Certification Bodies:
When one size does not fit all

In recent months, there has been a notable increase in enquiries to Positive About Business from business owners that have achieved certification for ISO standards, but local authorities don’t recognise their certificate.

As a result, many of them find themselves excluded from tendering for government contracts and ultimately confused about why their certificate is worthless.

In this blog, Director of PAB, Louise Percy, explains the difference between certification and accredited certification and why one size does not fit all.

Picture the scene.

You’re shopping in a supermarket. The label says: ‘Suitable For All’.

You’re browsing online – it could be for template documents or training courses. The website advertises: ‘Off-the-Shelf’.  In both cases, the only guarantee is that neither product has been made to order or bespoke built for individual needs.

And this is the trap that unwittingly ensnares many business owners when they invest in ISO certification from organisations that are not accredited to meet UK and international standards.

Let’s take a closer look at the  terminology I’ve used in the previous sentence because accreditation and certification are often mistakenly used to mean the same.

Accreditation is an independent, formal, third-party assessment that a business has achieved a competent level of technical knowledge and expertise in a specific field or activities.

Certification is the third-party written assurance that a business has achieved the level of knowledge or expertise during the accreditation.

In a previous blog, I outlined the following 5 reasons why accreditation is good for your construction business…

1. Builds confidence and trust
2. Cut costs, increase profits
3. Demonstrates technical knowledge and expertise
4. Gain a marketing advantage
5. Win more work


…but, with this surge in enquiries from business owners with certificates that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, I should clarify that the above accreditation benefits can be realised when you achieve accredited certification.

Same words. But together, they have a different meaning:

Accredited Certification is the written assurance from a certification body that has been accredited by UKAS to audit particular knowledge or expertise with a business.

The United Kingdom Accreditation Service, UKAS for short, is the UK’s only national accreditation body. You can find out more on their website, but UKAS:

  1. Is formally recognised by the UK government to assess and accredit against internationally agreed standards
  2. Is an independent, non-profit private company providing a public authority role.
  3. Ensures quality in the supply chain as UKAS accredited bodies must meet UK and international standards and be competent in their certification activities.

Government policy dictates that only certification of UK businesses by organisations accredited by UKAS will be recognised.

So for those businesses with an Off The Shelf certificate, you are likely to be excluded from tendering, most certainly for larger government contracts.

Taking a One Size Fits All approach when demonstrating your business expertise is not the way forward if your goal, as outlined in my earlier blog, is to ‘win more work’.

Would you like more to do or grow your business? Would you like relief from the pressure of being in business?

Louise Percy founded Positive About Business in 2012 to help small- and medium-sized businesses start their journey to excellence and improvement.
She specialises in helping businesses achieve construction industry accreditations and standards, health & safety compliance, and with creating policy documentation.
Contact louise@positiveaboutbusiness.co.uk