the ability for employees to access the screens they would normally use is paramount to avoid any reductions in productivity.

Keyboards

Keyboards will normally come with a mouse too when purchasing. They can be wired or wireless and can vary heavily in price. The natural move is to buy the cheapest for employees but just remember who is using the device for what. If this is for a contact centre operative, who is working from home, they will work faster and with less likelihood of wrist strain if they have a good keyboard.

Noise Cancelling Headphones

For the home environment, over-ear headphones are best, allowing the employee to cut out some of the home noise distractions, making it a better experience not only for them but also for any clients/stakeholders on the other end as well.

Webcams

Particularly important for agile sales personnel and customer relationship personnel. This allows the face-to-face relationship to continue, even if on a virtual basis. Webcams are also very useful in helping keep employees engaged with each other. They get to see their colleagues whilst speaking to them which helps with maintaining that team feel.

Software

If you have an IT department, then your laptops and desktops should already be preloaded with the correct VPN and Antivirus software. If you don’t have an IT department, then this software is still easily available online to be downloaded to your work and home PC or laptop, allowing secure access to your company network. For VPN Software, you could be considering something like Chrome Remote Desktop, and for Antivirus, you could consider Norton Antivirus.

A further consideration on software is the tools you will require to be able to work with no reduction in productivity. So, things like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets or Apple’s Pages will all be essential, or their equivalents in Word or PowerPoint packages. For communication, video conferencing software will be essential and could include the following: Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Duo or Zoom.

Broadband

Employees will in the norm have broadband at home. However, will it stand up to increased working from home, whilst the rest of the household uses it for normal activities such as streaming, browsing, smart appliances, etc? As part of your agile workforce plans it is useful to ask key personnel what their current broadband performance is. This is not just about download speeds, as work video conferencing, file transfers, etc. can be demanding on the often significantly slower upload speeds. Also finding out where in the home the employee is working compared to where their Wi-Fi hub is useful, in order to potentially provide additional home working setup advice.

 

Image by AnonymAT 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.

Top tips for 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

Home improvement survey

COVID-19 Home Improvement Impact Survey

The NHIC in conjunction with QASSS carried out a digital survey from 26th March – 3rd April 2020 to provide a snapshot of the initial impact of the virus and resulting lockdown on the home improvement sector.

The results of the survey give us an early view of the behaviours and actions of consumers and organisations within the home improvement sector. As the weeks go by, these results could ultimately change but clearly, there are some concerning outputs in here, which state the case for the following actions:

More public clarification from government, specifically for the home improvement sector, on what is classed as essential work within the home, and to have those carrying out those works classed as key workers. This, in turn, will help relieve some of the pressure from media messaging, which is being channelled by members of the public into verbal or digital abuse towards companies operating in the interests of consumers in need.

Public funds being made available as consumer detriment kicks in as companies initiate temporary closure, meaning some consumers may have to find alternative companies to complete essential works. This, unfortunately, could impact the original warranties in place, and consumers need to know that funds could be made available to ensure finding another company is not a financial burden to them.

Leadership within the home improvement sector. It’s clear that it’s not easy out there for both companies and consumers, but yet this is not being heard at a high enough level. We can see the construction industry successfully raising valid points with government, and in turn driving action. We can see the Federation of Small Businesses successfully engaging with government, in particular around the topic of financial support for sole traders. We need similar voices in place for the home improvement sector, which represents around a fifth of SME companies.

To read more click here: Home Improvement Survey or on the image below.

QASSS Home Improvement Survey

In the meantime, if any consumer or company within home improvement or renewable energy does need support, we are here to help in what are some of the most challenging of times. Contact our team on 0330 335 3354 or email info@qasss.co.uk

 

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Business support

New coronavirus business support finder tool

The government has launched a new ‘support finder’ tool will help businesses and self-employed people across the UK to quickly and easily determine what financial support is available to them during the coronavirus pandemic.

The ‘support finder tool’ on www.gov.uk will ask business owners to fill out a simple online questionnaire, which can take minutes to complete, and they will then be signposted to a list of all the financial support they may be eligible for.

The new business support finder tool can be found here at support finder

More details on support for businesses can be found on the coronavirus business support hub

Business Secretary Alok Sharma commented:

Businesses of all shapes and sizes play a vital role in our economy, which is why we want to make it as easy as possible for all of them to access our wide-ranging package of financial support during this challenging time.

This online questionnaire takes just minutes to complete and will quickly signpost a business to the loans, grants or other schemes they could be eligible for.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak commented:

We’ve launched an unprecedented package of support to protect jobs, businesses and incomes during these challenging times.

Millions are already benefitting, and this new online tool will allow firms and individuals to identify what help they are entitled to in a matter of minutes.

We are doing everything we can to make our support as accessible and as easy to navigate as possible.

QASSS have been supporting customers and clients with daily information on government measures available here in insights.

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QASSS future fund COVID-19

Further measures to help innovative companies remain viable during the coronavirus crisis

The government has announced further measures to help innovative companies remain viable during the coronavirus crisis.

