OISC CODE OF STANDARDS

The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) in the UK sets out the standards all immigration advisors must adhere to. 

We’ve confirmed directly with the OISC that the scope of Help with my visa! services as a marketplace for buying and selling immigration advice doesn’t require registration with them.

However, we’ve based our operating procedures on the best practices outlined in the OISC Code of Standards so that immigration advisers working with us as Sellers can be confident we don’t put their reputation at risk. 

Here’s how we do it, with applicable articles from the OISC Code of Standards restated along with how we address them.

Table of Contents

Article 4: Fit and Competent within Authorised Levels and Categories

All organisations and advisors must remain fit and competent within the Level and Categories for which they are authorised

There are three levels of competence for immigration advice services:

Level 1: advice and assistance

Level 2: caseworking

Level 3: advocacy and representation

 

OISC guidance documents outline specifically what type of immigration advice service are and are not permitted within each level of service.

 

To ensure that immigration advisers who register as Sellers on Help with my visa! only offer services within their levels of competency, we have three processes in place:

 

Onboarding vetting process: when an immigration adviser applies to become a Seller on Help with my visa! they’ll undergo a vetting procedure before we put their products and service live. Vetting includes checking the financial health of their business using an Experian credit check and also their registrations with either the OISC if they’re an immigration adviser or the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) if they provide immigration advice as a qualified solicitor. Sellers are only permitted to offer for sale products and services that fall within the scope of the registrations they hold, and any requests to sell out of scope products or services will be denied.

 

Annual health check: at the anniversary of becoming a Seller on Help with my visa!, we’ll perform a ‘health check’ on each immigration adviser. This health check is a shortened version of the onboarding vetting process and makes sure that all registrations are still compliant with the products and services being offered for sale.

 

Spot check: throughout the year we’ll also conduct a series of spot checks to ensure Sellers hold the correct registrations for the products and services they offer for sale. A spot check is similar to an annual health check and may be performed on the basis of information received about a Seller, in response to a complaint made by a visa applicant or purely on a random basis. We also use the ‘track a company’ feature in Experian to constantly monitor the financial health of Sellers and we are automatically alerted when there are changes to a Seller’s credit rating so that action may be considered.

 

By using all three of these processes we ensure that the immigration advisers acting as Sellers on the Help with my visa! marketplace comply with the requirements of Article 4 of the OISC Code of Standards.

 

Where an immigration adviser’s circumstances change mid-year, we also encourage them to inform us if their level of registration changes so that we may review their setup with us. This may include removing for sale products and services that no longer fit the level of competence the immigration adviser holds, or including new products and services if the level of competence increases.

Article 16: Equality and Diversity Policy

Organisations must have a written equality and diversity policy that meets current statutory requirements

Help with my visa! has a published Equality and Diversity Policy that can be found on our public website. It complies with all current UK statutory requirements, including the Equality Act 2010 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Article 17: Specific Client Groups

Where an organisation has a policy of offering immigration advice or immigration services only to specific client groups the organisation must make this publicly clear

We understand that some of our Sellers provide immigration advice services to certain groups of people only. Where this is the case, Help with my visa! works with the Seller to ensure that the product or service description clearly articulates this policy, which may include all or any combination of the following:

  • Product or service name: products and services may be created specifically for certain client groups with the client group identified in the product or service name
  • Product or service description: where a product or service is designed for a specific client group, this will be made clear within the first paragraph of the product or service description.
  • Additional information: specific client groups can be noted in the additional information tab of the product or service description.
  • Metatags: metatags can be used that identify the specific client group for which the product or service is provided.

Where a product or service designed for a specific client group is purchase in error, the Seller may chose to continue to provide the service or decline the business and request that Help with my visa! refunds the fee paid.

Before putting any product or service live, the Seller will confirm they are content with the product or service name and description.

