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Once again we have been very busy arranging your Visit England star rating inspections throughout January, February and March. We are pleased to see yet another increasing the number of properties achieving higher star ratings (including Gold Awards) amidst the ongoing drive to maintain or improve quality standards throughout the portfolio to match the market’s expectations. Our experience in dissecting the reports and advising owners has proved invaluable over the years and based on this knowledge we have provided some easy summaries below on how to understand what the inspectors are looking at.
The main benefits you see for the star grading system include:
• A nationally recognised objective view of the quality offered by your property which gives customers confidence when booking.
• The ‘Potential for Improvement’ advice offered in reports to help you reach towards a higher grade or be aware of new Visit England requirements.
• Health and safety issues – e.g. the need for carbon monoxide detectors, fire blankets, suitable brackets for blind cords etc.
For further information on the Visit England grading process you will soon have access to detailed guide to the grading scheme on the Owners’ section of our website. In the meantime, any questions you may have about the scheme can be sent to [email protected] and Ian, Kerry, or Sue in the Owner Relationship Team will be happy to help.
Please take a look at the following documents; they are just what you need to help you understand the process:
Your guide to how your Visit Britain Star rating report is compiled:
When you join Lakelovers portfolio, your property will be allocated an assessment date in one of the block periods allocated by the inspectors. The vast majority of properties will be visited in January, February or March. However, if the property has been inspected at another time of the year (for example, if you joined the portfolio in May, you may be inspected in June) then that will remain the default ‘anniversary’ date for the subsequent years’ inspections.
AA Assessment Services allocate a team of usually 5 or 6 inspectors (assessors) to Lakelovers in each inspection batch period. We then find an appropriate date for the inspector to visit your property and notify you of the planned date a few weeks in advance of the visit. Please note this is an extremely time consuming process for us to organise and we do our utmost to try and avoid any changes of planned inspection date unless absolutely unavoidable – see FAQs.
The visits take place with the inspector given a key to enter the property, usually unaccompanied but on occasion with a representative from Lakelovers or the property owner in attendance. The visit will take up to 30 minutes to complete or longer for very large properties.
The inspector will look at a set range of features and quality aspects as per the diagrams below and enter scores (out of 5 for each category) For full details please see the Grading Guide:
Q: I had star rating given to me when on another company’s portfolio – can I transfer this across to Lakelovers?
A: No, Visit England regard moving to another agent as a re-application and the property will need to be re-inspected at the earliest opportunity.
Q: Can I attend the inspection?
A: Yes, we would recommend that you do so on at least one occasion as the inspector will be happy to give you a running commentary / explanation in detail. Your attendance has no bearing on the scoring and if you wish to ask any questions about the process or your report, contact the Owner Relationship Team at Lakelovers for assistance and advice. If your property has not changed from year to year there is no real advantage to attending each and every inspection. You can also send Lakelovers information in advance of the visit to make the inspector aware of any new features you wish to highlight to them.
Q: Can I change the date for the inspection?
A: Not normally, unless there are exceptional circumstances. These circumstances would include: significant recent damage to the property/ unforeseen significant work, any guest in situ refusing entry to the inspector (we always clear visits in advance with guests if properties are occupied), however, on very rare occasions a guest may change their mind about the visit on the day. We will always need to re-arrange for dates within the set batch dates in these circumstances as inspectors travel specially to our area to undertake the visits.
Q: Are all properties given a certain star rating comparable?
A: No, each star rating is a spectrum of quality – it can be low, safe or high within each star grading, i.e. 4 star is awarded at between 75% and 86%. There are noticeable differences between 75% and 86% properties. However this is for you to know, not the general public, who only see the overall grading and not the % score.
Q: What is a Gold Award?
A: Any property may be given a Gold Award (at 3, 4 or 5 star) if it meets certain criteria on minimum scores as outlined in the Gold Award document 1 and 2. In essence it is like a halfway point between star ratings but with an emphasis on guest experience factors such as welcome packs, guest toiletries, guest information, extra ‘unexpected’ facilities and so on.
Q: Does a Gold Award have any marketing benefits?
A: The Gold Award logo frequently helps to catch the eye of customers browsing shortlists of properties. We will also list Gold Award properties on a sister website – ‘Lakelovers Gold’ which showcases the cream of the crop of the portfolio. It can help with guest expectations too, for example it can be better to be a 4 star Gold property rather than a straight ‘low’ 5 star.
Q: My property is pretty small, does this stop me from gaining a high star rating?
A: No, ‘space comfort and ease of use’ is just one of several aspects assessed in each room. If intrinsic quality is high in other aspects of the room then a lower score for space, comfort and ease of use can be easily compensated for by having higher scores for criteria such as decoration, flooring, lighting, heating, furniture etc. The overall averaged room % is the important figure to look for.
