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REFCOM welcomes ‘landmark’ prosecution of online seller

Online retailer Appliance Direct (AD) has been found guilty of breaching F-Gas regulations resulting in its holding company, Buy It Direct (BID), being fined £37,500. AD was found to be in breach of F-Gas Regulation article 11 paragraph 5 which seeks to ensure equipment charged with refrigerant gas is safely installed to protect the public and the environment.

The Environment Agency (EA) took legal action action after receiving information provided by REFCOM in July 2020, which alleged that the company was selling split air conditioning heat pump systems without meeting its statutory obligation to ensure the appliances would be installed by properly qualified engineers.

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, this was dismissed by the prosecutor on the grounds that there was “no evidence that the installation will be properly carried out”. The judgement found that 94% of AD’s sales to end-users were lacking evidence indicating compliance with the regulations.

REFCOM has welcomed the successful prosecution. “This is a landmark prosecution that sets a precedent for anyone trying to circumvent these important public safety regulations using online sales platforms,” said Graeme Fox, technical director of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) which operates the REFCOM register.

“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,” added Fox.

“We will continue to work hard on behalf of the industry and its customers to ensure only properly trained, qualified and registered individuals and companies carry out this important work.”

REFCOM produced a technical bulletin: ‘A practical guide for wholesalers and distributors’ in April 2017, which was approved by the EA, and set out the procedures that equipment sellers needed to follow to ensure compliance with the regulations. These include receiving confirmation from the buyer that the equipment will be installed by someone holding a valid F-Gas handling certificate or by an F-Gas registered contractor.

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