The “Future Fund” is designed to ensure high-growth companies receive enough investment to remain viable. It will provide government loans to UK-based companies ranging from £125,000 to £5 million, subject to at least equal match funding from private investors. The scheme will be delivered in partnership with the British Business Bank and will launch in May 2020.

These convertible loans may be a suitable option for businesses that rely on equity investment and are unable to access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Initially, the U.K. government is pledging a total of £250 million of taxpayer’s money to the new fund, but it has also said that the scale of the fund will be kept “under review,” suggesting more taxpayer money could be committed in future.

Eligibility

You are eligible if:

  • your business is based in the UK
  • your business can attract the equivalent match funding from third party private investors and institutions
  • your business has previously raised at least £250,000 in equity investment from third-party investors in the last 5 years

Full eligibility criteria will be published in due course. There is some confusion as to how these convertible loans will work in practice. The government will be publishing more detail and clarification in due course, In the meantime, the headline terms setting out the main features expected to apply to the loans can be found by here.

 

 

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COVID 19 Scams

Beware of the latest COVID-19 scams – think before you click

We previously published advice on how to avoid malicious COVID-19 ‘phishing’ emails and SMS messages in our campaign, ‘think before you click’.

Unfortunately, these scams continue, and the deceptions are particularly callous, with cybercriminals preying upon people’s fears, insecurities and financial problems. We’ve provided an update below on the latest scams to look out for:

Fake lockdown fines

The scam message (usually sent by text) claims to be from the government saying that your movements have been monitored through your phone and demanding you pay a £250 fine or face a more severe penalty.

HMRC goodwill payment

The MET police have warned of a fake text message designed to steal your account details that says ‘As part of the NHS promise to battle the COV-19 virus, HMRC has issued a payment of £258 as a goodwill payment’.

Free school meals

The Department for Education has issued warnings about a scam email designed to steal your bank details saying: ‘As schools will be closing, if you’re entitled to free school meals, please send your bank details and we’ll make sure you’re supported.’

HMRC coronavirus tax refunds

HMRC has warned of a scam campaign telling customers that they can claim a tax refund to help protect themselves from the outbreak.

WhatsApp request

A recent scam also includes a WhatsApp request to forward your code. Someone who knows your phone number could request to register your WhatsApp on a different device, and when a verification code is sent to you, the hacker will then message you to try and coax you into forwarding this on to them. It could grant hackers full access to your WhatsApp messages, photos and videos and they could you could then target your contacts with requests for money.

 

Remember – think before you click

If you believe you have received a phishing link in any format, ‘think before you click’ on whatever device you’re using. If in doubt, don’t click it.

 

For more advice on what to do if you think you’ve received a phishing message or if you’ve clicked on one, read our latest guide here.

 

 

 

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Furlough Scheme

COVID-19 Furlough Scheme Cut-Off Date Extended to 19th March

QASSS welcomes the news that thousands more employees will able to receive support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) after the eligibility date was extended to the 19th of March 2020.

Under the scheme announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last month, employers can claim a grant covering 80% of the wages for a furloughed employee, subject to a cap of £2,500 a month.

To qualify and to protect against fraudulent claims, individuals originally had to be employed on February 28th 2020.

But following a review of the delivery system and to ensure the scheme helps as many people as possible, new guidance published today has confirmed the eligibility date has been extended to March 19th – the day before the scheme was announced.

Employers can claim for furloughed employees that were employed and on their PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020. This means that the employee must have been notified to HMRC through an RTI submission notifying payment in respect of that employee on or before the 19th of March 2020.

This change makes the scheme more generous while keeping the substantial fraud risks under control and is expected to benefit over 200,000 employees.

HMRC has been working at pace to delivering the scheme, which is due to be fully operational next week.

For more business advice, take a look at our Coronavirus Business Round-Up covering:

  • Business Finance
    – VAT & Income Tax Payments Deferral
    – Business Interruption Loans
    – Job Retention Scheme
    – Statutory Sick Pay
    – Self-Employed Income Support Scheme
  • Business Interruption Insurance
  • Cyber Security
  • Support Services

 

 

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business interruption insurance

Business Interruption Loans – Updated Advice From The FCA

 

 

QASSS welcomes a letter issued by the Financial Conduct Authority today telling insurers to pay out on business interruption claims where there is cover and without delay. In a ‘Dear CEO’ letter, from Christopher Woolard, Interim Chief Executive, the message is clear that they expect insurers and brokers to support customers who have business interruption cover in place, although the FCA does acknowledge that in their estimations, most businesses will only have basic cover which will not cover pandemics.

Where cover is in place, the FCA wants insurers to act quickly, “…there are policies where it is clear that the firm has an obligation to pay out on a policy. For these policies, it is important that claims are assessed and settled quickly.” They have also asked insurers to adopt an approach of making interim payments where appropriate. They also issued a strong statement where insurers disagree, “If you disagree with doing so, we would like you to send to us the grounds for reaching that decision including how you believe it represents a fair outcome for customers. Your firm’s decision is likely to help inform our assessment of its culture.”