Article 18: Authorised Services, Timeframes and Costs

Organisations which offer immigration advice or immigration services online must ensure that their online information clearly explains what immigration advice or immigration services they are authorised to provide, the generally expected timeframes for delivery of such work and any associated costs

Help with my visa! addresses these requirements in four ways:

  • Detailed product and service descriptions: our product and service descriptions are detailed and very clearly call out what is included and what is not included. To the greatest extent possible we use guidelines set out by the Plain English Campaign and avoid jargon and overly wordy sentences to maintain clarity. Product and service descriptions are approved by Sellers before they go live.
  • Generic timeframes: as it’s impossible to generalise how long a visa application will take in every circumstance, we’ve published several timeframe scenarios that cover common types of visa application. This information acts as a guide for others making similar types of visa application.
  • Product/ service-level timeframes: within the detailed product and service descriptions, Sellers are able to provide more specific timeframes around delivery of such work. Sellers can also use an appointment calendar to schedule the initial consultation with the visa applicant, which shows real-time availability.
  • Product/ service costs: each product or service has a clear cost displayed both within search pages and on the detailed product or service description page. Where costs are multiplied by number of visa applicants or group discounts are applied, changes in costs are automatically calculated in real-time so the visa applicant can see precisely what the products or services they are buying cost. The visa applicant also gets a line-by-line recap of all costs at checkout prior to making a payment.

Article 19: Cooling-off Period

Organisations which provide immigration advice or immigration services online must have a clear and prominent statement on their website that they comply with current regulations including any cooling-off period to which clients are entitled

Within Help with my visa!’s Conditions of Sale we outlined how we comply with current regulations, including providing a 14-day cooling-off period following purchase of a product or service.

This cooling-off period does come with caveats to protect both Help with my visa! and the Seller and is deemed to have been voided if any part of the product or service has been provided prior to the time a cancellation request is received. 

As the marketplace service Help with my visa! provides to customers is fully provided at the point of purchase, all customers must consent to waiving their right to cancellation.

For Sellers, a product or service is deemed to have been provided if notice of cancellation is received less than 24 business hours before a scheduled appointment on the basis that the appointment slot could have been offered for sale to another visa applicant but now cannot.

Article 22: Inducement for Referral

An organisation or advisor must not offer an inducement, be it financial or otherwise, to any other organisation or person for referring or recommending a client

Article 22 is extremely important to the legal functioning of Help with my visa! and one part of the OISC Code of Standards that we take very seriously.

We operate a business model that generates revenue streams from many different sources, however we do not charge immigration advisors anything to sign-up to become a Seller on the Help with my visa! marketplace nor do we charge any subscription fee or commission. Sellers in the UK will always be able to offer products and services for sale through Help with my visa! free of charge to ensure that our business is compliant with Article 22.

Where Help with my visa! offers added value services to Sellers in the future, there will be a charging mechanism, however these services will be entirely voluntary and the payments made for them tied directly to the additional value they deliver and not to the referral of specific clients.

Article 27: Confidentiality

Organisations and advisors must ensure the confidentiality of all of the information they hold relating to each of their clients, subject to legal and regulatory disclosure requirements

Help with my visa! has a GDPR-compliant privacy policy and we only collect, process and share data with the express written consent of those providing the data to us. Our privacy policy details what kinds of data we collect, for what purpose, how it is processed, where it is stored and when it is deleted.

As a principle, we only collect the data we require for performing the activities we perform. We won’t ask visa applicants for their life story as we simply don’t need it – that data is collected directly by the immigration advisor.

Article 49: Management Structures, Governance, Processes and Policies

An organisation must have and effectively apply appropriate management structures, governance arrangements, processes and policies to support and maintain a viable and sustainable business. These must be available for inspection by the Commissioner

Help with my visa! has a flat management structure to avoid bureaucracy and give clear lines of authority to management. We have clear operational and safety policies, conditions or use, conditions of sale and service terms that govern how we operate. These policies support the effective running of the business and ensure it’s viability and sustainability.

All policies are published on our public website under the Terms and Conditions header.

Article 51: Business Plan

An organisation must have a business plan for its current business year together with cash flow/ funding projections

We have a 3-year business plan that is subject to monthly review. As a new business that has the potential to grow exponentially, Help with my visa! updates business plans and financial forecasts frequently in response to how our services are received in the market.

We are 100% self-funded and don’t rely on any external sources of finance. Management ensures that there is always a runway of 12 months cashflow for the business through equity injections, until the business is capable of sustaining itself.

