Friday, October 23, 2020

REFCOM are delighted to be shortlisted for the RAC Cooling Industry Awards 2020 in the Small Company Achievement category.

In a highly competitive industry and with very restricted resources the small REFCOM team have managed to grow their customer base from 77% to 83% of the UK's F-Gas Registered companies, has grown its Elite scheme by 5%, and created a whole new Elite Supplier scheme to allow the supply chain to step up and help each other level the playing field and fend off the threat that online selling to end users presents to the market and the industry as a whole.

Throughout the period REFCOM have also:

  • published dozens of technical advice bulletins and guidance to help contractors and wholesalers through the legislative minefield,
  • produced templates and helped contractors with their paperwork,
  • effected positive change in the supply chain by agreeing with Which? Trusted Trader that they will only list REFCOM registered companies in the air conditioning section,
  • contributed to illegal cylinder seizures,
  • raised awareness of the danger of poor installation of flammable gas containing products and called for sales routes to act responsibly,
  • and provided every member with free service management software helping with them comply easier with the regulatory burdens on them.

The first half of 2020 has presented a unique situation to every part of the sector, right across the supply chain, but from our perspective as one of the UK’s 3 licenced F-Gas Certifying bodies the pandemic crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Every 3 years the F-Gas registers’ in the UK are faced with peak renewals where approximately 60% of the 8000 registered companies have to renew their 3-year licences to work in the sector. For the REFCOM admin team that represents around 4000 renewal applications on top of the usual 50/60 new applications they receive every month over a 4-month period from April through July. That has placed an enormous administration burden on a small team in previous years, but this year it was extraordinarily problematic because the team all had to work from home.

In March the entire team were sent home with laptops, headsets and additional screens, the calls were all routed through our skype system to ensure we were all still connected even though we were sometimes hundreds of miles apart, and the registered companies never noticed a difference in the delivery of the service to them. The REFCOM team managed to maintain a quick turnaround of application (new and renewals), issuing new F-Gas certificates electronically and issuing regular updates by e-news bulletins throughout the lock down period.

At the same time, we asked Government for permission to extend expiring licences because some companies had engineers with expiring F-Gas qualifications which could not be renewed due to training centres all being closed down. The Government did not give that permission. So to help our members stay registered and therefore be able to carry on working, bearing in mind many of them are key workers essential to the economy, we changed our online portal settings to allow members to renew up to 3 months early, adding the 3 months to the expiry date, to allow them to renew before the engineers’ qualifications ran out.

Our members were also being bombarded with queries from their customers about running their air conditioning or ventilation systems, at a time when there was so much conflicting information in the press and in industry generally and nobody taking a lead and giving contractors the information they needed to carry on. REFCOM was quick to issue guidance on the safe use of air conditioning systems and what health & safety precautions needed to be taken when handling filters, etc on service or repair visits. This evolved into the BESA VG002 guidance that has been well received by contractor members and clients alike. REFCOM and the BESA Group were recognised as being the only trade body to step up at that time and fully support their members, leading the way for the entire sector.

Also, over the past year REFCOM have developed the REFCOM Elite Supplier scheme which allows distributors, wholesalers and manufacturers to demonstrate they have sales procedures in place to ensure that only those who are qualified and registered can purchase and install split systems air conditioning units. Each supplier is audited for their sales processes and account policies to assist us in our efforts to better regulate the sector and enforce the F-Gas regulations in a meaningful way – the way industry intended it to be in the first place. Although the enforcing body – the Environment Agency – said they couldn’t publicly endorse the Elite Supplier Scheme because it’s a privately owned entity and, therefore, commercially run, they did welcome the move as it “frees up resources at their end to concentrate on the illegal online sales by certain websites knowing they don’t have to worry about those sellers signed up to the voluntary code of conduct and being audited by REFCOM”. Manufacturers Mitsubishi Electric, Daikin and Fujitsu have already signed up along with distributors Logicool Air Conditioning, TF Solutions and Wolseley.

Since the scheme was set up there has been a marked improvement in the enforcement of the regulations with online sellers, fines imposed on some who were breaching the regulations and action by the HSE and trading standards on some illegal cylinder sales and other breaches of regulation – all with the assistance of REFCOM.
The technical and legislative support on top of the incredible work of the administrative team in REFCOM in ensuring our members were fully supported, educated and promoted throughout the pandemic on top of all of the usual support and high quality of service REFCOM has become known for make sure that REFCOM stand head and shoulders above their competition, a beacon of high standards and integrity within the industry, and a true industry leading company.

This being delivered by a small team of only half a dozen people – most of whom also cover other BESA Group company work at the same time – is an astonishing achievement.

The awards take place virtually on 9th December and you can find out more about how to watch here:


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