From January 1, it will be illegal to sell refrigerant or pre-charged air conditioning and refrigeration equipment to any non-certified companies or individuals but without a means of checking compliance the law will be unenforceable.
Now a number of influential industry figures are calling on DEFRA to provide the resources for a national database.
This was one of the main messages to come out of last week’s ACRIB-organised F-Gas Compliance Conference in London.
An audience of 250 from across the air conditioning and refrigeration industry heard Chris Summers from the Environment Agency’s compliance department describe some of the key points of the new regulations, suppliers responsibilities and his department’s efforts to track down non-compliant companies and individuals.
Significantly, he reminded the audience that from January 1 2015 that anyone purchasing refrigerant or pre-charged equipment must be F-gas certified. Further, it is the responsibility of all wholesalers and distributors to ensure that sales are only made to F-gas compliant companies and individuals. Details of the purchaser must be recorded and those records must be kept for a minimum of five years.
There are concerns, however, amongst wholesalers and equipment suppliers, that despite the onus being placed on them to prove that they only sell to certified companies or individuals, they have no means of checking compliance. Even if the individual provides a registration/certification number, there is no way of checking whether that is correct – and there have been instances of people and companies using false numbers.
Responding to just such a question at the F-Gas Compliance Conference, the Environment Agency’s Chris Summers said: “If someone can’t supply a certificate on the day, then they need to set up an account where they get the actual physical proof and they can take photocopies of the original certificates.”
Contractor Graeme Fox, representing AREA, acknowledged that the issue of compliance checking was a huge problem for those working on trade counters: “You do need an easier way to check the legality of someone who is trying to buy gas,” he said.
Not that the requirement is new to the industry as a whole. Since 2007, system operators have been required to ensure that any business carrying out installations, service or maintenance on equipment holds company certification and that the work is only carried out by an appropriately certified person. Many in the industry still claim that without a national database there is no way that they can do that.
“We have actually seen cases of companies claiming to be a B&ES member and certified by REFCOM,” claimed Graeme Fox. “What they had done was got hold of someone else’s REFCOM F-gas certificate and put their own name on it. So, as an end-user you wouldn’t know whether that is genuine or not. Without a national database there is no way of verifying that. It’s a very good cause we have in the UK for getting DEFRA to provide the resources for a national database.”
Yet the industry seems as far away now as ever from some way of checking the credentials of the estimated 5,500 compliant companies and 30-35,000 F-gas certified engineers.
REFCOM, the largest of the company certification bodies lists some of its compliant companies but not all due to the data protection act.
Steve Crocker, REFCOM’s secretary, revealed that certification bodies are not legally obliged to put their members on their website: “They [the companies] have the option to go on the register or stay off it. So when suppliers check our website they may well find that they are not there but under data protection we can’t say that they are. It could be simplified with a national register.”
National ID card
The issue had been raised earlier in the day by conference speaker John Ellis, a former president of the IoR and managing director of Ellis Training. As well as supporting the call for a national register, he went further to suggest the industry also needs a national personal identity card indicating the F-gas category held.
“If I was an operator I would need to check that the person they are sending me is a certified engineer. The only way that can happen is if the individual is carrying their own card which indicates that they have this particular F-gas certification. Otherwise this regulation is completely unenforceable,” he claimed during the final question time.
In response, Chris Summers for the Environment Agency said: “I think it is an operators right as part of the service they are requiring from the contractor to provide them with the information they want. So copies of certificates and personnel qualifications.”
Ray Gluckman, another former IoR president and someone who was closely involved with the UK’s response to the F-gas proposals, was less hopeful of immediate success: “A national database is something we can aspire to but we are not going to get it within the next few months and the new rules kick-in on the first of January.
“My own view, and I am working with the EA and DEFRA to try and clarify guidance on this, the company certificate should be the primary certificate shown to prove you are able to buy gas. In fact, in future you will have to have an account because as a seller of gas one of the record-keeping requirements is that you need the certificate number of who you are selling it to and the quantities of gas you sell to them. The only logical way to do that is in your sales database.”