Article 52: Professional Indemnity Insurance

An organisation must have current and adequate professional indemnity insurance

Help with my visa! is the a trading name of Souter Point Limited, a company registered in England and Wales under company registration number 09871760. Souter Point holds professional indemnity insurance to the value of £1m (one million British pounds).

Article 53: Record of Interactions

In respect of each client or prospective client, advisers must maintain an adequate record of all interactions

All client and prospective client interactions, as well as Seller applications and correspondence with immigration advisers, are conducted digitally.

Enquiries, purchases, complaints and requests to join mailing lists are 100% conducted through the use of web forms that are connected to a backend database.

When immigration advisors request to join Help with my visa! as a Seller, they likewise do so through a web form connected to a backend database.

Help with my visa! uses a combination of WooCommerce, WordPress, Mailerlite and Hubspot to manage these communications.

Once an immigration advisor has successfully registered as a Seller, they will be provided with a contact email address and telephone number for Help with my visa! All correspondence will be recorded in both our email client, which is powered by Gmail, and Hubspot.

Article 54: Record of Actions - Name of Advisor

Records of actions undertaken on behalf of a client must clearly indicate the name of the advisor who has given the advice or done work on the client’s behalf

To the extent that Help with my visa! has visibility of actions undertaken on behalf of a client, these actions are recorded in our WooCommerce and WordPress databases. The extent of this actions are limited to recording the sale of an immigration advice product or service to a Seller, with the immigration adviser and client both named on the transaction invoice.

Article 55: File Management System

An organisation must have and operate an effective file management system which enables it to keep clear, orderly and accurate records of all contacts and dealings with clients and others relevant to its clients’ cases. These records must be held securely, and records relating to a particular client or former client must be accessible to the client and to the Commissioner

All files are stored electronically and to the greatest extent possible, storage is automated through tools made available on WooCommerce, WordPress and Hubspot. Help with my visa! doesn’t store any further client information but where this is required it will be appended to the client’s contact record in Hubspot.

Article 57: Record Keeping

An organisation must ensure that all client records are kept for at least six years, and thereafter for the client file and associated electronic data to be securely deleted or destroyed

Help with my visa! has a data retention policy outlined in our Privacy Policy. We will retain transaction records for six years or as required by law before permanently deleting all data.

Article 58: Non-fee Charging Services

An organisation which is not required to pay the Commissioner an application fee must not charge clients directly or indirectly a fee for the provision of immigration advice

Article 58 requires a very precise distinction between the marketing service Help with my visa! provides and the product or service purchased through our marketplace.

Firstly, as Help with my visa! doesn’t provide immigration advice we are not required to register with the OISC.

Secondly, the service we provide is that of a marketplace – we connect clients who want to buy immigration advice products and services with registered Sellers of those products and services. The charge we levy on clients is in the form of a service fee, which is payment for the marketing service that we provide.

Thirdly, the immigration advice fee is collected on behalf of the Seller and subsequently remitted at an agreed frequency. Help with my visa! remits 100% of this fee and doesn’t retain any portion.

Finally, where non-fee charging immigration advisers wish to register as a Seller on Help with my visa! will work with them to ensure we are fully compliant with the requirements of Article 58. This may include waiving service fees for the specific client groups that Seller wishes to target or refusing to list the Seller on the marketplace, among other alternatives.

Article 59: Fee Scales

An organisation that charges for its immigration advice or immigration services must have a fee scale which is agreed by the Commissioner. A copy of this fee scale must be made available to the Commissioner upon request

As part of the vetting process for new Sellers, Help with my visa! requests the immigration adviser’s fee scale. This is required to both ensure compliance with this article of the OISC Code of Standards and to setup the products and services the Seller wishes to offer for sale through the marketplace.

Article 60: Changes to Fee Scales

The Commissioner must be informed in writing if an organisation proposes to change its fee scale and await authorisation from the Commissioner before doing so

If a Seller wishes to change its fee scale, as part of that change request Help with my visa! will ask for a copy of the authorisation received from OISC. Depending upon the number of fee changes required, we aim to change fees within 48 business hours but will advise on a case-by-case basis if the timeframe is likely to exceed this amount.

Article 62: Written Invoice Requests

An organisation must submit a written invoice to the client when it requires payment.