The FCA has also launched a new small business unit today to help ensure regulated firms are supported through this period and to gather intelligence about the treatment of small businesses by financial services firms during the crisis and ensuring a coordinated response by the FCA to any issues identified.

Click here to read the full letter.

In our Coronavirus Business Round-Up, we have provided further advice on business interruption insurance. We strongly urge businesses to check to see if cover applies for COVID-19 and encourage you to contact your insurer or broker who will be able to help.

Scott Robinson, Commercial Director at QASSS commented, “If you are a business owner and you are told by your insurer that you are not covered for business interruption, make sure you carefully check the policy wording. We have come across a number of instances recently where businesses have been told no cover applies and when the policy wording was examined in detail, cover was applicable! The devil is in the detail I’m afraid!”

If your business interruption insurance does cover COVID-19, your insurance company is likely to use a Loss Adjuster to represent them and we strongly recommend you access specialist advice to prepare and negotiate your claim. At QASSS, we can help with the claims process and can arrange access 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

 

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QASSS business loan

Coronavirus Government Support For Large Businesses

Although the scheme has not launched yet, we’ve put together a short summary outline of the government measures to support larger businesses via the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS).

What is the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS)?

CLBLIS is designed to support large businesses, with an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million, to access loans of up to £25 million, and is expected to be delivered through commercial lenders.

This scheme allows lenders to support businesses that were viable before the coronavirus outbreak but now face significant cash flow difficulties that would otherwise make their business unviable in the short term.

Is it guaranteed?

The government will provide lenders with an 80% guarantee on individual loans for businesses that would be otherwise unable to access the finance they need.

This will give banks the confidence to lend to many more businesses that are impacted by coronavirus. Facilities backed by a guarantee under CLBILS will be offered at commercial rates of interest.

Is my business eligible?

You are eligible if your business:

  • is based in the UK;
  • has an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million;
  • is unable to secure regular commercial financing.

You must also have a borrowing proposal which the lender:

  • would consider viable, if not for the coronavirus pandemic;
  • believes will enable you to trade out of any short-term to medium-term difficulty.

Businesses with a turnover of less than £45 million may be entitled to other government support – more details are provided within our QASSS Coronavirus Business Round-Up 

Is anyone excluded from applying?

The government has included exceptions, including:

  • banks, insurers and reinsurers (but not insurance brokers)
  • public-sector bodies
  • further-education establishments, if they are grant-funded
  • state-funded primary and secondary schools

Further detail on eligibility will be confirmed later this month.

How do I apply?

The scheme will launch later this month – once more details are available, we’ll provide an update. We anticipate it will be available through a range of accredited lenders.

Once the scheme has launched, there is likely to be a big demand for facilities. You should consider applying via the lender’s website in the first instance. Telephone lines are likely to be busy and branches may have limited capacity to handle enquiries due to coronavirus.

 

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Cyber Security

Top Tips On Cyber Security

QASSS has put together the following quick guide based on NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) advice to help businesses protect themselves and avoid being caught in COVID-19 scams. To download our pdf guide on cyber security, click here.

  1. RISK MANAGEMENT REGIME

Central to your organisation’s cyber security strategy is to define and communicate your Board’s Information Risk Management Regime.

  1. SECURE CONFIGURATION

Having an approach to identify baseline technology builds and processes for ensuring configuration management can greatly improve the security of systems. You should develop a strategy to remove or disable unnecessary functionality from systems, and to quickly fix known vulnerabilities, usually via patching. Failure to do so is likely to result in increased risk of compromise of systems and information.

  1. HOME AND MOBILE WORKING

Mobile working and remotes expose new risks that need to be managed. You should establish risk based policies and procedures that support mobile working or remote access to systems that apply to users, as well as service providers.

  1. INCIDENT MANAGEMENT

All organisations will experience security incidents at some point. Investment in establishing effective incident management policies and processes will help to improve resilience, support business continuity, improve customer and stakeholder confidence and potentially reduce any impact.

  1. MALWARE PREVENTION

Any exchange of information carries with it a degree of risk that malware or malicious software might be exchanged, which could seriously impact your systems and services. The risk may be reduced by implementing appropriate security controls as part of an overall ‘defence in depth’ approach.

  1. MANAGING USER PRIVILEGES

Ensure you have a policy to manage employees’ privileges. Giving users unnecessary system privileges or data access rights means that if the account is misused or compromised the impact will be more severe than it needs to be.

  1. MONITORING

System monitoring provides a capability that aims to detect actual or attempted attacks on systems and business services. Good monitoring is essential to effectively respond to attacks. Monitoring is often a key capability needed to comply with legal or regulatory requirements.

  1. NETWORK SECURITY

The connections from your networks to the Internet, and other partner networks, expose your systems and technologies to attack. By creating and implementing some simple policies and appropriate architectural and technical responses, you can reduce the chances of these attacks succeeding or causing harm to your organisation. Your organisation’s networks almost certainly span many sites, including mobile / remote working and cloud services for example. Also don’t just focus on physical connections. Think also about where your data is stored and processed, and where a cyber-criminal would have the opportunity to interfere with it.

