Bruce Allen 05 November 2021

Support for air quality enforcement

Support for air quality enforcement image

Under The Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020, new rules came into force from May this year to outlaw the sale and use of wet wood and house coal for burning at home. This new legislation also gave greater powers to local authorities to issue fines to those who break the rules, yet recent reports in the national media claim that just seven councils out of 19 in the UK have issued fines for household wood smoke emissions in the last six years.

As the non-profit industry organisation committed to helping people make cleaner and safer choices in the use of biomass and other solid fuels and associated technologies, HETAS is responsible for approving and certifying appliances and fuels for their safe, efficient and environmentally-responsible use in the home. It also runs the UK’s largest competent person scheme for registered professional installers, service and maintenance engineers and chimney sweeps.

As such, we aim to work closely with all local authorities, not only to improve safety, but to provide support and knowledge that will help them meet the expectations of the new air quality legislation to reduce air pollution in their community.

Since the legislation came into force from 1 May 2021, HETAS is continuing to run workshops for local authorities which are proving beneficial in developing understanding of the regulations and the practicalities of enforcement.

Know the new fuel rules

The first thing to understand is what fuel people now can and can’t burn when using wood or multi-fuel appliances in their homes.

From 1 May 2021 up to 30 April 2023, only registered coal merchants who are members of the Approved Coal Merchants scheme can legally sell traditional house coal (also known as bituminous coal) in England. Traditional house coal must be sold loose or in unsealed bags directly to the customer. It will be illegal to sell bagged coal. The rules also apply to the sale of traditional loose coal in Smoke Control Areas. Traditional house coal is not approved for use in Smoke Control Areas in England unless it is used in an appropriate exempt appliance. However, sales of traditional house coal for use in homes will be illegal in England from 1 May 2023.

Bituminous coal extracted in accordance with the Dean Forest(Mines) Act 1838) or the Dean Forest Act 1861 is classed as exempt coal under the new regulations so is not covered by the new regulations.

Manufactured solid fuels and wood sold for domestic use across all of England, including Smoke Control Areas, must meet the new requirements. Although all Ready to Burn manufactured solid fuels can be used in Smoke Control Areas, wood fuels can only be used in Smoke Control Areas in appropriate exempt appliances even if the wood fuel is Ready to Burn certified.

The rules for wood depend on the amount of wood sold. Wood sold in volumes under two cubic metres must be certified as 'Ready to Burn'. It must also display the Ready to Burn logo, supplier details and unique certification number on the packaging or display.

Small-scale wood producers (or small foresters as they are defined in the Regulations), those selling under 600 cubic metres a year, have until 1 May 2022 to comply with the new certification rules.

Guidance on reporting

One of the key issues we’ve seen is allocating responsibility, and we recognise that this is different for every authority. For example, Defra recommends that individual local authorities are best placed to determine who within their department is responsible, such as environmental enforcement officers or trading standards officers.

No matter where the responsibility eventually rests, reporting is critical and HETAS can support with information to help the public understand the approach to enforcement. Reporting will also become of even greater importance when the forthcoming Environment Bill, which is hoped to soon reach royal assent, introduces legally-binding targets to reduce average particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions.

As good practice we recommend that authorities should keep a record of:

  • FPNs issued, cancelled, paid, paid at a discount rate
  • prosecutions following non-payment of a FPN (whether the case is concluded or not)
  • prosecutions for solid fuel offences where a FPN was not offered
  • FPNs written off for other reasons (for example, procedural error, not in the public interest to pursue, alternative sanctions used)
  • total net income from FPNs for solid fuel offences
  • total spent on enforcement activity against solid fuel offences

We understand that there are still many complexities and challenges to overcome to ensure local authorities are equipped for greater enforcement when it comes to domestic burning, but HETAS is on hand to help with support, knowledge and information.

Sign up to our quarterly local authority newsletter here www.hetas.co.uk/local-authority-newsletter-sign-up/ or contact us at hello@hetas.co.uk

Bruce Allen is CEO of HETAS

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