Buying immigration advice products and services through the Help with my visa! marketplace is entirely automated – including invoicing. Clients are given the opportunity to review fees payable at the checkout screen and once their payment has gone through they are immediately issued an automated, VAT-compliant invoice to the email address provided. Sellers are issued a copy of this invoice for their records, while a copy is also retained by Help with my visa! in our WooCommerce and WordPress databases.

Article 64: Money Held in Client Account

Where an organisation takes money in advance or holds money for a client, such money must be held in a distinct client account and this account must be kept separate from the organisation’s business account

All payments made to Help with my visa! are paid into a distinct and separate client account. Service fees are paid to Help with my visa!’s trading account maintained by Souter Point, and client money for immigration advice services is held for a specified time period before being electronically remitted to the Seller.

Article 65: Withdrawal of Instructions and Return of Client Money

An organisation must promptly return to the client any remaining money in the client account at the end of the client’s case or when the client has decided to terminate their instructions or the organisation has withdrawn from the case

If Help with my visa! is still in possession of client money at the time a refund request is made, the Seller must inform Help with my visa! and confirmed the client details and invoice number. Help with my visa! will then promptly refund the money paid for immigration advice products and services.

If Help with my visa! has already transferred client money to the Seller, the Seller is responsible for returning the client money to the client directly.

Further details is available on our Conditions of Sale page.

Article 66: Refund Timeframe

An organisation which has agreed to refund money to a client must do so promptly

Upon receiving a refund request, Help with my visa! will transact this request within 14 days as required by law. Clients will receive a refund confirmation email as soon as the refund has been processed.

Depending upon the card issuer, it may however take longer for the money to be paid back on to the client’s card. Unfortunately, Help with my visa! has no control over this timeframe as it lies entirely with the card issuer.

Help with my visa! will only conduct refunds where we still hold client money on accounts. Once client money has been paid to the Seller, it is the Seller’s responsibility to perform the refund.

Article 67: Receipts, Accounts and Transaction Records

An organisation which takes monies and/or fees must provide written receipts for the money taken and keep accurate accounts, including a written record of every transaction undertaken for each of its clients

Help with my visa! is entirely digital and makes extensive use of integrated software-as-a-service (SaaS) products. Payment receipts, accounting records and bank transfers are all automated, using products such as WooCommerce, WordPressXero and online banking tools available through Monzo to ensure there are proper and correct records of all transactions.

Article 68: Financial Records

An organisation must maintain complete, clear and accurate financial records. The Commissioner must be given access to all financial records

As outlined in our response to Article 67 above, Help with my visa! is entirely digital and makes extensive use of integrated software-as-a-service (SaaS) products. Payment receipts, accounting records and bank transfers are all automated, using products such as WooCommerce, WordPressXero and online banking tools available through Monzo to ensure there are proper and correct records of all transactions. We would be willing to provide the Commissioner with copies of records if required to do so.

Article 69: Annual Accounts

An organisation must have annual audited, certified or otherwise verified business accounts. The Commissioner must be given access to all such accounts

Help with my visa! is a trading name of Souter Point Limited. Souter Point was established in 2015 and has verified annual accounts available through Companies House up until the most recent financial year. Accounts are prepared by an external accountancy firm and follow the audit requirements for a small and medium enterprise. As Help with my visa! grows, our audit activities will increase as required by law.

Article 73: Service Descriptions and Authorised Levels of Categories

An organisation which advertises immigration advice or immigration services must ensure that its material clearly explains the advice or services offered and these descriptions, along with the qualifications and authorised Levels and Categories of those who provide them, must be accurate and not misleading. The organisation retains overall and absolute responsibility for this information

We consider Article 73 in two parts: firstly, when listing products and services for sale on the Help with my visa! marketplace and secondly, when we use advertising to promote the marketplace. 

When an immigration advisor registers as a Seller on Help with my visa! we work with them to develop product and service descriptions that clearly explain what is offered for sale and the Levels and Categories into which the service fits. These descriptions are highly detailed and also include commentary on what the product or service does not include, for the avoidance of any doubt. The Seller has the final say on what information a product or service description contains.

Help with my visa! also provides guidance on ensuring product and service descriptions are search engine optimised (SEO) to improve their search ranking. However, the primary objective with a product or service description is to ensure that it complies with Article 73.

