A company that failed to meet its obligations under the WEEE Regulations has been ordered to pay £50,900 in compensation at a court hearing last week.
The order was issued at South Tyneside Magistrates Court last Tuesday (24 September) to Northern Compliance – a waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) producer compliance scheme – which had its approval to operate as a scheme withdrawn in January 2019.
The case related to Northern Compliance’s failure to pay its contribution towards the WEEE Compliance Fee Fund for 2017 – payments which could have totalled £1,108,862. Such contributions are required if a scheme does not obtain enough evidence of WEEE recycling.
The decision to set the compensation at £50,900, which is significantly below the £1.1 million payments which might have been made has been criticised by some in the WEEE sector. However, the director of Northern Compliance, who had pleaded guilty, welcomed the ruling.
Under the WEEE Regulations, Producer Compliance Schemes are responsible for financing the overall household WEEE collection target on behalf of their members, based on their market share.
This can either be done through the physical collection of WEEE to generate recycling ‘evidence’, trading among schemes who have carried out collections, or through payment of a compliance fee as an alternative means of compliance.
Northern Compliance, which was short of 2,268 tonnes of WEEE evidence to meet its members’ obligations in 2017, said that it did not pay the fee because it was in the process of a challenge against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) over how the fees were calculated.
The compliance scheme and director Vincent Eckerman, pleaded guilty to the two charges at an earlier hearing in July to the failure to finance the cost of WEEE collection, treatment, recovery or disposal of household WEEE (see letsrecycle.com story).
Following last week’s hearing, Northern Compliance was ordered to pay £50,900 in compensation to the Compliance Fee Fund, where the compliance fee should have initially been paid by 31 March 2018. The second charge saw Mr Eckerman ordered to pay a £2,295 fine with a £170 victim surcharge and £1,000 court costs.
In a statement issued after the ruling, Northern Compliance said it ‘welcomed the outcome and conclusion of matters’ in relation to the case. The compliance scheme further repeated its criticism of the WEEE regulations, claiming that ‘disproportionate uplifts’ in the Compliance Fee had led to the breach of regulations. It said it had not been able to collect additional funds from members to meet the fee obligations. [To see the full Northern Compliance statement, as a PDF, click here: 19 09 26 Northern Compliance]
A spokesman for the Environment Agency claimed that Northern Compliance had ‘paid the ultimate price’ in failing to meet its share of the fee.
David O’Toole, regulated industry programme manager for the Environment Agency, commented that the ruling would make other companies ‘think twice’ about avoiding payment of the compliance fee.
“This prosecution shows that where a Producer Compliance Scheme fails to meet their financing obligations under the WEEE Regulations, the Environment Agency will not hesitate to take robust enforcement action against Compliance Schemes and individuals, to prevent the WEEE Regulatory regime being undermined.”
He said: “This prosecution shows that where a Producer Compliance Scheme fails to meet their financing obligations under the WEEE Regulations, the Environment Agency will not hesitate to take robust enforcement action against Compliance Schemes and individuals, to prevent the WEEE Regulatory regime being undermined.”
But, the Joint Trade Association, the organisation which manages the WEEE Compliance Fee Fund, has described the outcome of the case as ‘disappointing’.
Commenting on the result, Susanne Baker, associate director at techUK and chair of the JTA, said: “The JTA is very disappointed with this outcome.” Ms Baker said the amount to be paid was “wildly adrift from the avoided costs of compliance”.
Nigel Harvey, chair of the WEEE Scheme Forum (and chief executive of Recolight) which represents producer compliance schemes, also expressed his disappointment at the court ruling.
In a statement, he said: “The WEEE industry will be extremely disappointed by this outcome. The Environment Agency has confirmed that the cost avoided by Northern Compliance was in excess of £1.1 million.” Mr Harvey noted that the court ruling sum at “a little over £50,000 is utterly inadequate.”
He claimed: “This result is little short of a regulatory and enforcement failure. Defra and the Environment Agency will need to urgently consider their options.”