Interested in learning more about VPA certification? Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the certification process.
Q. Why should vehicle service contract companies get certified by the VPA?
A. VPA certification is a strong signal to consumers that a company treats consumers fairly. As awareness regarding VPA certification grows, consumers will likely choose to do business exclusively with VPA-certified companies. Companies that do not receive certification will likely experience declining demand for their offerings. In addition, regulatory agencies and other consumer watchdog organizations may focus more intently on companies that have not opted to be certified. Certain companies that are involved in the industry may put in place new policies that they will only do business with VPA-certified companies or will offer better terms to VPA-certified companies.
Q. What is required to be certified by the VPA?
A. In order to become VPA certified, the owner, senior officials and management of a vehicle service contracts company must commit to follow the VPA Standards of Conduct. A company's compliance with the VPA Standards of Conduct is verified by an Auditor via a thorough inspection and evaluation. If the Auditor finds that an Applicant complies with VPA Standards of Conduct, the Auditor will recommend Applicants certification to the VPA Board. If the application for certification is accepted by the board, the VPA issues certification for one year.
Q. How long does it take to be certified by the VPA?
A. There is no set time period for certification. It is an iterative process. Most companies, even those with a strong compliance culture, will find that they are not in full compliance with the very extensive requirements that are outlined in the VPA Standards of Conduct. They will need to take appropriate steps to cure any deficiencies. Since every company is different, each company will have a different duration for their certification process. Although one cannot generalize on how long the certification process will take, the typical timeframe for certification is several months long.
Q. Do employees of the VPA audit companies for compliance?
A. No. The evaluation and inspection of companies is conducted by an independent, third-party firm.
Q. Is there a fee to get certified?
A. Yes. Companies that apply for certification must pay a one-time application fee. They are then thoroughly briefed on the certification process. If they decide to move forward with certification, they must pay an additional fee for the Auditors time and expenses. Fees are non-refundable, regardless of whether a company ends up achieving certification.
Q. Does paying the certification fees or being a member of the VPA ensure that a company will get certified?
A. No. Only full compliance with the VPA Standards of Conduct will allow a company to receive certification.
Q. Once a company is certified, how long are they certified for?
A. VPA certification is granted for a period of one year. However, a company's certification can be suspended at any time if there is reason to believe that the company no longer complies with the VPA Standards of Conduct.
Q. Once a company is certified, are there periodic checks to ensure that the company is still compliant with the VPA Standards of Conduct?
A. Yes. In order to become certified, a company must agree to permit up to four (4) follow up reviews during the year of certification. This may include two unannounced inspections and two announced inspections. In addition, the VPA will periodically "mystery shop" a certified company to evaluate whether they remain in compliance.
Q. Are companies that are currently the target of lawsuits or state agency investigations, or that have a historical record of having had many consumer complaints, ineligible for VPA certification.
A. Absolutely not. Companies that have been accused of wrongdoing in the past are presumed innocent in this country, and the VPA does not assume the role of arbiter or judge. In any case, if a company wants to improve its operations by focusing on compliance, the VPA applauds such efforts, regardless of a company's past history. In addition, the Certification process focuses on current and future operations/behavior, not on past processes.
Q. Does a company need to be a member of the VPA to get certified?
A. No. VPA membership is recommended to every company in the vehicle service contracts industry, but it is not required for certification.
Q. Were local Better Business Bureaus and/or Attorneys General involved in creating the VPA certification requirements?
A. The VPA has always welcomed input from the Better Business Bureaus, the Attorneys General and other agencies that are focused on consumer protection. In defining certification criteria, the VPA received extensive input from many who are focused on protecting consumers, and the certification program was designed to avoid potential scenarios in which a consumer might not receive appropriate and fair treatment from a vehicle service contracts company.
Q. I understand that VPA certification includes a self-assessment. Does this mean that companies are certified based on the "honor system," without any outside review?
A. Absolutely not. A self-assessment form is provided to certification applicants in order for company management to assess whether they are in compliance and to help them prepare for the third-party audit. However, the results of the self-assessment are not used to determine whether a company is compliant with the VPA Standards of Conduct. Compliance is judged exclusively by the review, inspection, and evaluation that is conducted by the Auditor.
Q. Can't a company just "clean its act up" on the day that the Auditor visits the company and then return to non-compliant business practices after the Auditor leaves?
A. The auditing process includes surprise inspections and "mystery shopping," in which the Auditor calls the company as if they were a prospective customer. In addition, even after a company is certified, there are spot, surprise inspections and "mystery shopper" call s before being recommended for Certification and going forward to ensure continued compliance. The VPA takes its certification process very seriously. Companies cannot fake it, and receive certification. Moreover, once certified, companies are always at risk of losing certification if they deviate from the VPA Standards of Conduct.