  1. REMOVABLE MEDIA CONTROLS

Removable media provide a common route for the introduction of malware and the accidental or deliberate export of sensitive data. You should have a clear policy for all employees as to whether to allow the use of removable media and apply appropriate security controls to its use.

  1. USER EDUCATION AND AWARENESS

All employees (users) have a critical role to play in their organisation’s security and so it’s important that security rules and the technology provided enables users to do their job as well as helping to keep the organisation secure. This can be supported by a systematic delivery of awareness programs and training that deliver security expertise as well as helping to establish a security-conscious culture.

Remember, be cyber safe and think before you click. To read more about COVID-19 and other scams, read our advice on staying safe online, see our recent article here.

For up to date guidance, please visit the NCSC site.

During this COVID-19 period, we can help with business continuity, cyber security and other IT solutions to help your business stay safe, innovative and reduce IT costs. We offer a host of bespoke IT solutions for the home improvement sector 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 it.solutions@qasss.co.uk

 

 

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Cash Flow and Personal Budget Plan

We are in extraordinary times and we want to support you and your business as much as possible during this period. Hopefully your accountants will be supporting you through this time, but to help your business, colleagues and friends, we’ve also put together a handy cash flow forecast spreadsheet and personal budgeting tool.

Click here to download it.

 

Image by janjf93 from Pixabay

Home Improvement & Trade Counter Round-Up

To help our network and installers across the industry, we’ve put together an ‘operational trading’ update on the main retailers and trade counters in home improvement showing availability and details around ordering and deliveries for emergency and key supplies. We’ll be keeping this up to date regularly as things change day to day.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme

The new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme is designed to support the self-employed who have been adversely affected by the Coronavirus, whereby the government will pay a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last 3 years, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

The details:

  • The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme is open to any self-employed with income up to £50,000 who have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19.
  • It will be available to people who genuinely earn more than half of their income through self-employment.
  • It will be available to those who are already in self-employment and who have submitted their Self Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19. The government has allowed anyone who missed the filing deadline in January, 4 weeks to submit their tax return i.e. before 23 April 2020.
  • You must be trading when you apply and intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020-2021.
  • HMRC is working on the scheme and they expect people to be able to access the scheme no later than the beginning of June.
  • If you are eligible, HMRC will contact you directly and ask you to fill out a simple online form.
  • HMRC will pay the grant directly into your bank account, in one instalment.
  • The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme will be open for 3 months. The government may extend this if necessary.

What about now?

For anyone who is struggling right now, the government points to the following measures:

  • Self-employed people can access the Business Interruption Loans (more detail on this on page 3).
  • Self-assessment income tax payments, that were due in July, can be deferred to the end of January 2021.
  • Self-employed people who have no income will be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and/or Universal Credit (dependant on eligibility).

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QASSS Coronavirus Business Round-Up

We are in extraordinary times and we want to support you and your business as much as possible during this period. We’ve put together a business round-up with advice and updates on a number of key areas to help you navigate the confusion below.

Hopefully your accountants will be supporting you through this time, but to help your business, colleagues and friends, we’ve also put together both a handy cash flow forecast spreadsheet and personal budgeting tool. You can download the spreadsheet here.

We cover:

  • Business Finance
    – VAT & Income Tax Payments Deferral
    – Business Interruption Loans
    – Job Retention Scheme
    – Statutory Sick Pay
    – Self-Employed Income Support Scheme
  • Business Interruption Insurance
  • Cyber Security
  • Support Services

Click here or the image below to view the bulletin.

 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Support for businesses who are paying sick pay to employees

Support for businesses who are paying sick pay to employees

Legislation will be introduced to allow small and medium sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The eligibility criteria for the scheme will be as follows:

  • The refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19.
  • The government will refund £94.25 per week, maximum £188.50, to your company for the 2019/20 tax year. The figures for the 2020/21 tax year will be £95.85 and £191.70 respectively.
  • This SSP will be paid from the first day of absence for anyone self-isolating due to coronavirus from 13 March 2020.
  • Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible – the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020. If you’re a director of a limited company with less than 250 employees, you can pay yourself two weeks of SSP if you need to self-isolate subject to meeting the minimum payroll requirement for SSP.
  • Employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19.
  • Employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note. If evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online and those who live with someone that has symptoms can get a note from the NHS website.

The government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers.

How to access the scheme

A rebate scheme is being developed. Further details will be provided in due course.

Understand that you will not reclaim this SSP through your real-time information (RTI) submissions when processing payroll. The government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible.

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Support for businesses through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salaries for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.

What it means:

  • HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month.
  • HMRC is working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.
  • The scheme, lasting for an initial period of three months, will be extended “if necessary”.
  • The employer can choose whether to top-up the remaining 20% of employees’ pay.
  • The wage subsidy will apply to workers who have already been laid off since 1st March, due to the pandemic, provided the employer brings them back onto the payroll.
  • The scheme is to help employers keep their staff on the books, rather than lay them off. It isn’t targeted at the self-employed.

