Unpacking the UK's Upcoming House Coal Ban: Fines, Exemptions, and Alternatives

Unpacking the UK's Upcoming House Coal Ban: Fines, Exemptions, and Alternatives

We’re about to see a big shake-up in how we keep our homes warm. On 1 May 2023, the UK government will ban the sale of house coal (aka bituminous coal), a convenient and long-lasting fuel many households have relied on for years.

As with all bureaucratic matters, these new regulations are unnecessarily complicated and require quite a bit of time to wrap your head around. The new law contains fines, new regulatory standards, and even exceptions to the just-established rules.

To help you make sense of it all, our team has studied the new rules and translated them into plain English. We'll help you navigate the upcoming changes, offer practical advice, and inform you of the best fuel alternatives to bituminous house coal. This includes mains gas, other coal products, and long-burning wood briquettes.

Let’s get cracking!

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Why Is the UK Government Banning the Sale of House Coal?

The 1 May house coal ban is just one in a series of moves the UK government is making to help clean up the air we all breathe. This ban points the finger at bituminous coal as a big culprit in environmental pollution.

Prior to this, the government banned the sale of wet wood in the UK by introducing the mandatory Ready to Burn wood fuel quality standard. Inefficient wood stoves were the second to get the axe with the introduction of the EcoDesign stove efficiency regulations.

The May 1, 2023 house coal ban is part of a large environmental strategy the goal of which is to eventually make the UK carbon-neutral. The entire strategy is outlined in the poetically named “The Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020”. Feel free to study the entire document, or continue reading this article if you have better things to do.

What Are the Alternatives to House Coal?

With house coal getting banned in the UK, households have several alternatives to turn to. Here are some of the most popular ones:

  • Smokeless coal. A more expensive, upmarket type of coal that promises lowered CO2 production when compared to bituminous coal. Smokeless coal is a government-endorsed alternative to traditional coal for households unwilling to switch over to a renewable source of heat.
  • Night Briquettes. Affordable, clean-burning, and efficient fuel made from discarded sawmill byproducts. There are many briquette fuels to choose from, but 8-Hour Night Briquettes are the smartest choice. Made from recycled softwood bark, they’re one of the most affordable options on the market and can burn 4 times as long as conventional briquettes. Learn more about Night Briquettes.
  • Mains gas and electric heat. The most expensive but arguably most convenient option on the list. Switching over to gas and electric heating is the easiest way to heat your home. It's main drawback is, of course, the very high price.

When Will the Sale of Traditional House Coal Be Banned?

The sale of traditional bituminous house coal will be banned in England starting 1 May 2023. The ban applies to all types of house coal, be it bagged, loose, or in open bags. Vendors of bituminous house coal are obligated to inform their customers that their products will no longer be available starting 1 May 2023.

Will All Coal Be Banned in the UK?

No, there are several types of coal that will continue to be sold in the UK. These include:

  • Anthracite coal. The most upmarket type of coal rank of coal. Often referred to as hard coal, it is hard, brittle, and contains a high percentage of fixed carbon.
  • Low-volatile steam coal. Another alternative to house coal. The sale of this type of coal is legal for all vendors who have passed the Ready to Burn certification process. 
  • Semi-anthracite coal. A middle-ground between premium anthracite coal and the banned house coal. Not as environmentally friendly as pure anthracite coal but less expensive.

How Will the UK House Coal Ban Be Enforced?

The UK house coal ban will be enforced via periodic enforcement checks. Government enforcement officers will regularly audit that suppliers and retailers are complying with the new rules, standards, and regulations. Transgressors will be subjected to hefty fines.

How Are the Fines For Breating the UK House Coal Ban?

Fines for breaking the bituminous house coal ban start from £300. If an enforcement officer finds a company guilty of selling unauthorised coal to domestic household customers, the local authority will fine the company a fixed penalty fine (FPN) of £300. If the infraction is serious enough, a court may impose a far more substantial fine.

Is All House Coal Banned in the UK?

There is one single exception to the bituminous house coal ban. Households can still legally purchase house coal extracted from the Forest of Dean. However, this exception only applies to local customers.

What Is the Ready to Burn Scheme?

Ready to Burn is a set of environmental quality standards for wood fuel and, starting from 2023, manufactured solid fuels (MSFs). The standard was established by Defra (UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs). It is administered by two companies. Woodsure administers the standard when it comes to wood fuels and HETAS administers the scheme for manufactured solid fuels.