Cornish heat pump installer guilty of fraud

Friday, December 16, 2022

The UK’s primary F-Gas register REFCOM has praised Cornwall Council for bringing a dishonest heating and air conditioning trader to justice. 

Adrian Miles, trading as Duchy Eco Heating, pleaded guilty to fraudulent trading after being prosecuted at Truro Crown Court for mis-selling heat pumps and taking payment for work he did not carry out. He was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid community work. 

Miles had previously been REFCOM registered before being suspended for failing to undergo a compulsory safe refrigerant handling audit. This was triggered by a tip off from a refrigerant supplier who had grown suspicious of his apparent lack of technical knowledge. 

REFCOM discovered that Miles had been passing off a sub-contractor as a member of staff and immediately removed him from the register. They then contacted Cornwall Trading Standards who had also received 14 customer complaints about Duchy Eco Heating and worked with REFCOM to build a legal case against Miles.  

He was found to have misled customers about the suitability of the heat pump systems he installed in their homes and failed to provide remedial work and servicing under warranty. He had also taken deposits for work he then failed to carry out and had falsely claimed that his business was properly certified. 

Cornwall Councillor Martyn Alvey said the actions of Miles were “totally unacceptable…I hope this acts as a warning to others that we will not hesitate to prosecute when traders operate illegally”. 

Graeme Fox, technical director at REFCOM, added that this was a great example of how the industry, the register and the appropriate legal authorities could work together to protect the public. 

“We are delighted to see this case come to a satisfactory conclusion,” he said. “The F-Gas regulations were introduced to ensure responsible use of environmentally damaging substances and ensure they are only ever handled by properly qualified and registered companies and individuals.  

“This case has perfectly demonstrated how REFCOM will act whenever we are tipped off about anyone flouting the rules.” 

REFCOM recently recorded its 7,500th company membership, which represents an estimated 90% of the total number of legitimate firms operating in the refrigeration and air conditioning sectors. 

Originally set up in 1996 by a group of contractors who wanted to demonstrate their commitment to high professional standards and responsible refrigerant handling, it became the country’s mandatory register in 2009 when the UK adopted the European F-Gas Regulation. 

The UK continues to ‘mirror’ the Regulation despite its departure from the EU, which means that all personnel carrying out installation, commissioning, decommissioning, repairing, maintenance, or servicing of stationary refrigeration, air-conditioning or heat pump equipment that contains or is designed to contain F-Gas refrigerants must hold the relevant qualifications. 

Rachel Davidson, director of certification at the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) which oversees REFCOM, said the register’s members had sometimes been frustrated by the apparent lack of enforcement of the F-Gas regulations in the past. 

“As well as endangering the public, it puts our members at a commercial disadvantage because unregistered firms like this one get away with not investing in the technical and safety training or the systems needed to manage refrigerant gas safely and responsibly,” she said. 

“We are delighted that an example is being made of this company and hope this will make others think again about putting the quality of services and products at risk, endangering lives and property, and undermining the UK’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”