Author: Consumer Council
Published on 18 October 2011 02:00 PM
The report issued by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) today states that on the whole competition is working in the home heating oil (HHO) industry. However, consumers in Northern Ireland are telling the Consumer Council that competition and choice are luxuries of the wealthier.
Responding to the report, Consumer Council Chief Executive, Antoinette McKeown said: “With one in two households in fuel poverty in Northern Ireland, competition in the home heating oil industry is only working for the wealthier who can afford to shop around. The many NI households which rely on smaller fills and 20L drums, often at three times the price, will not feel that competition and choice is working for them.
“Today’s report shows that heating oil has the most volatile prices of any heating source. It also shows that during December 2010, there was a considerable price ‘spike’ with prices rising dramatically at a time when people needed it most and could least afford it. The Consumer Council does not feel that this reflects an industry working in the best interests of all consumers.”
The report states clearly ‘it’s an oddity of the NI market that the most common household heating fuel, heating oil, is unregulated…’
The report recognises gas, which is much less common in NI, on the other hand, is regulated. The report also recognises that regulation in Northern Ireland would allow for other interventions, not just price control. The Consumer Council has been saying this for considerable time. We have called for a standard of conduct and contribution from the oil industry to tackling fuel poverty. These could be two positive outcomes of regulation of the industry.
The report highlights illegal practices by suppliers and calls on the industry to do more to ensure compliance with existing legislation to help consumers get the best service possible. Illegal practices include:
- charging consumers more than they have been quoted;
- not giving a quote at all; and
- consumers not given an opportunity to cancel their order.
Continuing Antoinette said: “The Consumer Council has a statutory role to represent energy consumers in Northern Ireland. We will continue to scrutinise fairness in the industry and we are calling on consumers to support us in doing this. Consumers should let us know if they are not happy with the service they have received. They can contact us on 0800 121 6022 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. People can also contact us via facebook and twitter.
“The Consumer Council will continue to play our part in seeking a fair deal for consumers; we will provide further evidence in response to this consultative report; we will work closely with the OFT and Trading Standards Service (TSS) to make sure the industry is working in the best interests of consumers here. We will inform both the OFT and TSS of cases where consumers believe these practices have taken place.”
In response to this report the Consumer Council is calling on:
- consumers to contact us and tell us their experience;
- the oil industry to do more to ensure compliance and develop standards of service; and
- the NI Executive to step in to address fuel poverty and ensure standards of service that give consumers a fair deal
- OFT to take decisive enforcement action when instances of illegal and poor practices are highlighted to it.