REFCOM Elite scheme is celebrating 25 years

Date: 23 August 2021
REFCOM Elite scheme is celebrating 25 years
The REFCOM Elite scheme is celebrating a quarter of a century of helping refrigeration and air conditioning companies demonstrate their business and technical credentials and promoting higher professional standards of refrigerant management.

It is marking the occasion with an invitation-only event in central London to thank founders and supporters in late September and running a series of other activities via social media and the website.

The scheme traces its origins back to the original REFCOM, which was set up in 1996 by a group of contractors who wanted to demonstrate their commitment to high professional standards and responsible refrigerant handling.

In 2006 government officials at DEFRA approached REFCOM to help them set up a framework for a mandatory company certification scheme to ensure compliance with the new European F-Gas regulation. The Elite Scheme was used as the framework on a ‘low cost, light touch’ basis. After the establishment of the mandatory register in 2009, it remained a voluntary scheme for companies who wanted to go above and beyond simply achieving regulatory compliance and demonstrate higher professional standards.

With all firms in the sector legally required to maintain F-Gas certification to comply with refrigerant management regulations, the voluntary Elite scheme goes further by promoting codes of best practice and wider technical and business quality. It also promotes members’ commitment to reducing harmful emissions and their desire to minimise environmental damage.

Members must re-register every year and are inspected every three years by independent auditors to ensure they are maintaining high standards. Any customer complaints are recorded and followed up by the scheme’s managers.

Membership is open to contractors, end-users and equipment and refrigerant distributors who want to set themselves apart from the competition. It provides third-party evidence that the member can competently install, commission, decommission or maintain a system containing refrigerant. It also shows that they are licensed waste carriers and only use staff who are qualified to handle refrigerant gases safely.

REFCOM Elite members meet all legal obligations and must have auditable procedures for the proper control of refrigerants and can account for all refrigerant used and recovered. They must also only use appropriate, purpose-designed refrigerant recovery equipment – and this is verified during their inspection.

Members benefit from an Elite scheme certificate, which is valid for 12 months, and their details are published on a public database of certified firms used by refrigeration and air conditioning owners/managers looking to appoint high quality contractors. Members also benefit from discounted insurance cover and specification from manufacturers, suppliers, and clients.

The scheme was conceived and launched by members of the HVCA – now the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) – and the first members in 1996 were drawn from the Association’s Refrigeration and Air Conditioning group.

It now has more than 300 members and was extended in 2019 to include distributors and wholesalers, who share the aspirations of the contractor membership for higher professional standards cross the whole supply chain.

“HVCA members spent a lot of time developing recommendations for government when it was setting up the first statutory registration scheme for safe refrigerant handling. However, it decided to go with lower standards than we advised.

“So, not long after the establishment of REFCOM to help manage the statutory exercise, many of us decided to press ahead and set up a voluntary scheme that would cater for those of us who still wanted to aim higher,” added Fox, whose then company was one of the original members.

BESA’s director of certification Rachel Davidson says the industry has very good reason to be grateful to those pioneering early members, who committed themselves to improving compliance 13 years before statutory regulation was imposed.

“Today’s landscape would look very different if the HVCA did not have the foresight to set up the original voluntary scheme,” she said. “REFCOM Elite is an industry driver. It is trusted and respected and represents the very best contractors committed to doing the job in a competent, compliant, and environmentally friendly way.

“The fact that we are now celebrating the 25th anniversary with more than 300 members proves that we were right about there being an appetite for going the extra mile to help owners and managers do more than just meet their regulatory requirements,” added Davidson.
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