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Northern Ireland home heating oil customers urged to know their rights

With the rapid rise in the price of home heating oil across Northern Ireland, the Department for the Economy’s Trading Standards Service (TSS) is reminding oil retailers and online brokers of their obligations under consumer protection law.

The TSS consumer advice helpline, Consumerline, has received a high volume of calls about price increases in domestic home heating oil and non-delivery over the last week.

Most complainants allege that they have been quoted a price and paid for home heating oil on the day of the order and are subsequently informed that the price has increased significantly on the day of delivery (usually three to five working days later).

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Consumers are then notified that they must pay the higher price or the order will be cancelled.

Damien Doherty, Northern Ireland’s Chief Trading Standards Officer, said: “If a domestic home heating oil retailer or online broker enters into an agreement for an order of oil with an agreed price and accepts payment then they have formed a legally binding contract. If the oil is not then delivered, this is likely to amount to a breach of contract. Quoting a price and taking payment on the day of order and then charging a higher price on the day of delivery is also likely to amount to a breach of contract.

“The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) prevent businesses from treating consumers unfairly. The circumstances of the complaints received by Consumerline are likely to give rise to a breach of Regulations.

“Businesses which do not comply with consumer protection laws risk facing enforcement action. TSS has the power to investigate any complaints in relation to breaches of the CPRs, particularly if a trader has already received advice from this Service or receives further complaints about a business.

“TSS is also aware however that many home heating oil companies are treating their customers fairly and honouring agreed contracts. TSS would also ask consumers to exercise patience and forbearance, where possible, as the current rise in energy costs is having a significant impact on traders also,” he added.

To avoid breaching consumer protection legislation, TSS is providing the following advice to domestic home heating oil retailers and online agents:

* Oil retailers will need to amend their trading practices to ensure that consumers are made aware that, currently, prices may fluctuate and that the price charged will be the price on the day of delivery rather than on the day of order, if this is what they intend to do. This will need to be clearly explained during any phone calls, in writing (where appropriate) and on websites/social media pages while the trend for large price increases continues.

* Traders should also avoid taking payments up-front, where possible, when they cannot guarantee that they will honour the price of oil given on the day the order is placed.

* If a trader quotes a price and takes payment on the same day but attempts to charge a higher price on the day of delivery without previously informing the customer that the price may increase then they will be in breach of the CPRs and in breach of contract.

* If a contract has not been honoured, the Trading Standards Service would expect any trader to make contact with the customer as soon as possible to discuss possible resolutions, including issuing immediate refunds.

If consumers have a complaint about oil deliveries they should contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262 or log on to Consumerline. Consumerline is the Department for the Economy’s consumer advice helpline.

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