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News added on 10.03.2017

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HSE accedes to demands on dispute process

In December 2016 it was announced that the HSE’s fee for intervention (FFI) scheme faced a judicial review in the High Court. Since then there have been further developments which are good news for those subject to an HSE inspection. What’s happening?

What is FFI? It's the process under which the HSE charges for its inspectors’ time when material breaches of legislation are uncovered. The current rate is £129 per hour and the average bill is nearly £700.

Why was there to be a judicial review? Facilities management firm OCS Group UK Ltd (OCS) faced an FFI bill over allegations of mismanagement of hand-arm vibration risks connected with grounds maintenance work at Heathrow Airport. The firm challenged the bill through the dispute process and was not satisfied with the outcome. As a result it sought and won the right to a judicial review which would examine not only the specific case but also the fairness of the dispute process itself.

When permission was granted for the hearing, the Honourable Mr Justice Kerr said, “It is arguable that the HSE is, unlawfully, judge in its own cause when operating the FFI scheme: and that the scheme is either unlawful or being operated in an unlawful manner.” The reason for these comments was that the entire procedure for dispute review is controlled by the HSE. The first level of query is assessed by the inspector's line manager without charge. If you are still not satisfied you can take your complaint to a panel comprising two senior managers from the HSE and an independent person. If you lose you’re charged a further fee. The process is not transparent, as you can’t speak to the panel and you cannot see the evidence they consider.

What’s the plan? The HSE has announced that a “consent order” has been agreed. As a result the HSE has withdrawn its notice of contravention against OCS and is committed to introducing a new FFI dispute process on or before 1 September 2017. This means that in future if you receive a bill under FFI and you don’t agree with it, the HSE will not be judge and jury.

The HSE was under scrutiny over its potentially unfair dispute process for the fees which it charges to non-compliant businesses. Currently, complaints are reviewed in-house and behind closed doors. But there are plans for a new system by September 2017. It means that if you receive a bill under FFI and you don’t agree with it, the HSE will not be judge and jury.

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