The HSE has announced that all invoice disputes raised under the Fees for Intervention (FFI) scheme will be considered by a fully independent panel.
In October 2012, the HSE was granted the statutory power to recover their costs from those in material breach of health and safety law. As a result, the FFI scheme was launched.
A material breach is deemed to have occurred where "there is or has been a contravention of health and safety law that requires the HSE to issue notice in writing to the duty holder".
Under the FFI scheme, the HSE charges an hourly rate of £129. The tasks they charge for range from identifying the breach to taking specialist advice. Invoices are raised every two months and they must be paid within 30 days.
Update to Disputes Procedure
Any organisation that wants to challenge an invoice has to follow the FFI dispute procedure. Since the introduction of FFI, this procedure involved the dispute being considered by a panel of two HSE members and one independent person. As you can imagine, there has been much debate as to the independent status of such a panel.
Following a lengthy consultation, the HSE has now announced that all disputed invoices will be considered by a fully independent panel. This will be made up of a lawyer and two others who have practical experience of management of health and safety. HSE members will no longer be able to sit on the panel.
The move to a totally independent panel is encouraging and will ensure that all disputes are reviewed from an impartial and unbiased perspective.
It is important to consider fully the implications of a FFI invoice before accepting and paying it.
While we appreciate there may be commercial reasons as to why it is more cost effective to pay an invoice rather than appeal it, it is important to consider the legal and reputational implications before doing so. Acceptance of an invoice may be seen as an acceptance of guilt, which can have adverse implications if the HSE choose to take further enforcement action and prosecute.
The recent change to the FFI dispute panel is positive for organisations who choose to dispute their invoices. If you have received an invoice relating to FFI and are unsure whether to dispute it or not, contact us and we will be happy to discuss your options.