Where an appointment booking system is used, Help with my visa! creates resources that are used to drive product and service availability. These resources are assigned Levels and Categories, so that a Seller with say, two staff, one registered as Level 1 and another as Level 2, can assign both resources as potentially available for a Level 1 product or service but only the Level 2 resource for Level 2 products and services. The appointment booking tool therefore provides an additional layer of assistance in ensuring that clients purchase immigration advice products and services from Seller that have the correct Level and Category.

The product and service descriptions work is the foundation of any subsequent advertising or promotional activities we undertake. Adverts only ever promote products and services within the Levels and Categories in which they reside, and as a principle we do not make any claims that suggest products and services do more than is permitted.

Article 74: Touting

An organisation and those working for it or associated with it must not tout for the business of providing immigration advice or immigration services

The OISC has defined ‘touting’ as “when any person looks to solicit business typically in a high-pressured, persistent manner“. 

Help with my visa! never undertakes this form of promotion and will never use negativity or scare tactics into convincing a client to buy immigration advice either through our marketplace or elsewhere. We strongly believe the case for seeking immigration advice when in need is strong enough without resorting to underhand and pressurised selling tactics.

Article 75: Organisation or Advisor Criticism

An organisation and those working for it or associated with it must not orally or in writing include in any promotional material criticism of other organisations or advisers

We take our professionalism very seriously and do not tolerate any criticism of other organisations or immigration advisers.

Furthermore, as Help with my visa! is a marketplace we have two sets of customers: clients buying immigration advice products and services and Sellers offering immigration advice products and services for sale. Our Sellers – that is, immigration advisors – are just as important to us as our clients.

Article 76: Success Rates

An organisation and those working for it or associated with it must not make orally or in writing promotional statements about their organisation’s or individual’s success rates

Our Sellers are able to publish profiles on the Help with my visa! marketplace and these are typically setup during registration when products and services are also created. As part of the onboarding vetting process we ensure that there is no mention of success rates in either of these areas, and subsequent annual health checks and spot checks also ensure that such information hasn’t been added here and in any comments sections.

Where a Seller is found to have published a success rate it will be removed immediately by Help with my visa! admins and the Seller will be given a warning. Repeated breach of this Article may result in a Seller being removed from the Help with my visa! marketplace.

Article 79: Complaints Procedure

An organisation must have, and effectively apply, a written procedure for the handling of complaints approved by the Commissioner which includes a statement informing clients that they have the right to complain to the Commissioner at any time.

The Help with my visa! complaints procedure is available on our website and outlines how people can complain against three different parties:

  • Complaints about an immigration advisor: follows the OISC complaints procedure
  • Complaints about a visa application centre: directs individuals to follow that visa application centre’s complaint process
  • Complaints about Help with my visa!: how to complain about our marketplace service

This signposting helps direct individuals wishing to make a complaint to the correct party for handling it and avoids any unnecessary delay in obtaining a response.

Article 84: Reporting Serious Misconduct

Advisers and any persons who own and/or are involved in the running of an organisation must promptly report to the Commissioner any indication of serious misconduct of which they become aware within their organisation

In the event that Help with my visa! becomes aware of any allegation of serious misconduct, we will report it to the Commissioner without delay.

Article 85: OISC Code of Standards Exemption

Organisations and advisers must apply in writing with reasons if they wish to be exempted from any code or part of a code. No organisation or adviser is exempt from any code unless the Commissioner gives written agreement to that request. If and until the Commissioner agrees to that request, the organisation or adviser must abide by the Code in its entirety

Help with my visa! is not an immigration advisor.

We provide marketing services through a digital marketplace that connects people looking for immigration advice products and services with registered Sellers of such services. 

Following the guidance set out in Article 85, we contacted the OISC directly to have them review our business model and confirm that indeed, registration with OISC doesn’t apply to us. The OISC Legal Team replied to us in May 2020 confirming that no, Help with my visa! isn’t required to register with them.

However, due to the regulated nature of the immigration advice business we felt it prudent to show where we do comply with the OISC Code of Standards to give our Sellers and prospective Sellers a greater level of comfort that we do not conduct any activity that may put their own business at risk. 

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