UK REACH: Awaited Consultation on Policy Direction for Registration of Chemicals

January 2024
Region: Europe

The most anticipated developments for 2024 in UK chemicals regulation are the long-awaited publication of the UK’s Chemicals Strategy, and a consultation on the UK government’s alternative transitional registration model (ATRm). In November 2023, a policy paper was issued outlining the government’s high-level plans for ATRm, but the questions and details for stakeholders are still unknown.

Since the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, the framework for the regulation, evaluation, authorisation, and restriction of chemicals in Great Britain (UK REACH) has operated independently from the EU regime (EU REACH continues to apply in Northern Ireland under the Windsor Framework, which we have recently written about here).

Registration requirements under EU and UK REACH represent a considerable expense, in particular the duplication of data costs for companies that held registrations under EU REACH prior to the end of the Brexit transition period. The UK regulators are now tasked with deciding what information they will accept for transitional registrations.

The adoption of Great Britain’s independent framework has been overseen by, among others, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). In November 2023, DEFRA’s policy paper was published in response to concerns raised by the chemicals industry about the costs of accessing EU data packages to support registrations under UK REACH, which was previously estimated to cost the industry around £2 billion.

Therefore, the ATRm’s primary aim will be to minimise the financial burden on the chemicals industry, while ensuring that the protection of human health and the environment is not compromised.

There are four key takeaways from the policy paper:

  1. DEFRA will focus on a “more targeted” approach by using information already available. DEFRA further commented that “[UK] regulators do not need to hold a complete replica of all the registration data on all chemical substances held under EU REACH in order for UK REACH to undertake its regulatory work.”
  2. There will be a reduction in the essential minimum “hazard” information. In some instances, this will remove the need to pay for data packages held by EU industry consortia. However, there are questions around whether the new minimum “hazard” information, whatever that may be, will give HSE sufficient information to effectively evaluate registrations.
  3. The existing fee structure will be reviewed to ensure a more sustainable funding model, and the HSE’s current “Fee for Intervention” model, which is used to recover enforcement costs, may be revised. However, these lower costs may be offset where greater intervention is needed due to an inadequate registration process.
  4. Regulator powers will be enhanced so that they can require and receive data from registrants quickly for regulatory or risk prioritisation purposes. This may reduce overall costs by making information requests more targeted. Alternatively, enhanced regulator powers may be needed to compensate for the lower essential minimum “hazard” information that is proposed.

While November’s announcement was described as a “pivotal moment” and received praise in some circles, it does not provide much detail on how the ATRm will be implemented. Some critics question whether this policy direction will ultimately lead to a greater watering down of standards for the protection of human health and the environment.

The practical effects of the above remain to be seen, and the UK government’s proposals must first go through a consultation process, due to take place early this year.