You will need to: 

  1. Designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change. To ‘furlough a worker’ means that you have laid them off due to no work, but you have not yet made them redundant. Changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation.
  1. Submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required).

Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

VAT and Income Tax Payments

VAT

  • Businesses will be supported by deferring VAT payments for 3 months.
  • The deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020.
  • All UK businesses are eligible.
  • This is an automatic offer with no applications required.
  • Businesses will not need to make a VAT payment during this period.
  • Taxpayers will be given until the end of the 2020/2021 tax year to pay any liabilities that have accumulated during the period.
  • VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal.

Income Tax

  • If you’re self-employed, Income Tax payments due on 31 July 2020 under the Self-Assessment system will be deferred until 31 January 2021.
  • If you are self-employed you are eligible.
  • This is an automatic offer with no applications required.
  • No penalties or interest for late payment will be charged in the deferral period.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Business Interruption Loans

Support for businesses through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)

The new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme supports SMEs with access to working capital (including loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance) of up to £5 million in value and for up to 6 years.

The government will pay to cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied fees, so smaller businesses will not face any upfront costs and will benefit from lower initial repayments.

The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs.

This scheme is being delivered through commercial lenders, backed by the British Business Bank.

Eligibility

You are eligible for the scheme if:

  • your business is UK based, with turnover of no more than £45 million per year, and;
  • your business meets the other British Business Bank eligibility criteria.

How to access the scheme

The scheme is now open for applications. To apply, you should talk to your bank or one of the 40 accredited finance providers (not the British Business Bank) as soon as possible, to discuss your business plan. You can find out the latest on the best ways to contact them via their websites.

All major banks are offering this scheme. If you have an existing loan with monthly repayments you may want to ask for a repayment holiday to help with cash flow.

The full rules of the scheme and the list of accredited lenders are available on the British Business Bank website.

The loan scheme provides the bank with a Government-backed guarantee which will enable your business manager to approve it, whereas, without that guarantee, your request for a loan may have been declined.

Please note: It’s important that you are aware that you, the borrower, will always remain 100% liable for the debt. The CIBLS guarantee is to the lender, not you, the SME.

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Business Interruption Insurance

Does standard business interruption insurance provide cover for businesses who are not able to operate due to the effects of Covid-19?

Business insurance policies are designed to cover standard risks and are therefore unlikely to provide cover for the effects of global pandemics like Covid-19. This includes forced closure by the authorities. Businesses may have chosen to purchase cover that will specifically provide for business interruption arising from notifiable or infectious diseases. For certain notifiable disease extensions, cover may apply if other policy conditions are met. However, this type of extension is not commonly included as standard. Furthermore, the likely costs to businesses of cover that includes more unusual risks – such as those posed by new diseases – would be prohibitive. Businesses who are concerned about the impacts of Covid-19 should check the scope of their cover with the insurance company or broker.

Does a ‘notifiable disease’ extension cover my business for Covid-19?

Most notifiable disease extensions tend to cover specific diseases that will be named in the cover. If Covid-19 is not specified, then cover may not apply. Some notifiable disease extensions are more general and do not specify certain diseases. In these cases, business interruption cover for Covid-19 may apply if it is present in the business. If you are unsure about what your policy covers, check with your broker or the insurer if you purchased it directly.

Are there any other extensions to business interruption that may provide cover?

Some coverage may exist if the business has purchased a ‘non-damage, denial of access’ extension to a business interruption policy. Again, purchase of these extensions tends to be rare and this is not generally covered under standard business interruption policies. Generally, ‘denial of access’ cover applies to cordoned off areas and loss of trade resulting from a denial of access to premises. If a business is forced to close or is told to close by an appropriate authority or is cordoned off, this could trigger a claim under a ‘non-damage, denial of access’ business interruption extension if the infectious disease cover is unspecified or if it includes Covid-19.

Here is some advice from QASSS

Most businesses are unlikely to be covered, as standard policies are dependent on damage to property and will generally exclude pandemics. However, we strongly recommend businesses check to see if cover applies for Covid-19 and if so, the specific terms and conditions that apply. Insurance policies can differ significantly, so we’d encourage you to contact your broker or insurer who will be able to help.

If you do have insurance that covers Covid-19, your insurance company is likely to use a Loss Adjuster to represent them. We would strongly advise businesses who have cover in place, to access specialist advice in helping them to prepare, present and negotiate claims. At QASSS, we can help with the claims process and can arrange access 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

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

BEWARE – COVID-19 cyber scams – think before you click

Cybercriminals are taking advantage of this unprecedented situation which has led to a huge spike in malicious COVID-19 ‘phishing’ emails, which attempt to trick users into clicking on bad links. Leading to loss of money or sensitive data.

These emails can range from HMRC fake emails, donation type emails, Coronavirus medical advice and even ones relating to finding a cure! The BBC has put together some useful examples, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-51838468

The best advice for everyone is ‘think before you click’.

 

What do I do if I think I’ve received a fake or phishing email?

