Recently, a client was given at least 1 inappropriate NCR. The client was told they could file an appeal if they did not agree. The client went to the certification body (CB) website to file an appeal and found they would have to pay a fee and jump through a number of hoops to file the appeal. The client decided not to fight the NCR and did not appeal because they could not afford to pay a fee (in other words be punished) for a bad auditor call. They also did not feel they should have to jump through hoops in order to have the CB look at the problem. (By the way, this auditor had done the or similar thing to other clients and was never reviewed by the CB because the clients did not want to have to be punished for the bad auditor). In these cases, if the CB punishes the client with fees and long waits, the Accreditation Bodies (ABs) will never know about the appeals and bad auditors.

When I first started consulting, some 30 years ago, another CB told one of my consulting clients they would have to pay $10,000 up front to start an appeal. They were also told that it would take a minimum of 6 months to resolve. Since this was their first audit and they had a big contract waiting on them to get their certificate, they chose not. If this isn’t punishment, I am not sure what is. Interestingly enough the company was given 112 NCRs (for a company of less than 50 people) and all they had to do to get their cert if they did not appeal was to send a letter saying they would address all of the issues before the first surveillance audit. They sent the letter and addressed the findings.

One of the findings was that the company did not have enough meetings on the QMS. The company did a quarterly review of all QMS items required by the standard. They also did a yearly review to make sure they looked at the bigger trends and addressed them. In response, they added monthly meetings. The following year the auditor said they had too many meetings and gave them another NCR. That was the last year the client used that CB. The AB was notified and said there was nothing they could do about it. So much for ABs reviewing the actions of the CB.

In another case a few years back, I was scheduled to do a transfer client from another CB. When I got there, the client explained they had transferred because the AB did their job and noticed that the CB’s auditor had not spent the appropriate amount of time for their audit. The CB then contacted the client and told them that they would need to do a longer audit. This would have been bad enough, as it would have tied up a number of employees again because of the CB error, but to make matters worse, the CB said the client would have to pay full fees and expenses again for the second audit. Here again, the CB and auditor made a mistake and the client once again had to pay for it. In this case one may have to wonder if that was the point in the first place: make an error and charge again for service that should have been corrected the first time.

One client I had audited for a CB had moved on to another company. The CB (one that company had used before he had gotten there) for that company had problems with scheduling the audit and he had requested a corrective action for that. Then the report was not done on time and he had requested a corrective action again because his certificate had expired in the meantime. In both cases, the CB did not respond to the CAR. It is not clear whether they even recorded it and if the AB was shown the requests.

From the start of my consulting years, the clients I worked with were always afraid they would have a bad next audit if they complained or appealed. Now the added problems of fees and extra costs and time involved to appeal make it far less likely a client will appeal a bad audit. It is no wonder that clients go fishing for CBs and auditors who are going to be fair and work with them if there is a problem or if there is a perceived problem. In the state I am in and many other states now, if you file a suit and it is frivolous the loser pays for the filing fees and any attorney fees. Why shouldn’t it be the same for CBs? I understand there is a cost associated with investigating an appeal. And sometimes the client is wrong but my experience has been more often the auditor is wrong. But as it stands now the CBs are punishing any client who appeals whether they are right or not.

Maybe it is time to have third-party (not CB and not AB) knowledgeable people to review complaints and appeals. Maybe there should be a fee the CB pays the client when an appeal is upheld. Maybe the auditors should be punished in some way should they make the mistakes like suspended for some period of time from auditing for anyone. Maybe a list of good and bad auditors to ask for could help reduce the issues. It is unlikely this will ever happen since there is too much money involved that the Abs, CBs, and auditors are not willing to give up.

If you find an auditor like this and find you are having to pay to get the CB to even look at the findings, maybe it is time to get a new CB, or at least request a new auditor.

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    About Phyllis Naish

    Phyllis Naish is a telecommunications expert, and ISO 9001 / TL9000 consultant. She has audited for various accredited certification bodies.