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Online retailer fined £37.5k for F-gas breaches

UK: Buy It Direct (BID), owner of online appliance retailer Appliances Direct, will pay a penalty of £37,500 for selling air conditioning units in breach of the F-gas regulations.

The Environment Agency found BID to be in breach of Article 11(5) of the F-gas regulation which requires that anyone selling equipment containing F-gas to an end user must obtain confirmation from them that the equipment will be installed by either someone with an F-gas handling certificate or someone from a contractor that has a company certificate.”

Based on sales between 1 August and 1 November 2019, the Environment Agency served a notice of intent to serve a civil penalty of £42,000 on Buy It Direct in August 2020.

BID chief executive officer Nick Glynne had argued in the company’s defence that purchasers “could not proceed to actual purchase without agreeing contractual terms which included installation by a relevantly qualified engineer”.

However, the Environment Agency found a substantial mismatch between the numbers of units sold and the information about installers gathered. Of 964 orders received for 1164 units, only 83 installers were identified.

“The Environment Agency considers that during the period BID did not obtain evidence that non-hermetically sealed equipment sale to UK customers would be installed by a certified undertaking before selling the equipment BID obtained evidence of certified installer in probably 8.6% of orders,” the EA said. 

In his witness statement Glynne disclosed that the gross profit from sales of the AC equipment to end users was £29,507.32 of which sales to end-users without F-Gas engineer details was £27,739.44 indicating that 94% of sales to end-users were lacking evidence indicating compliance. 

The case went to a tribunal and was finally settled towards the end of last year. The tribunal judge took into account BID’s full co-operation in the matter and reduced the penalty to £37,500.

REFCOM, the UK’s main F-gas registration body, welcomed what it described as a “landmark” prosecution.

Graeme Fox, technical director of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) which operates the REFCOM register, said: “REFCOM and its members have been raising the alarm about online sellers for several years as they represent a vulnerability in the system that can lead to equipment falling into the wrong hands.

“Most distributors and wholesalers are fully aware of their responsibilities and ensure they receive confirmation of safe installation before selling refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, but we remain vigilant for any that might seek to act irresponsibly for profit,” he added.

Nick Glynne said that BID disagreed with the ruling, adding: “It was acknowledged that there was not a single known instance where one of our R32 products was not compliantly installed by an F-gas registered engineer.

“We believe the wording of the guidance and the changes at the time of implementation did not provide sufficient clarity on how to sell F-gas products compliantly in an online environment,” he continued. “Whilst we are naturally fully committed to ensuring goods are sold and installed compliantly, customers clearly want the choice and value of buying online and the entire industry will inevitably move with the times.”

Related stories:

Sales of R290 splits to DIYers is “irresponsible” – 31 July 2020
UK: The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has accused online retailer Appliances Direct of being “irresponsible” in selling R290 split systems to unregistered installers and end users. Read more…

Appliance Direct boss hits back at BESA’s DIY claims7 August 2020
UK: Nick Glynne, CEO of Buy It Direct, has accused BESA of being “ill-informed” and “offensive” in criticising its subsidiary Appliances Direct for selling R290 split systems to DIYers. Read more…

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