If you believe you’ve received a phishing email, mark it as Spam/Junk or Suspicious, this will move the email out of your Inbox and notify your email provider that it is potentially unsafe.

  • DO NOT forward the email to colleagues or others
  • DO NOT click any link within the email
  • DO NOT open any attachments within the email
  • DO NOT reply to the email

 

What if I’ve already clicked?

  • Do not provide any data and disconnect from the internet.
  • If you’re using a device provided by your company, contact your IT Department straightaway – remember do not forward the original scam email.
  • If you have anti-virus software, open this and run a full scan on your device and follow the instructions.
  • If you have provided your password as a result of following the link, change your passwords on all other accounts.
  • If you have been tricked into handing over money or giving access to online bank accounts, contact your bank immediately and also report it as a crime to Action Fraud, actionfraud.police.uk

 

It’s not just emails

Phishing links can also be found in text messages, mobile app messages, social media posts and Google calendar invites.

 

Remember – think before you click

If you believe you have received a phishing link in any format, ‘think before you click’ on whatever device you’re using. If in doubt, don’t click it.

 

QASSS can help

At QASSS, our IT support solution provides comprehensive services that can help you with network and security, alongside a host of other services. We can deliver a range of bespoke solutions and innovate IT services to meet your changing needs and budget. We can also help you with urgent issues and advice. Call Nisar Raja, IT Infrastructure Manager on 0330 335 3354 or email it.solutions@qasss.co.uk

 

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

QASSS Supports VAT Cut Recommendation in the Living with Beauty Report

The Living with Beauty Report, launched in January 2020, proposes a new development and planning framework in the building environment.

The overriding recommendation is that “Government should align VAT on housing renovation and repair with new build, in order to stop disincentivising the re-use of existing buildings.” [1] QASSS confidently express their support to the VAT cut recommendation. Currently, new build homes and flats are zero-rated for VAT, but repair, maintenance and improvement attract a VAT rate of 20%.

Coinciding with the thoughts of the report is the current net-zero goal, the Government wants the UK to be net-zero by 2050 and is currently focusing on new homes through the Future Homes Standard. [2] However, we do believe that there appears to be little incentive available for householders when looking to make their existing homes more energy efficient.

With both of the above in mind, research by The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) found that a cut to VAT would lead to a reduction in CO2 of 240,000 tonnes across 92,000 homes, yet another reason why we support the VAT cut.

Adrian Simpson, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs at QASSS, comments, “With householders looking to improve rather than move it seems unfair that new homebuyers should get all the benefits. We would like to see VAT on renovations aligned to VAT on new homes. Householders should be encouraged to improve the look, feel and comfort of their homes and some of their renovations could also increase the energy efficiency of their home.”

 

[1] http://www.createstreets.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Living-with-Beauty-Jan-2020.pdf

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/the-future-homes-standard-changes-to-part-l-and-part-f-of-the-building-regulations-for-new-dwellings

Sale photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Ofgem’s Decarbonisation Plans – Policy Analysis

Ofgem’s plans are primarily focused to ensure that the energy supply infrastructure is in place to deliver net-zero 2050. Ofgem’s tools are price controls, subsidy allocations, consumer information, advice and empowerment (in partnership with CAB).

The plans do not go into any depth around installer quality insurance and the competency/skills/knowledge of those expected to install measures around energy efficiency.

The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) regulates the monopoly companies which run the gas and electricity networks. It takes decisions on price controls and enforcement, acting in the interests of consumers and helping the industries to achieve environmental improvements.

Ofgem is a non-ministerial department meaning there is no minister in charge of Ofgem (like there is with BEIS (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) for example).

Ofgem is accountable to the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority (GEMA). GEMA members are appointed by a BEIS Minister.

Ofgem is primarily concerned with GB Energy Supply rather than quality standards etc. of installers which is more likely to be within BEIS’s consumer protection policy remit.

It should be noted that the plans only apply to Great Britain.

Headlines from the plan:

  • The UK has legislated to be ‘net-zero’ by 2050, although Scotland is aiming for 2045 (https://www.gov.scot/news/scotland-to-become-a-net-zero-society/)
  • Overall emissions have fallen by 40% since 1990; more than any other advanced economy. For example, almost half our electricity came from renewable or low carbon sources last year.
  • Only 5% of the energy used to heat our homes today is from low carbon sources and our use of electric vehicles may need to grow from 230,000 today to 46 million by 2050.
  • To achieve net-zero will require a huge increase in renewable and low carbon electricity, especially to meet new sources of demand such as electric vehicles. We will also need an energy system that can continue to reliably supply energy when consumers need it.

Adrian Simpson, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs at QASSS, comments, “The plans are ambitious, and they need to be to meet our carbon reduction targets. We would like to see consumer protection featured prominently in the plans. Consumers will need access to highly skilled, accountable and reliable tradespeople.”

If you would like to read more, click here to read the publication.

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Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Landscape

Consumers who have experienced a problem with a business that they have been unable to resolve on their own can take legal action, which is both time-consuming and expensive, but consumers are turning to the growing number of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes(1).

