The new SIA licensing system is a cause for concern

I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate, and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.

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We all know that one of the main duties of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) is the compulsory licensing of individuals working in specific sectors of the UK’s private security industry. So given that having a licence is mandatory, you would assume that the aforementioned government body would make obtaining one as simple and hassle free as possible. Well if that’s what you think, then think again!

The SIA’s new licensing system was finally launched to great fanfare on 6th July this year following several weeks of testing – despite originally being planned for launch in December 2015. It promised to allow individuals to register for online accounts and apply for or renew SIA licences online, change personal details remotely and consent to link to their employer, who could assist with the application process.

Meanwhile, businesses were informed they could register for online accounts and have access to a range of new products. The SIA claimed, and I quote, that the new system would provide a more efficient, effective service to busy people and a growing industry.

As a company that embraces new technology and innovative ways of carrying out our activities, we were looking forward to this brave new world of security licensing. With eager anticipation, on 6th July we went online and were prepared to be amazed. Unfortunately, despite the SIA’s bold claims, we have found that the result of all its activity is nothing short of a complete and utter fiasco. When it comes to detailing exactly what is going wrong with this supposedly new and improved system, the problem is knowing where to start.

Although we received an email confirmation on 6th July telling us that we had successfully set up a business account, it took us until 23rd August to actually be in a position to get the system working to any kind of satisfactory level. As an SIA Approved Contractor we took the option to use the new Licence Assist service and fill in and pay for applications on behalf of our colleagues and check the licensable status of licence holders.

On 14th July we received an email stating that ‘Within the last few days you will have received a notification from us indicating the set-up of your Direct Debit for paying for licences using our new service is complete, unfortunately this notification was sent in error. We can confirm that the set-up of your Direct Debit is in progress and we expect this to take up to 10 days from instigation’. At this point we knew that things were not going to be smooth and, quite frankly, the whole process of setting up a Direct Debit was a farce. In its wisdom, the SIA even closed its contact centre, making it impossible to speak to anyone for advice about account set up and, just to compound the problem, response times were well outside of those stated.

Although the system now works in simple cases, it grinds to a halt where anomalies exist. We have had to ask our employees to try to carry out the process themselves and, if successful, claim the cost of the exercise back. With 1,000 people a year renewing licences, this has created a huge logistical and operational burden to us – one that we could really do without. A third of our applications are having problems and are now sitting in limbo.

Having recognised a problem exists, approved contractors were allowed to issue licence dispensation notices (LDNs) at an earlier stage of the application cycle for up to 20% of their workforce (a rise from the usual 15%) in order ‘to alleviate the impact on industry’. Initially, this interim measure allowed for a LDN to be issued for a period of five weeks but this has now been extended to 10 weeks. Although it means that we can continue to deploy staff to contracts this situation is far from satisfactory and the fact that channels of verbal communication are non-existent and online responses are taking weeks to come through really isn’t helping matters.

I can only assume that our experience is one that is being shared by organisations across the industry. As I write, rather than seeing improvement, the situation is getting even further out of hand and will surely have a real impact on how businesses are able to operate. It seriously casts doubt upon the SIA’s ability to configure a system like this and I can only hope that someone takes charge of the situation sooner rather than later.

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