Q: How do I target an increase in star rating?:
A: Email or telephone our Owner Relationship Team and we can advise you with specifics relevant to your property which take account of capping the cost of upgrades for the most cost effective solutions.
Q: What happens if I disagree with the comments made or scores given in a report:
A: Email or telephone our Owner Relationship Team and we will look at the issues raised and if necessary liaise with the AA management. We will be your advocates if such an issue arises.
Q: Can I ask the assessor questions after the visit:
A: Yes, if something is not clear to you, then contact the Owner Relationship Team at Lakelovers and they will contact the assessor directly on your behalf.
Q: What happens if I am not assessed at the 12 month anniversary?
A: If there is an agreed significant reason not be assessed such as major building work, the assessment can be deferred for a short period. All our properties are advertised as having a minimum 3 star rating. We cannot advertise or take bookings for a property which does not meet the minimum star rating.
Q: What is a ‘Minimum Entry Requirement’ (MER)?
A: These are certain non negotiable’s which form part of the assessment scheme. They frequently relate to health and safety or privacy matters. Examples include adequate smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector provision, fire blankets, curtains/ blinds to windows, locks on bathroom doors, opening windows/extractor fans and so on. If any MERs are listed in your report, you must act to remedy the omission before the next assessment (or sooner in the case of health and safety provisions). If MER omissions are not resolved then there is a strong likelihood that no star rating at all will be awarded and your property will not be eligible to remain on the Lakelovers portfolio.
Q: How do I know what is considered 3, 4 or 5 star quality?
A: Firstly, refer to the Grading Guide and if you have further questions ask the Owner Relationship Team. Let’s look at one example – crockery, cutlery and glassware. As a rough guide, Ikea or equivalent will yield a 3 star score, Marks and Spencer, John Lewis and equivalent will yield a 4 star score and then for 5 star you need to have the best available brands or bespoke items where suitable. Another example, for flooring in bathrooms; lino will be given 3 star, laminate 4 star and solid wood or tiling/slate 5 star – note that condition and neatness of fit of the flooring will be taken into account as well.
Q: I replaced the carpet this year but saw no increase in score for flooring – why?
A: Two factors are at play here. Firstly, if you replace like for like items then you are not improving intrinsic quality which is what the assessor is primarily interested in. If however, you replace a thinner basic polypropylene carpet with a thicker high wool content version with quality underlay then this can measurably seen to be an improvement and the guest will feel the difference – this is when a score will be lifted to the higher level. The same applies to other items such as kitchen appliances, to upgrade the score you need to upgrade the quality/brand. We can advise your further upon request, ahead of any purchases you are planning.
Q: Does a higher star rating mean more income for me?
A: It is often the case either through; greater customer confidence in their prospective booking or through the ability to charge a higher price for a higher grade property.
Q:Appliances – what do I need to have in my kitchen?
A: To reach 4 star and above you need to have a fridge and a freezer (not just ice box in a fridge) unless you only sleep 2 (very occasionally 4) guests. For 4 star you will also need a washer or washer and dryer or some form of laundry service if you have no space for a machine – a machine can be located in a utility room or other area if easily accessible. Other standard items include kettle, toaster and microwave. Beyond that, items such as dishwashers are frequently expected by guests but not by the assessors unless looking at top end or larger properties. Coffee machines, food processors/ blenders and other gadgets are nice extras but only come into the scoring per se as part of consideration of Gold Award or 5 star properties.
Q: Disabled guests – will it benefit me to make provision for disabled guests?
A: Yes, consider what provision you can make to make life easier for people with mobility or visual impairment issues. There are criteria set down for a separate national scheme which rates a property’s accessibility. It can be as simple as hand rails, floor level lighting and so on or more elaborate items such as wet rooms and provision for wheelchair users. Consider that there are 11 million (around one in six) people classed as having a disability in Britain, ranging from mobility issues, visual or hearing impairment to learning disabilities and more. This is a vast and relatively untapped market and information about what you provide for such guests is the key to securing their (frequently repeat) bookings. Ask us for more information.
Q: Other agencies rate their own properties – why can’t you provide that service?
A: Our decades of experience tells us that customers want to rely on an objective assessment based on a uniform national standard. Subjective assessments have credibility issues associated with them – take another example: would you trust a restaurant review written by the owners of the restaurant or one written by an independent inspector?
Q: What legislation covers my obligations as a holiday home owner?
A: The Visit England ‘Pink Book’ is the comprehensive source of information to cover all matters relating to health and safety / inspections and other holiday home specific legislation. We can refer to this guide to cover any questions you may have. You can also purchase this book for yourself here if you wish.
Owner Relationship Manager
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