A recent report by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau summarises the ADR landscape and the UK’s current approach to ADR as incoherent and confusing.

QASSS aims to provide consumers and industry with quality assured, accountable tradespeople. Our goal is to reduce consumer detriment and raise industry standards in the home improvement industry. Mistakes can happen and when something goes wrong, our four-step dispute resolution process ensures that complaints are resolved fairly and quickly. To view our process in detail, click here or the image below.

QASSS Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure

Adrian Simpson, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs at QASSS, commented, “Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provides consumers with a quicker and easier way of resolving their disputes and means that they don’t have to worry about going to court. In many cases, a consumer would need to have gone through an ADR process before a claim can be heard in court. Almost every case that QASSS takes on is resolved by the QASSS ADR team without the need for the consumer to go anywhere else.”

In recent years there have been a number of key reports published on ADR, examining the consumer’s journey and experience. A report that still holds true three years on is the Citizen Advice Bureaux’s Confusion, Gaps and Overlaps report(2).

Three core findings from the report concluded that:

  • The ADR landscape is confusing for consumers.
  • The current ADR landscape is not designed with consumers’ needs in mind,
  • Improving ADR provision is hampered by a lack of good quality data.

1). The ADR landscape is confusing for customers
There are now more ADR schemes than ever, which has increased since the problem was published. While this is not a problem in itself and has improved coverage, it has further added to the complexity facing consumers who are not sure where to turn. And there remain significant gaps and overlaps. Where there are gaps and a lack of ADR provision, consumers are left without a remedy. Where there are overlaps, consumers are left confused.

  • What do consumers think ADR means?
    71%(3) of consumers thought that ADR was a ‘means to avoid a dispute going to court’
    – 55%(3) thought that ADR was a mediator
    – 51%(3) thought ADR was ‘an impartial arbiter’
  • Had consumers heard of or know about ADR?
    – 15%(3) of consumers had heard of the term
    – 60%(3) of consumers know what adjudication means, the next well-known process was ‘conciliation’ (61%)(3)
    – 83%(3) of consumers know what mediation is. The next best-known process was ‘ombudsman schemes’ (77%)(3)

2). The current ADR landscape is not designed with consumers’ needs in mind.

Except where ADR is mandatory, businesses have the power both to decide whether to take part in ADR and, if so, which ADR scheme to use. In some sectors, multiple ADR schemes compete with each other. The result is that consumers’ needs are not being met and often consumers do not know where to complain.

Consumer experiences of ADR
– Consumers find it hard to find an ADR scheme to complain to.
– Consumers want the ADR scheme to listen to them and provide individual redress.
– Consumers find the process easy, although they felt that some may struggle.
– Areas of dissatisfaction with ADR centred on timeliness and the remedy provided.
– Consumers feel that independence, impartiality, and expertise of ADR schemes are important

What do consumers want from ADR?

          Before ADR

– To be signposted to the ADR scheme by the trader.
– To be told that an ADR scheme exists that can deal with their complaint.
– To have good information available online about the ADR scheme.
– To have their concerns validated by the ADR scheme.
– For the trader to be made to listen by the ADR scheme.
– To have the reassurance they are not being a nuisance and have genuine concerns.

         During ADR
– To be listened to and feel understood.
– To be accessible via email and online portals, and have forms & documents available online.
– To have a simple and straightforward process.
– To have a timely resolution to their complaint.
– To prevent the trader from causing delays in resolving a dispute.
– To be impartial, but also supportive of complainants.
– To have appropriate expertise (both in terms of customers service and industry knowledge).
– To be clearly informed of the outcome of their case.
– To be compensated for the inconvenience of complaining.
– To be provided remedies quickly and without the need for chasing.

       After ADR
– To make a difference and achieve a positive outcome.
– To have a process involving little bureaucracy and formality.
– To feel complaining is worth it even when they don’t get the outcome they want.
– To demonstrate that their complaint has been understood.

3). Improving ADR provision is hampered by a lack of good quality data.

Simply describing the UK’s ADR landscape is a complex task. Information is not readily available and there is significant variation between ADR schemes in terms of transparency. Lack of good quality comparative data makes tackling the shortfalls in ADR provision more difficult. It also means that feedback loops that might improve business practice are less likely to be present. Overall, it means that ensuring consumer needs are met is difficult to assess and assure.

Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) key conclusions and recommendations

The number and scope of ADR schemes have increased, but gaps clearly remain. As not all businesses are required to join an ADR scheme, it is clear that consumers remain without access to ADR in some consumer sectors. The Citizens Advice Bureau recommends that the government should adopt the principle that participation in ADR should be mandatory across all consumer sectors. While this may lead to fears from some businesses that the system will be abused (particularly where disputes are low in value or complainants are exhibiting vexatious behaviour), the benefits in ensuring accessible redress and enhancing consumer confidence are significant.

