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UK confusion over refrigerant licensing

The British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has admitted that a loophole in ‘F-Gas’ regulations that make up part of European HFC phasedown legislation makes it possible for people without refrigerant recovery qualifications to purchase refrigerants for the service of passenger car air conditioning systems.

In June DEFRA issued a notice to wholesalers, retailers and technicians in the automotive AC sector explaining that it was no longer legal to sell F-Gas (known in Australia and New Zealand as synthetic greenhouse gas) refrigerants to people who could not demonstrate that the person intending to install it had a qualification in refrigerant recovery.

But on September 30 another notice was issued retracting the notice after “UK industry stakeholders” question the interpretation of the legislation and following legal advice, DEFRA changed its position.

“Following further examination of the legislation, DEFRA believes that such restrictions do not apply for the servicing of MAC, only for the recovery of F-gases from such systems,” said the September 30 notice.

“Therefore, the UK Government believes that it remains legal to sell F-gases for use in mobile air-conditioning systems to those who do not hold recovery qualifications.”

It is a strong example of how careful authorities must be in defining legislation and a timely reminder to the Australian and New Zealand governments considering how to enact an HFC phasedown.

Which UK industry stakeholders questioned the legislation and why remains a mystery. To VASA members and most people in the industry, restricting the sale and use of refrigerants is a no-brainer way of reducing emissions of high global warming potential refrigerants.

The current situation with F-Gas regulation would appear to leave the door wide open for dodgy regassers topping up leaky systems without diagnosing and repairing the problem – a practice that is illegal in Australia. It also means retail stores can sell top-up kits to the public.

VASA’s European counterpart, MACPartners, agrees and believes DEFRA’s decision “directly contradicts the (EU) 517/2014 directive”, and is in communication with DEFRA and the European Commission with a view to resolving the issue.

“This action by DEFRA not only allows the sale of so called DIY top ups of R134a to untrained service technicians and even further to the general public via auto spare parts outlets, but it allows untrained individuals to simply add refrigerant to a leaking system without seeking the services of qualified service personnel to properly recover the refrigerant from the vehicle and perform repairs,” said a MACPartners statement.

“This certainly appears to be against the best interests of the  professional auto repair industry, and could lead to negative consequences for the vehicle being “serviced” and to the environmental issue of F-Gas emissions not being followed.”

British workshops who have their F-Gas certificates and do the right thing must be seething.