Your complaint – What you should know
Assessing businesses annually, Quality in Tourism is the contractor for the administration and delivery of the VisitEngland National Quality Assessment schemes.
As part of our role, we are tasked with investigating complaints for businesses that participate in the quality-grading scheme. However, we are unable to become involved in financial or contractual disputes or investigate complaints for non-assessed or lapsed businesses.
Where a complaint has been received, we will assume that we have been given permission to discuss this with the operator unless otherwise advised by you in writing.
On an occasion where permission is withdrawn, our assessor will take the complaint into account at the time of the next scheduled assessment. During the assessment, the assessor will offer advice, where appropriate, on methods of best practice to help ensure that the areas that have given rise to complaints can be addressed. However, they will not be able to discuss specific details.
We will assess annually to the national standard, as seen at the time of the visit and award the appropriate rating. Although there are basic minimum entry requirements to gain a quality rating, we do not make recommendations to those businesses that fall in to categories of must do’s. However, we do give advice and make suggestions on how to improve quality. Operators are given a specific length of time to implement requirements, depending on the severity of the issues raised, but if these actions are not completed within the stipulated time, no rating will be awarded.
Any participant not achieving a rating, for whatever reason, will generally not be allowed to re-join the scheme for a minimum period of one year from the date of removal. In the circumstance that a complaint is received about a property that is assessed and has a rating with VisitEngland, this will always be followed up. The extent of the follow up varies from information held on file to be considered at the time of the next visit, to an additional visit carried out immediately upon receipt of the complaint.
The rating is not always affected by an individual complaint, although this does occur and, in extreme circumstances, ratings have been removed completely. Information about complaints is held on file for the relevant property so that any trend of complaint can be identified and acted upon in the future should it be required.
Participation in the National Quality Assessment Scheme
We can only act upon complaints for businesses assessed by Quality in Tourism, within the National Quality Assessment schemes. Participation in the National Quality Assessment schemes are voluntary and if the business mentioned in your complaint is not currently participating, we are not able to take your complaint further. Should you wish to pursue the issue you have raised, you can contact Consumer Direct who are linked to Trading Standards on 08454 040506.
Details of properties that are assessed and in the VisitEngland National Quality Assessment schemes are available in our latest series of ‘Enjoy England official’ Tourist Board Guides to Accommodation; formerly the ‘Where to Stay’ publications that can be purchased from many bookstores. Information is also available from www.qualityintourism.com
Severity of the Complaint
Once a complaint has been received, there are many aspects that will need to be taken into account. We will not automatically visit a property based on one complaint. Depending on the severity and the number of complaints that have been previously received, we may be able to arrange for an early annual assessment to be carried out, or in some instances for a special visit by one of our Area Managers.
We are unable to provide details of what has been discussed with the operator of the business. We will only confirm whether or not the rating for the property has been retained and give the appropriate details of the action that has been taken.
Here at Quality in Tourism one of the problems that we face are properties that come out of the scheme but continue to display VisitEngland signage or claim to have a VisitEngland star rating.
Displaying VisitEngland signage when no longer a member of the scheme is an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and is misleading to potential guests. We regularly monitor the use of signage in our office and use our field force of assessors to report back to us on their areas. With the assistance of VisitEngland and Trading Standards, we investigate any matters concerning improper signage and ensure appropriate action is taken.
If establishments not in the scheme are displaying signage on their website or at the property itself, we want to know about it. Contact our team on 0845 300 6996 or email us at email@example.com.
Amongst the most difficult complaints to resolve are those alleging rudeness on the part of the operator and staff attitude and behavior – particularly where there are two differing views of the same issue. We have no means of determining the truth in such cases so we can only record the complaint and wait to see whether other, similar, complaints are received. It is sometimes very difficult to address these issues if not experienced first hand.
Perceived Difference in Rating
To achieve the various star ratings, a property must meet the level of quality defined for that specific rating and also additional qualifiers.
We rate all physical aspects of the business from the exterior to the interior including bedrooms, bathrooms and public areas. Externally, we rate the general appearance, gardens, parking, signage and lighting to name just a few. We look at a fixed and extensive range of items within each of these areas for example decor, flooring, furniture, soft furnishings, light, heat, ventilation, space planning and ease of use.