In regulated sectors, the ADR landscape is likely to be confusing for consumers where multiple schemes operate. This may be confusing for consumers who do not easily know which ADR schemes can deal with their complaints. The CAB recommends that there should be only one ADR provider per sector. This will help to avoid consumer confusion and make it easier for regulators and consumer advocates to work with the ADR provider. If all complaints go to only one ADR provider, it will be easier to spot trends in complaints and to understand where consumers are experiencing problems. The potential benefits of competition in terms of raising standards can be maintained by regularly inviting tenders for the contract to provide the ADR scheme.

The ADR landscape in non-regulated areas is complicated by overlaps in schemes. The potential for confusion is even greater with some sectors, like home maintenance and improvement, having a very large number of ADR schemes available. The CAB recommends that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should work with the industry and key stakeholders to harmonise practice across ADR schemes.

The current ADR landscape is not based around the needs of consumers. Consumers’ problems cannot easily be fitted into the existing jurisdictions of ADR schemes (e.g. a consumer buying a home may face problems with an estate agent, mortgage lender, financial advisor, surveyor, and lawyer). The current ADR landscape does not reflect on how people experience problems in practice.

In non-regulated areas, even where businesses are signed up to an ADR scheme, consumers may be disadvantaged by the fact that the business gets to choose the ADR scheme and the types of process to be used. Consumers have to go with the option the businesses have signed up to and businesses may select ADR schemes on the basis of price rather than quality.

While the Consumer ADR Directive has increased the number of schemes available, with the potential to provide redress in areas where none previously existed, this has also led to further complexity and confusion. Simplification and rationalisation of the landscape are required. The analysis clearly demonstrates the difficulty in comparing performance between ADR schemes at present. The Consumer ADR Directive has led to the development of some common quality standards. The Ombudsman Association is currently finalising a project with the British Standards Institute to develop a common service standards framework for its members, who will be required to report on their performance against their published standards. Having a single authoritative body with oversight of the ADR sector would also ensure that quality is maintained.

(4)A green paper was written in April 2018 about modernising consumer markets. The discussion points were:

  • How we can improve consumers’ awareness of alternative dispute resolution and their experience of the process
  • How to improve consumer access to alternative dispute resolution
  • How to support local and national enforces to work together to protect consumers

The CTSI responded recommending that ADR should be used as a business development tool in that effective monitoring of ADR trends can show where the problems are in a market and use them to direct and educate businesses. They believe that compulsory membership of ADR in certain areas such as consumer renewable energy and real estate works well. The consumer will get fair redress and the business will be incentivised to raise standards in order to protect their reputation.

At QASSS we look at complaint trends on a regular basis, so we can advise members on developing trends and on areas for improvement. Click here for a sample report on product complaints.

Traders should be proud to be members of a consumer protection scheme and prominently display it in marketing literature, online and at the point of sale to help conversion rates and demonstrate their commitment to customer service. It should be noted that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 places specific obligations on traders to declare membership of a code of conduct or ADR scheme.

QASSS provides all DGCOS, HIES and HICS members with an Installer Hub which brings together an online shop and job registration portal, making it easy for members to order their point of sale, marketing material and register their jobs, all on one site. All the schemes are Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) approved for alternative Dispute Resolution. Our goal is to reduce consumer detriment and the raise of standards in the home improvement industry.

QASSS’s approach to Alternative Dispute Resolution (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 with and correct a complaint quickly and effectively.

At QASSS we understand that complaints, if not dealt with, can lead to costly and lengthy court proceedings as well as being a drain on internal resources. Using an ADR service not only reduces time and cost but also takes the emotion out of the situation where disputes are resolved impartially based on facts. With in-depth sector knowledge and professional mediators, we provide industry-leading fast resolutions (3.59 days on average) and, most importantly, protect consumers and company reputations.

Ciaran Harkin, Managing Director at QASSS, commented “In the last year, we have changed our approach to ADR so that both our members and consumers have access to an expert team who can quickly resolve disputes in a fair manner. Our ADR team also provides advice and constantly monitor trends in consumer complaints which can then be fed back to members to support them in providing excellent customer service.”

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

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

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

A Typical Day as a Mediator

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

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

A Human Approach

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

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

The proof is in the pudding – QASSS’s recent statistics boast a 98.4% complaint resolution rate with these being resolved in a matter of 3.59 days. [1]

QASSS’s Mediators

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

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

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

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

Find out more

If you want to find out more about mediation or QASSS’s expert mediators, please get in touch by calling us on 0330 335 3354 or by filling out our contact form.

 

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

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QASSS Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure

Our ADR Process

At QASSS our alternative dispute resolution process consists of pre-ADR, 1st stage ADR and 2nd stage ADR. If a compromise cannot be reached and both parties are at an impasse, QASSS will elevate the case to the independent Ombudsman. To view our process in detail, please view our PDF by clicking here or clicking the image below.

 

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.

Within the last year, the Citizens Advice Bureau consumer advice trends report revealed that the home maintenance and improvements sector received 46,579(1) complaints. This is the second highest sector to receive complaints behind used vehicles.

In 2019 to date, 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(2) days and with 98.4%(2) 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.(3)

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 November 2018 to October 2019 from the Citizens Advice Bureau Consumer Trends report.

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

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