Trading Standards Service remind home heating oil suppliers of their obligations to customers
A Belfast woman has spoken of her anger after she paid almost £600 for home heating oil that has not been delivered.
Catherine Hughes placed an order on February 24 with BoilerJuice because she knew prices were rising and that her tank was running low.
She was expecting a delivery of 900 litres on March 1, but it remains outstanding.
Ms Hughes said that she has not been able to get her money back.
BoilerJuice has been contacted for comment.
Ms Hughes told the Belfast Telegraph of her subsequent frustration at being unable to contact anyone from the company after her oil ran out.
“I received a confirmation that my payment had been received, but nothing about my missing home heating oil order,” she said.
“Then, when I tried to contact the company, they sent me an email saying they’re not taking calls due to unprecedented demand in the fuel industry.
“I was also told to only expect a response from them within the next five to 10 working days, which is no use to someone who has just run out of oil and is wondering whether or not they need to pay for another consignment.”
To make matters worse, the HR professional, who ultimately bought a tankful from another supplier, was also told that she can't get the £578 payment reimbursed as she used her debit card to make it.
“I’m really angry, but I’m also still in shock,” she told this newspaper.
“I’ve used the same company in the past without any problems so I can’t believe what has happened this time.
“Within two weeks, I’ve had to spend a total of £1,528 I can ill afford on home heating oil, and there seems to be nobody who can help.”
She added: “If this is what’s happening in the local industry now, I dread to think what the future holds, especially of prices rise even more and oil becomes harder to source.”
The south Belfast resident said she’d heard of other householders facing similar issues with home heating oil providers.
“I’m speaking out because I’ve heard others have had the same problem and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else,” she said.
“Homeowners need to protect themselves against something like this happening.
“At the very least, we need to know what to do if a situation such as this occurs again.”
Trading Standards Service (TSS) said it could not comment on individual cases as it “may prejudice any ongoing or subsequent investigation”.
But a spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph that it has “received a high volume of calls” about the non-delivery of domestic home heating oil from a number of suppliers “over the last week”.
“The Trading Standards Service’s 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,” said Damien Doherty.
“Most complainants allege that they have been quoted a price and paid for home heating 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).
“Consumers are then notified that they must pay the higher price or the order will be cancelled.”
TSS said it will be contacting domestic home heating oil retailers “who have been brought to our attention to make them aware of their obligations under consumer protection law in relation to the sale of home heating oil and to ensure that they treat their customers fairly”.
The spokesman said that 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,” said the spokesman.
“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.
“If a consumer wants to argue that there has been a breach of contract then, legally, they can pursue redress in the small claims court or contact their card provider if they have paid by debit or credit card to seek a refund or damages.”
In response to an email sent by the Belfast Telegraph, BoilerJuice said: “Due to unprecedented demand in the fuel industry, we are experiencing higher than usual customer contact. We apologise in the delay, and please expect a response to your query within the next 5-10 working days.”
Meanwhile, police have urged homeowners to secure their oil tanks properly.
The warning comes as officers in Lisburn are investigating two reports of theft in the Dundrod area and another two in Strabane.
The PSNI has advised safety measures like locking garden or drive gates, as well as disguising oil tanks with things like fencing or plants. Other steps can include installing CCTV, limiting the quantity of fuel in tanks, locking tanks, using a tank cage or guard, and installing a level gauge audible alarm.