We then assess specific items appropriate to the area being assessed, for example, in bedrooms they include beds, bedding, bedroom accessories and in bathrooms they include sanitary ware, towels and toiletries. On top of these elements, we measure cleanliness in each area and service and hospitality at all stages from the initial reservation until departure.
In theory, the star rating does assure quality and we expect quality not to change dramatically from one year to the next. However, as the grading is a snapshot in time, it is feasible for quality to go both up and down. Our assessors undergo ongoing consistency and benchmark training, to ensure ratings are consistently applied.
For financial and contractual complaints or when seeking compensation, we are unable to get involved in any dispute of a contractual nature. i.e. refunds or cancellation charges.
In cases such as these, we will still record the complaint, although you should initially contact the operator directly to discuss the issues raised to see if an amicable agreement can be reached. If this is not possible you may need to get advice from a solicitor or seek resolution through a small claims court. You may also be able to seek advice from your local Trading Standards office, Environmental Health office or the Citizens Advice Bureau.
When an operator requests a deposit, it is normally to guarantee the booking and would be deducted from the final payment taken from the guest. The operator should advise the guest making the booking of the conditions under which that deposit is taken. This is accepted and required practice and although they are not bound to refund the deposit, they should make clear to the guest at the time of the booking on what terms the deposit is taken, e.g. if the deposit is not refundable, if there is a reduced scale of refund depending on length of time prior to the booking date, etc.
Depending on the circumstances, the deposit can be refunded but operators should include information concerning this in their terms and conditions.
As a guideline, if you have made a booking and been unable to honour your reservation on the basis of an inaccurate statement made to you, any deposit paid or any other expenses that you have already incurred in taking up the booking should be reimbursed to you by the proprietor. The ability to reclaim your deposit will be dependent on what you were told regarding this at the time of booking. If the proprietor does not accept your claim, you may need to seek legal advice from Trading Standards or the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Cancellation – Credit Cards
If you made your booking by telephone, it is common practice to be asked for a credit card as confirmation of your booking. Operators should inform you at the time of booking what will be charged to your account should you fail to turn up or cancel your booking.
If you have accepted the terms and conditions and subsequently cancelled or fail to arrive, the operator has the right to charge the agreed amount to your credit card. This rule will apply even when nothing has been put in writing. However, if the proprietor did not inform you of the terms and conditions (whether in writing or verbally) prior to booking, they are not entitled to charge your credit card. It is advisable that you speak to your credit card company as soon as possible if you have any queries.
Publication and Advertising
We have no control over the content of a business’ website and it is the responsibility of the operator to ensure that any information on there is correct and any verification of information should be carried out by them. In the first instance, you will need to contact the operator to resolve any issues that arise.
Useful Contact Information
Trading Standards, Citizens Advice Bureau and VisitEngland
VisitEngland Quality Assessment Standard Appeals Procedure
Following an annual assessment, proprietors are provided with a certificate and report confirming the rating given to the establishment, to the park or, in the case of self-catering accommodation, to individual properties.
Proprietors who disagree with the rating and who feel, for whatever reason, that the assessment has not been conducted fairly or with due care, may appeal against the rating given.
Appeals should be submitted in writing to the Assessment organisation within 14 days of receipt of the certificate and report.
A fee is payable for appeal assessments, which is the equivalent to the value of the original annual participation fee. Appeal visits to serviced accommodation will always be overnight visits. No appeal assessment will take place until the payment of the appeal fee is received.
Appeal fees are non-refundable except where, in view of the Assessment organisation, the earlier assessment was incorrectly graded.
An Area Manager carries out an appeal assessment or any other person nominated by VisitEngland. It is a complete assessment and the result of an appeal assessment over-rides the results of the previous assessment. It will be made known at the time of the assessment. The outcome will be confirmed to the proprietor within two weeks of the assessment.
The result of the appeal assessment is final.
* When considering an appeal against a rating, proprietors should check with the appropriate printed quality assessment standard to discover whether they provide all the facilities and services for a particular rating.
* When considering an appeal against a rating, proprietors should bear in mind that the assessments are made against VisitEngland quality assessment standards, based on the experience of assessing many thousands of establishments throughout England. These quality assessment standards may differ from a proprietor’s own perception of excellence.